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Spanish weekly news round-up w/e 18th March
As Semana Santa begins, Spain is still without a government nearly three months after the elections
Spanish news round-up
Little progress towards the formation of a government
In a week during which no visible progress has been made towards the formation of a workable majority government in Spain there has been a rare instance of the four most represented parties in the new parliament all reaching agreement on an issue, namely the controversial EU plans to deal with the refugee crisis in Turkey which are being debated on Friday in Brussels.
In what was hailed by some sectors of the press and an unprecedented move, all of the main political parties in Spain joined forces in suggesting modifications to the original proposal that the EU should deport thousands of refugees arriving from Turkey, and acting President Mariano Rajoy has been given a brief to explain Spain’s opposition to aspects of the “pre-agreement” reached on 7th March. There has been widespread opposition to the mass deportation of refugees in Spain, with many Town Halls refusing to fly the EU flag in protest at the proposals, a gesture which was first adopted in various municipalities in the province of Sevilla.
Whether Spain’s objections will be sufficient to sway the opinion of the EU will soon be known, but at a time when the negotiations to form a government appear to be deadlocked this is a reminder that there is at least some common ground which can be shared by the different political groups involved. When Sr Rajoy speaks in Brussels it will this time be with the backing of a huge parliamentary majority, despite the divisions within the new parliament.
In terms of the situation in Congress in Madrid, though, it appears to be becoming even more complex. This week much attention has focused on the Podemos party, where policy disagreements between party leader Pablo Iglesias and his cohort Íñigo Errejón escalated on Tuesday to the point where Sr Iglesias summarily removed Sergio Pascual from his post as party secretary. Sr Pascual is widely regarded as Sr Errejón’s right-hand man and until now has been the “number 3” of Podemos, and since the announcement Íñigo Errejón has not appeared in public, leading to speculation that he is preparing a bid to wrest control of the party from Sr Iglesias.
On another front, though, Pablo Iglesias has at least agreed to hold talks with Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE, against whose bid to become president Podemos voted in the two presidential investiture debates earlier this month. The two men will meet face to face “before Easter”, i.e. at some point over the next seven days, and while most observers believe that the outcome will probably be that they agree to disagree, there are at least signs that some party leaders are beginning to contemplate sitting down at the negotiating table.
Sr Sánchez has also held talks this week with the president of the regional government in Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont, and again, while it seems almost impossible that the two will agree on the issue of Catalan independence it is at least encouraging to see that the PSOE appears to back a thaw in relations with separatists in Catalunya. After the meeting Sr Puigdemont stated on his Twitter account that “the meeting with Pedro Sánchez shows that disagreements do not prevent cordial dialogue”.
However, these glimmers of hope for those who believe a government can be negotiated are still not leading to any meaningful result, and fears that the political stalemate is affecting the country’s economic recovery are growing. Looking even further ahead, there are no signs that the deadlock will be broken even if, as currently seems probable, another general election is held on 26th June: most Spaniards would vote the same way as they did in the December election, a survey published in El País newspaper showed on Sunday, meaning that another round of negotiations would have to begin.
Corruption and the Noos Case
That situation could yet change, of course, and it may be that the internal divisions within Podemos will lead to a loss of support. Similarly, the other three main parties also stand to lose support due to the involvement of some of their leading lights in corruption scandals: this the week former PP Mayoress of Valencia, Rita Barberá, has been in the spotlight as the routine payment of under-the-table commissions to members of her council over a period of 20 years has been brought to light, while at the same time two former PSOE presidents of the regional government of Andalucía have been appearing in court. Even the new anti-corruption Ciudadanos party is not immune, and on Thursday one of the party leaders in Madrid resigned over her alleged involvement in the Púnica corruption case.
On the subject of corruption, the Nóos Case trial continues in Palma de Mallorca, where this week the main development was that Miguel Tejeiro, one of the key witnesses, turned the heat back on Felipe VI’s brother-in-law and his former business partner during declarations he made in court on Tuesday.
Sr Tejeiro described as “ridiculous” the evidence given by his former bosses at the Instituto Nóos, namely Iñaki Urdangarín (the husband of Princess Cristina) and Diego Torres, maintaining that the majority of financial decisions were taken by the two managing directors of the supposedly non-profit-making organization. Sres Torres and Urdangarín are charged with misappropriating 6.2 million euros of public funds and evading tax on their income, while Cristina is accused of having been a knowing accomplice to their alleged wrongdoings.
Other crime stories
Other crimes, or alleged crimes, to make the news this week range, as usual, from the very serious to the petty. Two drugs raids by the forces of law and order resulted in the arrests of 30 people in Barcelona and Andalucía and 20 more in Huelva and Ceuta, including three Guardia Civil officers, and in the two operations a total of more than seven tons of hashish was confiscated.
An 8-year-old boy in Mallorca is too young to face charges after stabbing a 12-year-old companion in the chest in a dispute over whose turn it was to play with a skateboard, while in Sevilla a 26-year-old who stole a bicycle eight years ago still has a six-month prison sentence hanging over him, despite now being a family man and proclaiming that he has become a reformed character over the intervening period.
In Jaén, meanwhile, a habitual thief has been arrested in connection with the theft from the Convento de las Bernardas of a monstrance (a vessel which is used to exhibit an object of piety or the relics of saints). The man has a long criminal record and over 35 arrests for similar offences in the past, and a search of his home revealed various precious and semi-precious stones which had presumably been removed from the monstrance with the intention of selling them.
At least the forces of the law in southern Spain are making progress in ridding southern coastal areas of their “Costa del Crime” tag, with 275 people who were on the run from the UK police having been detained over the last four years. Most of these arrests have been in the provinces of Málaga and Alicante and the Balearic and Canary islands, and occasionally a high-profile investigation such as the one which ended with the arrests of six Salford gangsters last month makes the headlines both in the UK and in Spain.
The big motoring story this week concerns the 14.5 million long-distance journeys which are forecast to be undertaken over the next ten days during the Easter holidays, despite fuel costs having risen again this week, and the traffic authorities’ special campaign to cope with the extra traffic, but earlier in the week there was much debate in the national press over the road safety laws concerning both cyclists and motorists.
This debate was sparked by an incident on Saturday morning in the province of Pontevedra in which one cyclist was killed and another ten were injured by an 86-year-driver who renewed his licence just last month, and initially most of the attention focused on the issue of elderly drivers. Last week it was reported that special drivers’ licences could be issued to use only cars equipped with auto-parking systems, and in the aftermath of the Pontevedra incident suggestions have been made that another special category should be considered for those of advanced age, taking into account the fact that in most cases octogenarians do not have the same reaction times, quickness of thought and visual acuity as in their youth.
On the other hand, though, there are those who maintain that some cyclists also present a danger on the roads. The group which was involved in the incident on Saturday was riding as a “peloton”, which is to say that they were riding at least two or three abreast, and therefore occupied far more of the road than a single rider or a line of riders. This is an integral part of group riding, but obviously carries with it an inherent risk.
There are some risks, though, which simply cannot be legislated for, as was illustrated this week by the tragic case of a 55-year-old man in Cádiz who died on Thursday morning just outside the car park underneath the building where he lived when he was run over by his own Volkswagen Tiguan. He failed to activate the handbrake correctly when leaving the car to close the garage, and it then rolled back down the slope, taking its owner with it.
Ondórroa struck by two emergencies
Other emergencies receiving attention this week include the blaze which gutted part of a Zaragoza biscuit factory, where fortunately no-one was hurt, and the explosion at an ice factory in the Basque Country town of Ondórroa which claimed two lives. Residents of the coastal town could be forgiven for thinking that the gods are holding a grudge against them lately, with the explosion coming shortly after a rockslide forced 180 families out of their homes and experts from the regional government warning that the hillside behind the town could collapse completely. It is currently estimated that the situation could remain the same for “a few months”, during which time alternative housing is being sought for those evicted.
The Easter holidays begin
All of these issues have occupied the attention of the Spanish press over the last seven days, but as the weekend begins the main topic is inevitably the beginning of the Semana Santa celebrations and the public holidays and fiestas which surround them. In Valencia this year’s early Easter means that Holy Week overlaps with the climax of the Fallas on Saturday, an event which was dragged into the ongoing bullfighting controversy last weekend when two demonstrations were held in the city, one in favour of bull-related events and the other against.
Wolves were also in the news, with protests against the killing of wolves here in Spain.
As both domestic and international tourists make their way to destinations all over the country it should not be forgotten that the late winter weather has made for ideal skiing conditions in the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada and other mountain resorts – more snow is forecast for the weekend - while other attractions for visitors include the medieval weddings which are held in the historic Alicante town of Villena ( a Chinese couple hired the castle for a dream Medieval themed wedding last weekend)and the newly restored Capilla Real in Granada, where after ten years of work the exterior of the chapel built by the Catholic Monarchs can now be admired in all its full glory.
Lastly, sports news, and if there is one thing which is almost as universal in Spain as the enthusiasm for fiestas it is the interest in football. Following his orchestration of another footballing masterclass last weekend against Getafe, Barcelona and Argentina striker Leo Messi is reported this week to be planning to open a huge restaurant in the centre of Barcelona, themed around a village and including a plant-filled conservatory, its own church, a barber’s shop, bars, a churros stand and a central square. It is to be hoped that Messi doesn’t take his dribbling skills with him into the kitchen.
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.
Currency rates between Sterling and the Euro have taken a bit of a battering this week, analysts unhappy with measures laid out in the budget and lacking confidence that the government will meet its deficit targets by 2020. However, that could all change again by next week.
This week Brexit has been a hot topic with lots of articles posted as the opposing sides battle it out in the media. Click for Brexit thread
Spanish property news
Despite the warnings that the continuing political stalemate in Spain could be having a negative effect on the country’s economy, for the time being there is little if any sign that this phenomenon extends to the residential property market, and this week more positive data suggest that the gradual recovery is still ongoing.
The main statistical report published this week was from Spain’s notaries, whose data are taken from the actual point of sale and are therefore more up to date than those from property registries. In January their figures show that a total of 27,568 sales took place, representing a substantial 26.6% increase in comparison with January 2015, and the numbers for all categories of home rose except for new-build apartments, which accounted for just 1,997 transactions.
At the same time, the good health of the market was also reflected in an average price per square metre of residential property of 1,303 euros, 2% higher than in January last year, and again the upward trend was apparent in all of the categories analysed. In terms of mortgages on residential property the number also increased, this time by 30% to 12,908.
Meanwhile, the construction sector of the Spanish economy, which was one of the hardest hit during the long recession, is in desperate need of revitalization, and the latest figures produced by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics bureau, suggest that an upturn in fortunes may be close at hand.
The January figures for production in construction, which take into account both building and civil engineering, show that throughout the EU the month of January saw a 4.4% increase compared to the equivalent period in 2015, and that the highest increase in any one Member State was in Spain (20.3%), ahead of Sweden (18%) and Slovakia (16.4%).
This seems to indicate a reactivation of property development, and for those considering embarking on new constructions the low price of urban buildable land makes the prospect even more attractive. The latest figures published on Wednesday by the Ministry of Development show an average price across the country of 151.90€ per square metre, 2.9% lower than 12 months previously. This comes after a year-on-year increase of 9.7% in the previous quarter, and underlines the fact that in general the demand for new construction is still not quite strong enough to produce consistent increases in market value.
In some areas, however, the opposite is the case, and in the Costa Blanca town of Torrevieja developers are seeking to re-start projects dating from before the market crash. Unfortunately for them, though, licences which were issued before the market crash began in late 2007 are no longer valid, having expired after a period of two years, and in order to renew them developers not only have to pay the relevant administrative fees again but are also obliged to update the building projects to comply with modifications which have been made to municipal building requirements in the meantime.
Despite this they are reported to be interested in reviving projects which were shelved years ago, and one of them is reported to be a group of seven 14-floor tower blocks alongside the Playa de Los Náufragos in which several large promoters have recently expressed an interest.
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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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