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Spanish weekly news and property news round-up week ending 5th June
Spanish news round-up
Electioneering warms up prior to the general election this month
The debate over the debate is over, and now the four main presidential candidates in Spain at the general election on 26th June can concentrate instead on preparing themselves for the debate itself.
The debate in question is the eagerly awaited coming together of the four men in a televised event, the date of which has now been set for 13th June. Organizing the event, which promises to be the focal point of the electoral campaign, is a consortium of all three of Spain’s main television companies, namely RTVE, Mediaset and A3Media.
This time round acting President Mariano Rajoy of the PP party will take part in person rather than delegating, having agreed to join Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE, Pablo Iglesias of Podemos and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos. Sr Rajoy entered the campaigning on Monday morning with what appeared to be a cryptic puzzle on his official Twitter account: “after the last few months, this is how I see the political situation”, read his tweet, accompanied by a horizontal red line on a white background.
Any suspicion that the President may have been suffering after a stressful weekend was soon dispersed as other leading lights in the PP party began to tweet identical messages, and during the day it emerged that the party aims to get rid of the “red lines” (or inflexible policies) which have led to there being no inter-party governing pact since the last election on 20th December.
The latest figures published on Thursday by the Ministry of Employment and Social Security show that at the end of May the number of people registered as unemployed in Spain was 3,891,403, following the most significant decrease in the jobless total ever recorded during the fifth month of the year. At the same time it means that for the first time since August 2010 the overall total has fallen below 4 million.
Mariano Rajoy and the PP have made the most of the opportunity to vindicate their economic policies and labour reforms, but there is also ammunition contained in Thursday’s data for the opposition to point out that not all is well. One of the main criticisms highlighted by critics of the government, for example, is that only 52.8% of those who are out of work receive any kind of social security benefit, the rest of them either not qualifying for aid or having exhausted their right to receive it.
Elsewhere, the provisional data for May showed that the retail price index was 1 per cent lower than in May 2015, the fifth consecutive month of negative inflation in Spain, while the number of new motor vehicles purchased and registered continues to rise steadily, following the sharp fall which accompanied the start of the economic crisis in 2008.
In the first five months of 2016 the total has reached 499,444, which is 12.5% higher than in the equivalent period last year, and according to the federations representing manufacturers and concessionaires, the figures are being boosted by the sharp increase this year in the number of tourists visiting Spain from abroad. This means that car hire companies are renewing and expanding their fleets in the expectation of a busy and profitable summer, and as a result sales to these firms shot up in May to 34,098, an increase of 37.7%.
At the same time it appears that major car manufacturers are prepared to put any doubts about the political situation aside and back Spanish production plants. On Thursday of this week it was reported that Volkswagen will be producing a second model at its factory in Landaben, in the region of Navarra. It is expected that the expansion of operations in Landaben will directly create between 300 and 500 new jobs at the factory.
Finally, one example of a successful campaign to cut spending and eliminate deficit comes from Spain’s royal family. For the first time ever the Spanish Royal Household has published its fully audited accounts, showing that of the 7.7-million-euro budget assigned to the family in 2015 exactly 177,130 euros remained unspent.
British visitors boost the tourism sector
Driven by a significant increase in the number of people coming to Spain from the UK, the number of visitors from abroad during the month of April reached almost 6.1 million, 11.3% more than in 2015. Almost one in four of those visitors were UK nationals, the figure having climbed by 18.3% to just over 1.4 million, while the numbers of people visiting from France and Germany also rose but less significantly.
The importance of British visitors to the main tourist destinations is also reflected by the fact that in Andalucía, the Canaries and the Comunidad Valenciana the UK was the main supplier of foreign visitors by a considerable distance, and the British were the second most numerous group in the Balearics and Catalunya (behind Germany and France respectively).
Carles Puigdemont, the president of the regional government of Catalunya, reiterated last Friday that he has no intention of delaying the process of separation from the rest of Spain which his administration has set in motion, and extended an invitation to whoever forms the new government of Spain after the general election on 26th June to hold talks on the issue.
“We are not going to sit waiting for ever with our arms crossed”, Sr Puigdemont warned at a conference organized by Nueva Economía Foro in Madrid.
The whole issue of Catalan independence is still simmering and occasionally comes to the boil, as was illustrated on Sunday by the participation of thousands in a march to protest against the national government’s attempts to repeal recent laws passed by the regional government in Barcelona.
Problems in Barcelona
A year after she took office as Mayoress of Barcelona, Ada Colau faced a week of disruption in the city as the violent and noisy protests of evicted squatters continues in the Gràcia district and workers on the metro system begin a week of partial strikes.
Some calm has now been restored in Grácia, where it has come to light that the current council led by Sra Colau even considered purchasing the property in order to allow the “okupas” back in. This option has now been discarded on account of the high asking price (reported to be in the region of half a million euros), but nonetheless it has led to accusations that the Mayoress is prepared to “buy” law and order, effectively being held to ransom by the protesters.
At the same time, there are allegations that the small number of arrests in relation to the incidents of the last week is a direct consequence of instructions issued by Ada Colau to detain as few people as possible, thus avoiding further provocation of the angry squatters.
Meanwhile, commuters and visitors in Barcelona faced disruption on the metro network in the city with four days of strikes, and long queues formed at metro stations as they did three months ago during the World Mobile Congress.
Gibraltar considers Spanish sovereignty
Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, has stated in a television interview that if the UK votes on 23rd June to leave the EU the British Overseas Territory could accept a Spanish co-sovereignty proposal in order to remain part of the European Union.
Mr Picardo asserts that the Spanish offer would ease sovereignty fears among residents and businesses in Gibraltar, and he warns that if the UK leaves the EU then the Spanish authorities could close the land border with the Rock.
Seseña tyre fire
The massive fire at the illegal tyre dump in Seseña, which straddles the boundary between the province of Toledo in Castilla-La Mancha and the region of Madrid, has now been declared extinguished by firefighters in the southern end of the premises.
However, the nature of Spain’s regional divisions is such that different fire brigades are required to act in different Autonomous Communities, and at the northern end of the dump, which is in the Madrid municipality of Valdemoro, the blaze is still smouldering on.
During the intervening period the air has been filled with foul-smelling and potentially harmful smoke on numerous occasions, depending on the prevailing breeze. Some schoolchildren are still waiting to return to their classrooms: it had been hoped that the schools would re-open on 1st June, but at the El Quiñón primary school this has now been put back to next Monday.
It now falls to the authorities in Madrid to complete the job at the northern end of the dump, which contains fewer tyres, a task which has been delayed by the Guardia Civil cordoning off a large area to investigate the causes of the fire until 27th May.
Refugees and immigrants
On Monday and Wednesday groups of 45 and 19 refugees arrived in Spain from Greece, bringing the total up to 106 in eight days after a long wait for the program to meet the EU’s quota for this country to get under way.
Those who arrived on Monday were 25 Syrians, 19 Iraqi nationals and one individual from the Central African Republic, while the 19 who flew into Madrid-Barajas airport on Wednesday were all Syrians and Iraqis. It is planned that the figure will rise to 586 by the end of June
In the north African enclave of Ceuta, meanwhile, two would-be illegal immigrants, one from Gambia and the other from Guinea, have been arrested after the small boat of which they were in charge capsized while carrying another ten sub-Saharans on their way towards Ceuta.
When the boat was spotted on its way towards Ceuta the Guardia Civil hurried to the scene and arrived just in time to see it turn over, at which point an emergency rescue operation succeeded in saving the lives of all twelve people on board.
Crime and emergencies
Three days of official mourning were declared by the Town Hall of Jaén following a house fire on Saturday which ended with the deaths of five members of one family, with the cause reported to have been an attempt to rekindle a fire using gasoline.
The five dead are a four-year-old boy, his four-month-old sister, who was initially taken to intensive care but passed away on Sunday, their father and two of their grandparents. Incredibly, this is not the first time that this house has been in the national headlines: on 12th October a young schoolteacher named Rocío Estepa, another resident of the La Magdalena district, was murdered there by her partner.
In Sevilla the body of a woman who had been strangled was found inside a car which was parked at the airport on Thursday morning, and it has since transpired that she had become another victim of gender violence after missing a flight to Italy.
On the drugs front, meanwhile, the Guardia Civil raided a huge marijuana plantation which had been set up in a modern apartment block in Vinaròs in the north of the province of Castellón (Comunidad Valenciana), where 3,237 plants occupied four apartments which had been connected by knocking doorways through dividing walls, and in Alicante 13 people have been arrested on charges of stealing top-of-the-range motorbikes with a view to selling them to customers in China, Algeria and Morocco, in an operation which also concluded with the recovery of sixteen stolen bikes.
So far 2016 has not been a good year on the roads of Spain, with the number of crash victims having risen in each of the first four months, and given the nature of some of the incidents reported by the police and the Guardia Civil it is hard to see how danger can be eliminated from the roads of this country.
This week a brother and sister from Cúllar, both aged 77, were both killed in a road accident on Tuesday after they drove for 20 kilometres on the wrong side of the motorway in Granada before eventually colliding head-on with another vehicle, also killing the driver, a 52-year-old man from Albolote.
Another driver who was detained, fortunately before she could cause any serious accidents, was a woman who, to the incredulity of the police officers who spotted her, was seen driving while breastfeeding her 2-year-old daughter at the same time. While they were attempting to stop her she carried out a prohibited u-turn, and when eventually she was taken in for questioning it emerged that her driver’s licence had expired and was therefore not valid.
At a time when various of the new toll motorways in Spain are in serious danger of being closed due to the lack of traffic using them and the inability of the government to nationalize them, the statistics show that at last the number of drivers opting to use the roads concerned appears to be rising significantly. In March, doubtless boosted by Easter falling early this year, the average number of vehicles using all the toll motorways in Spain rose to 17,717 per day, an increase of 16.7%, while comparable increases were also observed in the whole of the first quarter.
The trial began in the courts of Barcelona on Tuesday of Leo Messi, who is accused along with his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, of three tax evasion offences relating to the footballer’s image rights.
Messi was not required to testify until Thursday, when he answered only ten questions and denied any knowledge of how tax havens work and what his involvement in them might be, but he is reported to have been more visibly nervous than at any point in his footballing career.
Historical Memory Law
Madrid lawyer Eduardo Ranz is continuing his crusade to enforce the implementation of Spain’s Historical Memory Law, and has now presented a complaint against the Town Hall of Tortosa (in Tarragona) in relation to the monument which stands in the middle of the River Ebro, and which was built to commemorate Franco’s victory in the Battle of the Ebro in 1938.
The Madrid lawyer argues that the local council has not obeyed the Historical Memory Law in allowing the monument, the largest of its kind in the region of Catalunya, to remain in place, although a local referendum has been held in which 68.36% of those who voted supported the idea of “reinterpreting” it rather than removing it and placing it in a museum.
While former King Juan Carlos I continues to enjoy his visits to the bullring of Las Ventas in Madrid, where he attended a corrida with his daughter Elena and his grandson Froilan this week, in many parts of the country the tide of public opinion continues to turn against this most Spanish of traditions.
This was made manifest once again in the province of Valencia on Wednesday, when the inhabitants of Xàtiva voted by a narrow margin to eliminate bull-related events from the local fiestas this year. The result of the vote was almost even, but in the end by a margin of just 79 the anti-bullfighting faction won the day.
Spanish property news
Optimism continues to abound among property market professionals in Spain, with one of the latest illustrations of the positive expectations being the publication of a report which forecasts that sales figures will rise by 10% and prices will go up by 3.8% during 2016.
The report was compiled by property portal Servihabitat, and estimates an annual sales total this year of 440,000, although the forecast price increase has been revised downwards from a previous estimate of 6.2%.For the construction sector in Spain the last eight years have been little short of disastrous, with the over-supply of homes following the bursting of the real estate bubble in 2007 and 2008 leading to there being practically no demand for new properties. However, the latest figures published by the Ministry of Development report year-on-year growth of 57% in the number of building licences granted during the first quarter of 2016, the first-quarter figure of 16,782 being the highest since 2011.
More good news regards mortgage foreclosures, with official statistics published on Thursday showing that fewer people are finding themselves unable to continue meeting their repayment schedules. During the first quarter of 2016 there were 7,854 foreclosures involving individual property owners (rather than corporate owners), 30.9% fewer than in the same period last year.
Unsurprisingly it is the mortgages from those boom years, when prices were artificially inflated, which account for most of the foreclosures which were registered between January and March this year. Between them, loans constituted in 2006, 2007 and 2008 amount to 47.4% of the total, whereas those from the last three years account for only 6.6%.
It has to be pointed out that the falling number of foreclosures is not due only to the greater ability of borrowers to meet their repayment schedules: the banks have also played their part, showing more willingness to re-negotiate terms rather than re-possessing properties and expanding their real estate portfolios.
More mortgage news: the Banco de España has confirmed that the Euribor interest rate, on which the annual reviews of most Spanish mortgage repayment schedules are based, continued to fall in May, ending the month at -0.015% and recording a monthly average of 0.013%, a new record low. Many analysts feel that the Euribor is now close to bottoming out, and are warning that in the medium term a significant increase is likely: this could make it an ideal time to consider a fixed rate mortgage, which would mean higher initial repayments but at the same time provides the peace of mind of knowing exactly what the repayment schedule will be over the full term of the loan.
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