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Spanish weekly news round-up 19th February
Spain still without a government two months after the General Election
Spanish news round-up
The news in Spain over the last few days has continued to be dominated by two main topics, namely the weather and attempts to form a workable national government, although of course by no means have these themes occupied all of the media’s attention.
Inevitably it is hard to displace the ongoing manoeuvring among the four main political parties from the spotlight, and this week at least a timeframe has been imposed on the negotiations by the announcement that the first investiture debate in which Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE will present his candidacy as President will be on 3rd March. That much is certain, but what the outcome of the debate will be is still very much up in the air.
Many still feel that another general election is almost inevitable, but that possibility may have receded slightly this week with signs that common ground is being found between some of the main parties. Closest to reaching a pact at present are the PSOE and Ciudadanos, and although between them the two parties total only 130 seats of the 350 in parliament (90 PSOE and 40 Ciudadanos), if support and abstentions from other parties can be secured there may yet be a chance for Sr Sánchez to be appointed President.
An agreement with Ciudadanos, led by Albert Rivera, currently looks to be the PSOE’s best chance of heading the next government, as conversations with the PP are reported to be unproductive and the demands made by Podemos are generally considered unacceptable to Sr Sánchez and his party. These include the holding of a referendum in Catalunya on the issue of independence, a topic which is proving a stumbling block to the formation of political alliances across the spectrum.
One illustration of how difficult it is for Pedro Sánchez to form an alliance with other political groups is his talks with Compromís, the Valencia regional party which in theory is more closely aligned with Podemos.
In order to gain the support of Compromís, Sr Sánchez is reported to be prepared to pay back the Comunidad Valencia’s “historical debt” (which the regional government insists results from under-funding), a commitment which amounts to the small matter of 16 billion euros. In addition, press reports suggest that he is willing to establish that 11% of all national government investment in infrastructures should be devoted to the region.
All of these concessions, if press reports are true, would lead to the PSOE gaining the support of the Compromís members of the national parliament, who number just four, and would inevitably lead to other regions demanding repayment of their own “historical debts”.
In the light of the efforts needed to capture support from other parties, it may be that press reports concerning coalitions and alliances are just clutching at straws and that a return to the polling booths is inevitable: the debate in two weeks will clarify all.
Winter weather grips Spain
The other main talking point this week, the weather, has provided proof that Spain is not always the sun-drenched paradise which outsiders and summer visitors might imagine it to be. The week began with a Cantabria angler being swept out to sea as snow and high winds hit the north of Spain, and temperatures plummeted as winter weather caused villages to be cut off by snow and school to be cancelled in many areas. Mountain passes were closed and by early Tuesday morning the thermometer was showing -10ºC on higher ground in the north.
At the same time waves of up to 8 metres still battered the Atlantic coast, and high winds added to the bleak scenario, particularly on the Mediterranean coast and in the Canaries: anyone doubting the strength of the wind should ask the Denia kitesurfer who was blown 275 metres inland and crash-landed on the roof of a chalet after narrowly avoiding a five-storey block on his way!
The main beneficiaries of the cold front which even saw snow reach the Canary Islands on Friday were Spain’s ski resorts, and in Sierra Nevada in the province of Granada almost half of the pistes are now open after a disappointing start to the 2015/16 season due to lack of snow.
At least the unpleasant weather has not had a negative effect on tourism: during January almost 13 million passengers flew into and out of Spain’s airports, an increase of 12.3% compared to the same month last year, two thirds of them on international flights, and this is one sector of the economy which continues to thrive while the national debt approaches 100% of GDP.
The Nóos trial goes on as Princess Cristina awaits her turn to give evidence
Outside politics and the weather, of course, other news is still happening all the time, although much of it might be pushed off the front pages. Proceedings at the Nóos Case trial in which Princess Cristina is among the accused have ended for another week, with the huge expectation surrounding the appearances of the King’s sister and her husband Iñaki Urdangarín lasting for a few more days yet due to Cristina’s declarations having been put back at least until Tuesday. It’s hard to summarize all that has been said in court this week, but the long and short of it is that the declarations made so far seem to point to Sr Urdangarín’s guilt, while most appear to exonerate his wife. The main witnesses are still to appear, and next week the headlines will probably be dominated by what is likely to be the highest-profile trial of the year, and possibly the decade, in this country.
Crime and punishment
Other criminal activities in the news have included some alleged and others confirmed or denied. Breaking stories include the investigations into the Vitaldent dental clinic franchise chain which led to the arrests on Tuesday of 13 of the top management team, including owner Ernesto Colman, and the confiscation of 36 luxury motor vehicles and Sr Colman’s million-euro private jet. Alleged corruption also surrounds the police raid on the Chinese ICBC bank in Madrid – six people have so far been arrested - while a slightly smaller level of fraud surrounds the arrests of two banknote forgers in Toledo, whose equipment and materials were raided just as they were primed to produce 50-euro notes with a face value of 2 million euros.
Allegations of corruption are also possibly connected to the resignation of Esperanza Aguirre, one of the highest-profile political figures in Spain and until last weekend the head of the PP in Madrid. Sra Aguirre, it has to be stressed, is not charged with any wrongdoing, but many of her former colleagues are, and in a press conference after her resignation she stated that “corruption is completely killing the party”.
Crimes against the environment
On a lesser scale, a man has been found guilty of starting to build a motocross circuit for his son on protected land in the mountains of the region of Madrid and has been handed a four-year prison term, sparking outrage at the severity of the sentence. It certainly seems harsh at first sight, given that far greater crimes against the environment have so far gone unpunished: one example might be the building of the infamous 21-floor hotel at El Algarrobico on the coast of Almería. The Supreme Court has ruled this week after 12 years of legal wrangling that the hotel is built on protected land and will have to be demolished, but as yet no formal accusations have been leveled at those responsible.
Environmental concerns were also to the fore on Wednesday when Greenpeace activists scaled the façade of Spain’s Nuclear Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear, or CSN) in to unfurl banners protesting against the proposed re-opening of the nuclear power plant of Garoña in the province of Burgos (Castilla y León). Over 40 years having passed since the plant first came into service but there are plans to press ahead with re-commissioning it.
More prosaic are the concerns in Extremadura, where the army could be called in to deal with an invasion of water hyacinths!
Meanwhile, a different kind of pollution issue appears to have been solved in Girona, where a hotel owner has been lobbying for 18 years to have the cathedral bells silenced at night in order to avoid guests being inconvenienced by the noise. In January it appeared that victory had at last been achieved, but only a month later a legal loophole has been found which will allow the centuries-old chimes to be restored, leaving the disappointed hotelier to reflect on the fact that perhaps he ought to have realized that the cathedral had been next door for centuries before taking on the hotel in the first place.
Animals and animal rights
Animals in the news this week included 26 birds in Alicante, 23 donkeys, a large cat in Andalucía, and an insect, all for very different reasons.
The Alicante birds were fighting cocks in the municipality of Los Montesinos, where the police raided a cockfight and made 25 arrests, as well as taking 26 birds into protective custody: cockfighting was banned in England in 1835, but in some parts of Spain it still occurs and in the Canaries it is even legal!
Donkeys, on the other hand, enjoy more protection, and the regional government of Extremadura has announced that 23 of them are to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, on condition that commitments are made to looking after them properly.
As for the large cat, Montro is a nine-month old Iberian lynx whose release into the wild in the province of Huelva was attended by the regional president of Andalucía, Susana Díaz, while the insect in question was once again the tiger mosquito. This week the second case of a pregnant woman infected with the zika virus was reported in Catalunya, and calls for concerted mosquito extermination campaigns are growing louder as worries over the disease becoming endemic to Spain increase.
Bale and Neville in the football news
The week’s sports news may not have been dominated by Gary Neville, but he does at least deserve a mention after a week which may prove pivotal in his managerial career. Last weekend his Valencia side finally managed to secure a La Liga victory for the first time since he took over as boss on 2nd December, and then on Thursday they chalked up a 6-0 win in the Europa League against Rapid Vienna. Can they complete a perfect week with another three points away at Granada this weekend? Watch this space…
For Gareth Bale, meanwhile, the season may be turning sour. Still on the sidelines with injury he learned this week that three Euro MPs want the EU to probe his 100-million-euro move from Tottenham Hotspurs to Real Madrid in 2013, in an effort to find out if the transfer was supported by Spanish banks that had been bailed out by European Union tax-payers. This is the last thing the Welshman needs as he attempts to concentrate on recovering from the injury sustained in the match against Sporting Gijón in January.
A biting policeman and a Madrid councilor left to reflect on his policies
Others “enjoying” a moment of fame this week have included a local policeman who has been suspended from duty after biting a dog-walker in Oviedo while off duty. They say in journalism that when a man bites a dog, that’s news: so close to coming true, but not quite!
The most intriguing police story of the week, though, was perhaps the one involving the riot squads of the local and national forces in Madrid on Tuesday morning. José Javier Barbero Gutiérrez, the councilor at the head of the Town Hall department responsible for proposing the scrapping of the local riot squad, was targeted by police officers demonstrating against this policy and was forced to take refuge in a bar-restaurant.
Some might say that there are worse places to ride out a storm, but the situation became very ugly and eventually he had to be escorted to safety by, ironically, the riot squad police of the Policía Nacional. Whether this brings him to revise his policy regarding the usefulness of such units remains to be seen.
Although the main focus of the bulletin is Spanish news, it's also worth mentioning that the Brexit debate raging at the moment over whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave will also be of interest to anyone living in Spain who would still like to cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum.
The Spanish news today page has an extensive section dedicated to the Brexit topic, with articles updated on a daily basis and exploring all aspects of the debate. Click for Brexit articles
Currency Exchange Rate this week
It's important to keep an eye on the exchange rate if buying a property or transferring your pension
Anyone exchanging their pension from Pound Sterling to Euros or buying a property will be aware of just how much difference the rate can make to the amount they will have to spend and for major purchases, such as a property, transferring cash at the right moment can make a difference of several thousand Euros.
Spanish property news round-up
If last week was relatively quiet in terms of real estate news in Spain, then the last five days have made up for that in no uncertain terms, with various factors combining to fuel the optimism which currently pervades the market with regard to the rest of 2016.
Last week the country’s registrars reported that the number of sales in 2015 had increased by over 11%, and this week they added more data showing that the average price per square metre of residential property rose by a healthy 6.6%. During the final three months of 2015 there was a further small increase of 0.9%, and according to their figures the total depreciation since 2007 has now been reduced to 28.4%.
In addition, the level of activity in the property market rose in 2015 in almost all of Spain’s 17 regions, most spectacularly in the Basque Country, Catalunya, Madrid and Aragón, with the only exceptions being the minimal reductions in the number of transactions in Navarra, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha.
Backing up these data this week were figures issued this week by Spain’s notaries, which do not coincide exactly but also point towards the continuing trend of recovery. According to the notaries, the 400,000 sales made last year represented a rise of 8.6%, while prices are reported to have risen by 1.9%.
Another stand-out feature of the statistical bulletin published is that new-build apartments represented a mere 8.8% of the overall sales total, whereas until 2010 the proportion was over a third, but despite this there is optimism among developers and promoters that Spain is about to see a significant resurgence of construction activity. That, at least, is the conclusion of a CBRE survey in which 72% of the managing directors of some of Spain’s largest construction companies expressed the opinion that building will begin this year on at least 100,000 new homes: if this is the case, it will mean that last year’s total is at least doubled.
A further aspect of the market which cannot be ignored is the importance of non-Spanish buyers to the market, and the registrars include in their 2015 report the observation that one in seven of all transactions last year fell into this category, with the British leading the way as usual. During the last quarter of 2015 buyers from the UK accounted for 23.95% of all sales to non-Spaniards, equivalent to 3.44% of the overall total: in other words, one in twenty-nine Spanish property sales in the last quarter of 2015 was to a British national.
The contribution of foreign purchasers is what makes the markets in the provinces of Málaga and Alicante the busiest in Spain, and with the Euribor interest rate still falling (-0.014% at the latest count) and mortgage repayment instalments becoming cheaper, this has been one of those weeks when the continuation of the upturn in the property market this year seems practically guaranteed.
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Cádiz Province, Andalucia
Granada Province: Andalucia
Huelva Province, Andalucía
Jaén Province, Andalucia
Málaga Province, Andalucía
Region of Andalucia
Seville Province, Andalucía
Córdoba Province, Andalucia
Autonomous Community of Galicia
Castilla La Mancha
Castilla y León
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