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Spanish weekly news round-up for 7th March
British puffins victims of Spanish bad weather, Big 5 banks have more repossessed properties now than a year ago and Spanish fuel tax ruled to be illegal
Several readers have contacted the office to say their news round-up wasn´t delivered on Friday.All the emails appear to belong to the same blockwho have already received it.
Spanish property news
For once it’s been a relatively quiet week regarding news in the Spanish property market!
While analysts anxiously await further developments to find out whether their latest predictions have been right or wrong, some worrying sets of figures regarding the country’s “Big 5” banks show that the imbalance between supply and demand is still a long way from being eliminated. Despite managing to sell off more properties from their portfolios last year, Spain’s main banks find themselves with more homes on their books than twelve months ago.
The reason for this is that mortgage payment defaults are still running at a very high rate, and therefore so are repossessions. So while many predict an upturn in the market, the banks will be as keen as ever to offload properties, and when owners need to sell, prices generally tend to go in only one direction: downwards. Whether the new buoyancy in the market is strong enough to resist this pressure remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, if they can’t sell, the same banks will be facing pressure in Catalunya to place their unoccupied residential properties on the rental market: the regional government is planning to introduce a special tax on bank-owned unoccupied homes of between 850 and 1,650 euros per annum, which in total could equate to extra revenue for the Generalitat of up to 25 million euros a year. The aim of the tax, though, according to the government, is not to raise money, but to stimulate activity in the rental market.
Spain’s central statistics unit published its final figures related to property prices for 2013 on Friday , showing that on average during the year house prices across the country fell by 7.8%.Of course the national average hides a good deal of disparity among Spain’s regions, from sharp decline to something close to stability.
But one point which will interest the optimists, amid all this doom and gloom: most of the decrease in house prices during 2013 was in the first quarter, when prices fell by an average of 6.6% in just three months. If the first three months of 2014 prove to be as positive as is reported by many estate agents, there is a chance that by the time the next quarterly statistics are produced prices could be showing stability or even an upward trend.
This week’s news began last Thursday when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the application of the céntimo sanitario was illegal. This is a tax all of us who have purchased fuel in most of Spain have been paying, some of us for 10 years, others for less, depending on the autonomous Community (region) in which the fuel was purchased. The government must now give this money back, so any businesses who can produce fuel bills for the fuel purchased can claim back the money, as can any private individuals who habitually keep fuel bills. At over 4 cents a litre, for some businesses, this will be a big windfall. Agriculturalists and fishermen are also due for a rebate, their consumption of fuel almost as high as some hauliers or taxi drivers. Talk to your accountant and state your intention to claim, although at the moment, it is still early days and no clear guidelines have been issued as to the standard format to follow.
Staying with vehicles, positive car sales are boosting optimism in the automobile industry, and this week Plan Aire 3 came into effect, offering subsidies for the purchase of commercial vehicles, motorbikes and scooters, which is in addition to Plan PIVE 5 which gives private buyers 2000 euros discount on new vehicles, so if you’re considering changing in a vehicle, make sure to ask your dealer for these discounts.
Biggest border assault to date as problems continue in Ceuta and Melilla
The main news story which has totally dominated the media this week is the ongoing border problems in Melilla and Ceuta. The biggest assault so far took place this week, and in spite of 100km/h winds, other desperate individuals tried to enter Spain by sea. The immigrant transit centre is now at more than three times its capacity, and the Spanish Interior Minister went on a 2 day inspection visit to the exclaves to talk to police trying to man these borders, the Moroccan authorities and visit the sites where the most ferocious assaults continue to take place. Extra personnel have been drafted in, more money committed to reinforcing border security and talks scheduled with the Moroccan authorities to try and speed up the repatriation process.
Corruption continues to worry Spanish nationals and preoccupy the media
Corruption continues to preoccupy the media, and this week corruption has been highlighted as the subject about which most Spaniards are concerned, only following unemployment.
More details have emerged about the major corruption cases currently wending their way through the courts, three bars of chocolate providing vital proof which could help to send the husband of Royal Princess Cristina to jail as the Caso Nóos investigations continue. Its one of those bizarre situations where hindsight is a wonderful thing, as the simple act of paying for three bars of Swiss chocolate with a credit card is irrefutable proof that someobody was in a certain place at a certain time, no matter what their testimony to the contrary.
Bail has also been refused for 11 of the suspects arrested in the “boiler room frauds” case which made British TV last weekend, the suspects involved part of a massive fraud network which also included individuals in the UK, targeting vulnerable pensioners to rob them of their savings with fake investment opportunities.
Another corruption story relates to 14 airport security personnel working in Málaga airport who have been convicted of taking bribes from incoming foreigh passengers to bring illegal goods into Spain. Those concerned will now face prison sentences.
Another crime story which caught the attention of the media this week was that of a debtor who finally lost patience after being pursued by a top hat and tailed debt collector working for "El Cobrador del Frac", Spains most famous debt collection agency. Tired of being pursued around Albacete in Castilla La Mancha, he spotted the vehicle parked outside his home, and the surprised debt collector found his car lifted up and rammed against a wall by the debtor driving a forklift truck. Last reports inidcate him to still be in hospital recovering.
And the feast is over for a Marijuana-mad Mallorcan couple who got carried away while doing a spot of home baking for a local bar. Bar owners and customers were unaware of the contents of the cake until several of them required medical treatment.
The weather generated a lot of column inches earlier in the week as storms continued to wreak havoc on northern coastal regions, washing up an unusually high number of dead dolphins and puffins from the UK who had been unable to fish due to the stormy conditions out in the Bay of Biscay and died of starvation.
Greenpeace protestors also got a good soaking, although theirs was from ant-riot squad during a protest outside spains oldest nuclear power plant in Garoña. A new law recently gave the green light to allow the nuclear industry to extend the working life of this nuclear plant, although protestors would like to see wider use of "cleaner" energy.
There are plenty more stories on the Spanish News Today site, including details of some concerts we’ve snuffled out featuring top UK and international artists performing in Spain this year which expats might like to see, so if you fancy Tom Jones, Lady Gaga, James Arthur, Pet Shop Boys, Iron Maiden, One Direction, Robert Plant or maybe, just maybe the Rolling Stones, have a look in the Cultural section of the Spanish News Today site for details.
Valencia Today www.valenciatoday.es
Opening date for first Valencia IKEA store, Castellón airport contract awarded, Alicante going for 10 million pasengers
A real mix of news in the Comunitat Valenciana this week, featuring international tourism and local disputes, and including the fourth richest man in Spain alongside the soup kitchens of Valencia.
At the top of the pile in Valencia, in more ways than one, is Juan Roig, who has again been named by Forbes magazine as the fourth richest man in Spain, behind the owners of Inditex and Mango. Sr Roig is the head of supermarket chain Mercadona, which this week announced a net profit of 515 million euros last year, and is set to open sixty more stores during 2014.
As of June 17th this year, though, an even bigger business than Mercadona will be opening its first shop in the region: the Ikea store in Alfafar opens on that date, by which time the 100,000 candidates who applied to work there will have been whittled down to just 400.
Many of the unlucky 99,600 may well be looking for alternative employment this summer in the sector of tourism, one of the mainstays of the regional economy, and it certainly looks like being another positive year for the region, particularly the Costa Blanca. The beaches of Alicante are already getting ready for the summer season, which starts at Easter, in Benidorm this winter continues to be a good one for local hotels, the Costa Blanca tourist board are busy promoting the area at the world’s largest tourist trade fair in Berlin, and the authorities at Alicante-Elche airport are predicting that the threshold of ten million passengers will be crossed for the first time this year.
The situation at Castellón airport continues to be rather different. Although the management contract has at last been awarded, the regional government appears to be unsure about what they have let themselves in for, as the company taking on the running of the as yet unopened facility has a rather checkered past.
Another business in trouble is the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Alicante, where the strike to protest against its planned closure goes on, although some workers have returned to the production line, and the recent announcement of February’s unemployment figures brought mixed news for the region. In both Castellón and Valencia the total rose slightly during the month, but this is not unusual in the second month of the year and in fact the totals in all three provinces are now 5% lower than a year ago.
Despite this, the regional capital’s soup kitchens are busier than ever: Casa Caridad published a depressing report concerning developments in 2013 this week, reminding us all of how grim life can be for those who are out of work.
Other stories hitting the headlines over the last week include a school bus crash near Bunyol, following which the driver is facing charges of negligence, another minor earthquake near the closed-down Castor Project gas storage facility, an unexploded bomb discovered off the coast of Sagunto, the arrest of a copper thief for starting a forest fire, and the second large shipment of salt in just a fortnight heading for North America from Torrevieja to combat the persistent wintry conditions on the roads there.
The sense of smell has been important in various news stories this week. The Town Hall of Orihuela is spending 100,000 euros on updating the city’s drainage system in order to eliminate unpleasant odours, and in Torrevieja some lucky workers will be spending their nights cleaning up the town’s sewage pipes for the next couple of months! A very different kind of aroma was the undoing of a keen German gardener in Valencia, when a strangely familiar scent led police officers to the marijuana plantation he was lovingly nurturing in rented commercial premises.
The big news in Orihuela this week was the start of the city’s first corruption “macro-trial”, although things got off to a rather unpromising start when the first day’s proceedings had to be postponed as one of the accused had gone missing. On a brighter note, or a darker one, depending on how you look at it, the city’s illuminated monuments will be in darkness for sixty minutes on 29th March as Orihuela once again takes part in Earth Hour, and the city’s first international music composition competitionappears to have been a huge success.
However, the row regarding the council’s decision to re-locate the two weekly markets rumbles on, with residents and stallholders still unhappy. This has been compounded by the start of work to mark out the pitches where stalls will be located: despite the fact that they are in the centre of the monumental city centre, the streets are now being daubed with bright green paint in order to mark out the sites.
Graffiti of a different kind is in the news in Torrevieja, where participants in a training program are painting over unwanted decorations on the 1,800-metre Dique de Levante, while in Pilar de la Horadada we are able to report that the Carnival celebrations were enjoyed by all. The municipality is now preparing for the GeHoradada event in May: if you don’t know what GeoCaching is, this is a great chance to find out!
There’s now a lull in festivities in many places, but certainly not in Valencia, where the Fallas are just around the corner, and throughout the month visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the city from Europe’s largest temporarybig wheel.
Accusations of bribery leave Murcia short of presidential candidates
This week there has been no new news relating to the Corvera airport situation, other than a report published by economists in the region saying that the airport is of less economic importance to the region than construction of a new macro shipping container port in the El Gorguel Bay area of Cartagena, as well as the arrival of the Mediterranean Corridor rail freight line, which will open up greater opportunities to export goods from this region. At the moment an environmental study has thrown a spanner in the proverbial works with regards to El Gorguel, as indeed it has with the other strategic project mentioned, Marina de Cope, a huge macro complex which has also been stalled by ecologists on the Águilas coastline.
There has also been no further news on the Paramount park project in Alhama, although Jesús Samper himself has been in the news as his Real Murcia football club teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, following the decision of Hacienda to embargo TV rights payments, a move which has apparently made it difficult to even meet day to day commitments and the wages of staff and players.
It’s been rather a negative, flat week to be honest, with few silver linings. The whole subject of who will become the President of the Murcia Region has been thrown up in the air, following the decision of the Supreme Court to continue investigating the current regional minister for education, who is under investigation for alleged bribery. This has left the ruling PP with a distinct lack of credible candidates, given the fact that the current premier, Ramón Luis Valcárcel is about to retire, hopefully to take up a position in Europe after the European elections.
Although meetings have been underway this week to resolve the situation, national PP are reported to be unhappy about the prospect of a candidate under investigation for bribery being put forward for the regional presidency, given the level of discontent nationally about the subject( corruption was the second topic which most worried the Spanish according to this month’s CIS public feedback survey) and the high profile corruption cases which dominate the national media, such as the Caso Bárcenas, Caso Gürtel and Caso Nóos.
Corruption scandals have also been back in the regional news this week, as another ex-regional minister is dragged into the unwelcome public spotlight, called to answer questions about bribery, influence peddling and perversion of justice relating to the vast Novo Carthago development which was to have been built along the shores of the Mar Menor. (economic crisis stalled the construction).
Another politician has also been in the limelight, a Jumilla councillor making the national press after dressing up as a statue of the Virgin Mary during the local carnival procession. The outrage became a trending topic on the social networks and resulted in the story appearing in the national papers, much to the fury of local religious leaders who were less than amused.
At the end of last week it was announced nationally that the centimo sanitario, a tax applied to fuel by regional governments had been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights, meaning that all those businesses who use a lot of fuel and can provide tax bills can claim back this extra tax. So if you think you use sufficient fuel to warrant making a claim, get in touch with your accountant and ask, it could well be worth the effort.
Other legislation which came into effect this week was the implementation of the new law relating to the use of olive oil bottles in restaurants. From 1st March, all restaurants MUST use sachets of olive oil or bottles which cannot be refilled on their tables, so if you own a restaurant or bar, make sure you comply, as there are steep fines for those who do not abide by this law.
It’s also important this week to remind readers about the dangers of processionary caterpillars which are now falling from the trees in their thousands, as these can kill dogs or cats and cause serious problems for humans as well, and also to highlight that reports are coming in of increased pollen levels, sparking off the normal spring allergies. The dry weather and wind aren´t helping, so if you start to suffer from dry coughing, sore eyes or respiratory difficulties, go to the doctors, as there are excellent allergy clinics here which can help to minimise the problem.
On the positive side, the north-west of the region now has a major new mains gas pipeline, which was switched on this week, unemployment fell in the region at the end of February and the Santa Lucia hospital in Cartagena has taken delivery of the latest high tech breast cancer screening machine.
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