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Spanish weekly news round-up week ending 27th May
Politics and the economy
This week has seen something of a pre-election campaign lull in the Spanish political news, with plenty of posturing but no real action as the media concentrate on other affairs.
Even so, the PP party which is seeking re-election on 26th June had an uncomfortable week after National Court Judge José de la Mata gave the group a period of ten days on Monday in which to deposit the sum of 1.2 million euros with the court in relation to the investigations regarding the notorious “Bárcenas Papers”. The party has since appealed against the ruling.
Earlier in the week it emerged that having last week stated in an interview with the Financial Times that he would implement tax cuts if re-elected, Spain’s acting President Mariano Rajoy has at the same time made a promise to the EU to introduce new money-saving measures during the next legislature.
A letter which was sent from the government to Jean-Claude Juncker on 5th May states that in the second half of the year, once there is a new government, the PP party is ready to take new steps to halt the increase of Spain’s national debt.
Meanwhile, the main economic indicators continue to appear relatively unaffected by the political uncertainty in Spain. The tourist sector is certainly enjoying a bumper year so far, and data published on Monday by the central statistics unit show that hotel occupancy rates were higher in April than last year despite Easter having been in March.
During the month almost 23.4 million nights were spent at Spanish hotels, 1.3% more than last year, while the average price per night of 73.50€ was 3.3% higher than last year. The 3.95 million non-Spanish guests were 11.5% more than last April, and as is almost always the case the largest single national market outside Spain was the UK, which accounted for 692,000 visitors and 3.6 million nights stayed.
There have been fears that potential foreign investors in Spain might be discouraged by the political situation, but this is certainly not the case with Novartis, the multi-national Swiss-based pharmaceuticals corporation. IT has been announced that the firm will transfer the production of its cancer treatment medications to the plant located in Barberá del Vallès in the province of Barcelona, having purchased the products from the British company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for 11,600 million euros in 2014.
In the long term, though, there are serious concerns about the ability of Spain’s pension system to withstand the ageing of the population: click for further details.
In recent years the advances in unmanned aircraft technology, or drones, have been extremely significant, but in some ways it may be that the technology has advanced too quickly for its own good, and an incident in Bilbao last Saturday illustrates again how dangerous the growing popularity of drone flying could be.
The pilot of a Lufthansa flight arriving at the airport of Loiu reported to the control tower that he had to dodge three drones at an altitude of 900 metres as he was descending to land, calling to mind a similar narrow escape in March at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
The exact nature of the drones has not been established but it can be assumed that to reach an altitude of almost a kilometre they must have weighed at least two or three kilograms. The effect of a collision with a plane flying at 250 km/h could be catastrophic.
In the meantime, on the other hand, it has been confirmed that the European Ariadna project has completed test flights in Jaén in which drones and manned aircraft flew simultaneously at a conventional airport. However successful the tests in Jaén may have been, though, the incident in Bilbao underlines the fact that extreme care is needed in enforcing legislation to ensure that drones are not used inappropriately.
On Thursday it was announced that a latest-generation 6,600-kilometre mega-cable called Marea is to be laid for Facebook and Microsoft across the Atlantic Ocean by Telxius, covering a distance of 6,600 kilometres from North Virginia to Europe, where it will reach land in Sopela, near Bilbao in the Basque Country region of Spain. From Bilbao information will then be distributed to other hubs throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa
An example of the misuse of innovative technology occurred on Wednesday, when Spanish police said that they had arrested 30 people suspected of illegally distributing pay television content and of laundering the proceeds by investing in bitcoin "mining" centres for processing transactions in the digital currency, which use intensive computing power to generate more bitcoins. The arrests took place across Spain, including the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Córdoba.
Street violence in Barcelona
This week there has been continuing violence on the streets of the Gràcia district of Barcelona, with squatters who were evicted on Monday from an old bank branch which they had occupied since 2011 engaging in conflicts with the Mossos d’Esquadra and setting fires to rubbish containers.
On Tuesday night some of those who had been forcibly evicted the day before attempted to “recapture” their former home, continuing the street battles which on Monday had resulted in sixty people being injured and one man being arrested.
The “Banco Expropiado” was formerly a branch of the Catalunya Caixa bank, and although it was occupied by squatters it has emerged that in effect the Town Hall paid rent so that the occupants could remain there.
By Thursday the Travel Department of the American government was warning US citizens to stay away from the Gràcia district, although in fact, the protests on Thursday night turned out to be less violent. Nonetheless, in the course of the week over 30 people have been injured in and around the Travessera de Gràcia, and the situation is in danger of escaping the control of the Town Hall and the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force of Catalunya.
Controversial CUP councillor Josep Garganté has called on the squatters to protest at the Town Hall, and there are calls from both sides for Ada Colau to express her support either for the Mossos or for the squatters in what could turn into a long, bitter and ultimately destructive conflict for both the city of Barcelona and the Mayoress.
The environment, bulls and other animals
Scarcely a week goes by in Spain without the bullfighting debate hitting the headlines, and this week was no exception with an ugly shouting match in Castellón on Thursday as the Town Hall voted to pass a motion tabled by Ciudadanos and allow the bull-related festivals to go ahead “as normal” in the city.
For the time being at least, despite the tide of public opinion in Spain beginning to turn against bullfighting, the provincial capital of Castellón remains faithful to its bull-related traditions, although the heated nature of the debates both inside and outside the Town Hall suggests that this may well not be the situation for many more years.
Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Canals in the south of the province of Valencia, the residents have voted against bull-related events being held as part of the local fiestas this September.
In Madrid, meanwhile, another bull was the focus of attention, this time a 1.5-ton French animal named Easy Rider who is featured in the latest opera to be staged at the Teatro Real.
The work being performed is Arnold Schönberg’s unfinished monumental modernist opera Moses und Aron, and the bull is deemed to be an essential part of the production of Italian director Romeo Castelluci. The bull doesn’t actually do much on stage – he could hardly be expected to sing or dance, after all – but his mere presence is controversial in itself. As well as questions being asked about his fees (22,000 euros for seven performances), there have even been suggestions that his docility on stage is due to him having been drugged, although Romeo Castelluci strongly denies any such allegations.
Other large animals featuring in the week’s news have included elephants, with the confiscation of 74 ivory tusks with an estimated market value of approximately 200,000 euros in Madrid, and bison, with the news that the birth of the first European bison in the province of León for an estimated 10,000 years has taken place at the Museo de la Fauna Salvaje in Valdehuesa.
Not quite so large are the seven newborn mastiff puppies which were rescued from a skip in the small town of Marcilla in the south of the region of Navarra, and have now been returned to their owner until they can be weaned at the age of two months, while even smaller are the 2.5 tons baby eels which were destined for illegal export to China before eight people were arrested by the Guardia Civil in Madrid.
As for environmental news, the government of the Comunidad Valenciana has announced that it is to go ahead with the implantation of a 10-cent deposit on all drink containers sold in the region, including glass bottles, tin cans and cartons, despite strong opposition from shops, universities, groups specializing in ecological legislation and even the national government in Madrid. It is hoped that in this way almost all of the seven million containers used every day in the region can be recycled, rather than the current figure of only two million, but the scheme is the subject of grave doubts regarding the expense involved and possible flaws.
Immigrants and refugees
Spain is caught in a curious dilemma at the moment regarding immigration, on the one hand making strenuous efforts to prevent immigration from Africa across the Mediterranean and on the other hand being obliged by the EU to find room for 18,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.
The dichotomy was illustrated nicely this week: on Tuesday the first 20 Syrian and Iraqi refugees from Greek camps flew into Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport to begin a new life in Spain, the first of 586 which the Spanish government plans to welcome between now and the end of June, but almost simultaneously the Guardia Civil extracted two immigrants from fragile hidden compartments after they were found under a mountain of scrap metal on board a ship which was preparing to sail to the Spanish mainland.
This followed the rescue of 38 sub-Saharan illegal immigrants including four children who were intercepted by the Spanish maritime rescue service on Sunday afternoon.
Crime and punishment
Further details have emerged regarding the murder of a brother and sister aged over 70 at the flat where they lived in Valencia.
The bodies of Juan Carlos and Araceli Oliva Bellido were found on Sunday in their home in Calle Císcar after neighbours reported an unpleasant smell emanating from the apartment, and it has since been reported that they may have been dead for over a month. That it took so long for them to be found is due to the murderer (or murderers) having packed the corpses in sleeping bags, covered them with a carpet, topping that with sacks of cat litter and filled the room with air freshener devices which were suspended from the ceiling.
On a rather more mundane note the Guardia Civil have arrested 57 people belonging to a criminal organization which was devoted to the theft of copper cabling, and which was responsible for at least 205 thefts committed in 19 of Spain’s 50 provinces, while in Torrevieja a Guardia Civil officer has had to undergo surgery after suffering a broken hip in Torrevieja during a dramatic car chase on Monday.
The crime story of the week, though, concerns a 40-year-old man from Calatayud in the province of Zaragoza who could face a fine of 600,000 euros for exaggerating. The incident in question occurred when he rang the 112 emergencies line and reported that his two little girls young daughters were trapped inside a car, but when the police and the fire brigade arrived they found that the individuals who required rescuing were in fact cats, and that far from being locked in a car they were actually inside the man’s flat.
Football and related issues
As Spain prepared for the all-Madrid Champions League final on Saturday and the European Championships this summer, many fondly remembered the night of 11th July 2010, which was one of unrestrained joy for millions of Spaniards as the national football side won the World Cup final.
However, for 200 fans who travelled to Johannesburg to see the match live it ended in disappointment as the tickets they had been sold as part of a flights-and-football package turned out to be fakes, and now, six years later, the man held responsible has been sentenced by a court in Madrid to four years in prison.
Although they are not involved in the Champions League final this year FC Barcelona ended the season on a note of triumph with victory in the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla.
Many people will have tuned in because of the controversial build-up to what was in danger of becoming a conflict between the national government and the Catalan separatist movement, but in the hours before kick-off hand attitudes softened somewhat.
During the playing of the national anthem there was some booing, but not the cacophony of whistling which made it impossible to hear the anthem at last year’s final, and among the flags which could be seen in the stands there was something for almost everyone’s taste, including the national emblems of Cuba and Morocco. And then the match began, and Barça won in extra time with goals from Jordi Alba and Neymar despite being reduced to ten men. The only controversy concerned penalty claims and sendings-off and this was definitely one of those occasions when football, rather than politics, was the winner.
On Saturday night it was the turn of the Champions League, which was won by Real Madrid for a record 11th time.
The match ended 1-1 after extra time as Atletico, giving their usual never-say-die performance, conceded an early goal, missed a penalty, clung on by the skin of their teeth and then found the strength to equalise at the San Siro.
But it was all in vain as Juanfran struck their fourth penalty against the post, allowing a previously subdued Ronaldo to stride up and coolly blast home the decisive penalty for a 5-3 shootout win -- his third European Cup success.
Spanish property news
Spain may still be without a national government, economists may still be warning that investment from abroad is likely to drop as a result, and consumer confidence may be falling, but the residential property market in this country appears to be continuing to recover despite the political uncertainty.
This was underlined again by the latest mortgage statistics to be published by the national government on Friday, with the figures for March showing that a total of 22,983 new mortgages were registered during the month of March. This is 14.5% more than in the same month last year, and at the same time the average loan capital rose by 4.8% to 107,861 euros, a statistic which suggests that house prices are also on the way up.
A report published this week by the financial advice firm Arcano concludes that residential property prices are now rising all over Spain, and that the nationwide average rose by 6.9% between the first quarter of last year and the equivalent period in 2016.
Meanwhile, a study published by a Spanish property portal last week concludes that the cost of buying a newly apartment is currently an average of 30,000 euros higher than that of buying a second-hand home and reforming it, suggesting that new-build prices in Spain are possibly still higher than the true market value at the moment.
However, this is not the case in all regions: in Cantabria, Madrid, Navarra and the Basque Country, according to the portal, the market has adapted to this trend and the average price per square metre is actually now higher in second-hand homes than in new-builds.
In Madrid, 'Operación Chamartín', which was to be the largest urban development project in Europe and was to transform the north of the city centre in Madrid, has effectively been cancelled by the Town Hall of Madrid. As recently as last month it appeared that the DCN project, which featured six new skyscrapers including one which would have become the tallest in Spain and the tallest residential building in the EU, would go ahead, but the municipal construction licence which has not been forthcoming.
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