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Weekly round-up of Spanish news 8th April
Positive property figures and British tourists have spent 1.3 billion euros in Spain so far this year
Spanish news round-up
It will come as no surprise to those who follow the Spanish news that once again the headlines have been dominated this week by the continuing attempts to form a new government, although as the deadline for doing so approaches progress is still slow and the chances of an agreement being reached are viewed as somewhere between slender and very slender indeed.
Nonetheless, on Thursday, a full 109 days after the inconclusive general election results on 20th December last year, negotiators from the PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos parties finally sat down at the same table at the same time, and after two hours the main positive conclusion to be drawn is that none of the three groups got up and abandoned the discussions. This is hardly surprising, as anyone who does so would lay themselves open to accusations of refusing to negotiate and condemning the country to another election in June, prolonging a period of political and economic uncertainty which in the eyes of many has already lasted too long.
Pedro Sánchez and his PSOE cohorts still believe that the alliance with Ciudadanos can be modified to ensure the support of Podemos, describing the task as “difficult but not impossible”, but the caretaker government of the PP, the only major party not to have sat at the negotiating table with their rivals, describes the potential three-party alliance as “absolutely impossible”. Throughout the week party spokesman Rafael Hernando has referred to the manoeuvrings of Pedro Sánchez as a “pantomime”, maintaining that the only viable alliance would be a grand coalition between the PP and the PSOE, but it appears that the powers-that-be in the PSOE do not share his opinion.
Time is running out for the negotiators, who in reality have only until 25th April in order to find a solution. Should they fail to do so another election could lead to a joint PP-Ciudadanos government, according to one of the latest opinion polls, and both PSOE and Podemos will be keen to avoid such a scenario.
In the meantime, there are more signs that the continuing uncertainty is continuing to have a negative effect on Spain’s international prestige and the robustness of the economic recovery. US President Barack Obama has suspended a planned visit until a new government is formed – at the current rate of progress he may be out of office before that happens – and the view of this country from overseas is also affected by the failure to meet last year’s deficit target. This week Cristóbal Montoro, the Minister for Hacienda and public Administrations, has effectively passed much of the blame for this on to regional and local governments, suspending central government financing to the regions of Aragón and Extremadura.
In addition, 351 Town Halls across the country are similarly punished, including that of the prestigious Costa del Sol resort of Marbella.
Positive economic news
There is some good news to report regarding the economy, though. Easter contributed to positive March employment figures, with the jobless total falling by over 58,000 last month and reaching just under 4.1 million, 8.02% lower than at the same point in 2015. At the same time, the Easter effect is illustrated by the fact that the best performer among Spain’s fifty provinces was the Balearic islands, where the tourist season began after the winter and the total dropped by 7.78% in four weeks to just over 66,000. Similarly impressive falls are reported in the Catalunya coastal provinces of Tarragona (5.2%) and Girona (5.5%).
The residential property market continues to perform encouragingly (see below) and the international tourist sector is also thriving, with expenditure by foreign visitors during February rising by 8% in comparison to last year. This represents a continuation of the upward trend which has seen year-on-year increases every month for the last year, and not only are more people visiting this country but they are also spending more than a year ago, according to the latest statistical bulletin.
Needless to say, the largest single market in terms of generating this revenue remains the UK, and in February spending by British visitors rose by 10.7% to 689 million euros. In terms of preferred destinations the most significant rise was recorded in the Balearics, where an increase of 23.3% saw the February figure rise to 262 million euros. This is only 3.5% of the figure for the whole country, but it is not too far-fetched to suggest that such a positive result is connected to the unemployment figures mentioned above.
Revealing data concerning the changing society of Spain
This week has seen a welter of surveys and polls which illustrate how Spanish society is changing, reinforcing the theory that the emergence of political parties and the resulting parliamentary stalemate are consequences of new expectations and demands from the man and woman on the street.
The current lack of a government is identified as one of the three most important problems currently facing Spain by only 3.1% of the population, according to a survey published by the Sociological Research Institute, an increase compared to a month ago but a long way short of the scores of 77.1% for unemployment and 44% for fraud and corruption. However, at the same time almost 80% of those questioned were of the opinion that the current political situation in Spain is either “bad” or “very bad”, and it is clear that there is widespread general dissatisfaction with the political class.
Despite the acting government’s attempts to highlight positive economic data there is also a considerable fall in consumer confidence, which on a scale of 0 to 200 has dropped from 107.4 to 92.6 in the three months since the election.
However, the changes in society are not limited to political attitudes and voting patterns, and it has become clearer this week that fundamental changes in the Spanish way of life are to be expected when a new government is eventually formed.
Last Saturday acting President Mariano Rajoy made a promise during a speech in Sevilla to reach an agreement with trades unions and other groups to establish an 18.00 end to the working day for most occupations. In order to make this feasible it would be necessary for Spain to operate on Greenwich Mean Time and British Summer Time, bringing the country in line with its geographical location: the reason for the country currently using Central European Time is based on General Franco’s wish for Spain to be in line with Germany during the 1930s and the Second World War.
The change to GMT is a policy which has already been agreed upon by PSOE and Ciudadanos in the agreement signed by both parties, and polls suggest it is widely supported. However, whether Spain and the Spanish are ready for a drastic re-arrangement of the working day is another matter, and how it would affect aspects such as shop opening hours, school timetables, TV scheduling and the all-important siesta is not completely clear!
Another controversial topic reflecting the changing nature of society is that of sexism in the Spanish language: a couple of paragraphs above reference was made to the “political class”, and this would be approved of by the education authorities in the region of Andalucía as being commendably non-sexist.
The regional government in Sevilla has published a document which includes guidelines to help teachers to avoid what is considered to be sexist language and to use non-gender-specific terms, with the phrase “la clase política” being preferred to “los politicos”.
The problem for those who are sensitive to possible sexism within the Spanish language is that as it evolved from Latin over the centuries it has done so in such a way as to “favour” the male gender. Prime examples of this include the use of “hijos” to mean either “sons” or “children”, with females included, or the use of “padres” to mean “parents”.
Similarly, in English a word like “pupils” is not gender-specific, whereas the Spanish all-inclusive use of “alumnos” uses the male version of the noun to refer to both sexes, and the guidelines urge teachers to refrain from speaking about “alumnos” to refer to both male and female pupils and use “estudiantes” or “alumnos y alumnas” instead. Similarly, Spanish people are to be referred to not as “los españoles” but as “la población española”.
Another sociological study published during the week revealed that Spanish parents struggle to keep up with their children in mobile phone technology, and that 70 per cent ask for help from their kids in using their phones. And those of us without children....normally the course of action is to find a friend with kids and do the same thing!
A similarly unsurprising report concluded that street noise and loud neighbours are a problem in 18 per cent of Spanish homes. The Spanish are stereotyped as being a noisy race, and it seems that the popular perception that this is the case is particularly true in the regions of the Balearics, where the proportion rises to 29.7%, the Canaries, Murcia and Madrid.
Another relatively new phenomenon in Spanish society is the decrease in size of the average household, which currently stands at 2.51 people. The number of single-person households continues to rise, with important long-term implications for the property and construction sectors (see below).
A wide variety of motoring and traffic news this week includes tragedy, innovation and crime, with the main tragedy occurring on the roads of Girona on Saturday when a French driver without a licence caused an accident in which seven people died. Two bottles of vodka and almost 7,000 euros in cash were found in the car he was driving, and only one person survived the head-on collision of his VW Golf with a Dacia Sandero.
Innovation came in the form of the first driverless buses in Spain, which began a three-month trial period on a 2-kilometre route in the Basque city of San Sebastián, and also in the first mega-truck to travel on Spanish roads. The 25.25-metre-long lorry completed a 35-kilometre journey from Palau-solità i Plegamans to Martorell in the province of Barcelona without any hitches, but there are concerns over safety issues despite it providing both economic and environmental advantages over conventional articulated container vehicles.
As for crime, service stations on the motorways of Catalunya are now a good deal safer following the arrests of 12 members of a gang responsible for 55 violent thefts and robberies since last summer, and on a slightly less serious scale a Valladolid pensioner lost his rag when a bus driver refused to make an unscheduled stop to let him off. The 69-year-old man remained on the vehicle until the next stop and vented his rage by smashing the window of the bus door with his walking stick, causing 550 euros’ worth of damage.
Crimes and emergencies
Other crimes in the news this week include the confiscation of 21,000 packets of illegally imported cigarettes in the province of Sevilla, the violent killing of a deer and a boar by a man in Córdoba who decided to upload video footage of his exploits on WhatsApp, and the aircraft bomb hoaxers from Cuenca who sent a recorded message to the Aena airport management company in Madrid in December stating that “people would die” on a plane which had just left for Brazil.
The flight to Sao Paolo turned back to Spain an hour and a half after take-off, and it emerged during the course of the Guardia Civil’s investigations that the arrested are related to a woman who was among the 315 passengers on board, and who was being deported to her country of origin. The damages caused by the hoax have been estimated at over 200,000 euros.
In Oviedo a three-day period of mourning has been declared following the death of a fireman while combating a blaze in a 19th-century building in the city centre, and still in the north of Spain this week marked the first anniversary of the killing of Denise Thiem, an American walker on the Camino de Santiago. She was murdered last Easter Sunday near Astorga in the province of León, and the search for her lasted months until the killer was arrested in September.
This week, though, in a sense, she returned to complete her trek to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. This has been made possible by other walkers, including some who met Denise last year, having received authorization from the Confraternita de San Jacobo di Compostella allowing them to walk “in her name”, and when they reach their destination it will be on her behalf.
Brexit debate round-up
The Brexit debate is hotting up as June approaches and this week pollsters have been in overdrive as campaigning intensifies.
The week began with a survey by Deloitte showing that big British firms are delaying deals and hiring decisions ahead of a referendum on the country's European Union membership, adding to signs that uncertainty around the vote is weighing on the economy.
Chief financial officers are increasingly in favour of staying in the EU, according to the survey of chief financial officers published by accountancy firm Deloitte.This opinion is shared by other heavyweights in the business world and on Wednesday the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and Co. warned that "years of economic uncertianth would be the best case scenario" if the UK chose Brexit.
On Monday the Telegraph also released their latest poll, which showed that support for Britain to stay within the 28-member EU stood at 51 percent, ahead of support for Britain to leave the European Union, which stood at 44 percent, a trend mirrored in other opinion polls released later in the week which give the in vote a slender lead over the outs.
On Thursday Prime Minister David Cameron urged young Britons to make sure they vote, warning that leaving the bloc would hit youth voters hardest.
With overall public opinion evenly split, youth voters are expected to play an important role in the referendum outcome because polling shows they are generally more pro-European, but less inclined to vote.
"Get out there. Register. Vote. Tell your parents, grandparents, friends and colleagues: this referendum will really help determine whether your generation is stronger, safer and better off," he said, arguing that young people's job prospects would be disproportionately affected by the economic impact of an EU exit.
Dutch rejection of EU treaty seen as Brexit vote warnng for UK
Across the channel voters in the Netherlands overwhelmingly rejected a Ukraine-European Union treaty on closer political and economic ties, in a rebuke to their government and to the European Union establishment.
The broad political, trade and defence treaty, which had already been signed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government and approved by all other European Union nations as well as Ukraine, took effect provisionally in January.
But that didn't stop Dutch voters on Wednesday rejecting it by a 64-36 margin in a referendum .
Voters said they were voicing their opposition not only to the treaty itself but also to European policymakers on matters ranging from the migrant crisis to economic policy, not long before Britain's June vote on whether to stay in the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said that a Dutch 'No' would embolden British voters who believed they were alone in Europe in holding eurosceptic views.
"If there is a healthy turn-out and if there is a strong 'No' vote in the referendum, it sends a big message," he said. "A 'No' vote here would be taken by many back home as a sign that this growth in euroscepticism isn't just in our country, it's happening elsewhere."
British polls suggest that younger people overwhelmingly back continued EU membership, in sharp contrast to the more eurosceptical over-55s - a contrast that Farage attributed to the influence of university education.
"The universities don't even attempt intellectual neutrality ... I do feel that British youth have a different view because of what they've been told," he said.
The Dutch vote was triggered after a satirical website collected enough signatures to call a referendum on the treaty, a broad trade, political and defence agreement which grants Ukraine access to EU markets in exchange for ramped up reform efforts in the troubled former Soviet republic.
Currency Exchange Rate this week
It's important to keep an eye on the exchange rate if buying a property or transferring your pension
This week the exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro continues to suffer, hitting a 10 month low, as uncertainty over the future of the UK within the EU continues to un-nerve the markets. 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.
The current rate makes it even more important to choose the method by which money is transferred with care, and using the Torfx currency transfer system will guarantee mor euros per pound than using a bank.
Spanish property news
The February sales figures which brought good news to the Region of Murcia property market had a similar effect across the country, calming fears of a market dip after a blip in the January statistics.
The number of sales registered during the month was the third highest in four years at 34,771, and at the same time this was the first time that February sale registrations have exceeded the January total since 2011. A year-on-year increase of 15.8% should be enough to ease any worries that the market might be dropping off, and the region-by-region breakdown of February residential property transactions provides some similarly encouraging data.
Sales during the month were higher in all seventeen regions of Spain except La Rioja and Castilla y León, with the most significant increases being in the Basque Country (50.3%) and Asturias (40%), while the number of transactions per 100,000 inhabitants was over 100 in five regions.
Of course the property sales figures in Spain cannot continue to grow indefinitely, and neither is it desirable for them to do so, but at present the rise towards what market analysts consider an acceptable figure is fairly steady. Over the course of the last twelve months the number of transactions recorded is 358,190, an increase of 9.9% compared to where it stood last year.
Meanwhile, the annual data regarding the composition of households in Spain (see above) are interesting in their own right, demonstrating how different Spanish society remains from northern European countries while at the same time having evolved significantly over the last 30 years, but are also important for the long-term housing market. If the tendency is for there to be more households containing fewer members, the first implication is that demand for one-and two-bedroom properties is likely to rise, bringing equilibrium to the market. In addition, though, construction projects in future will have to take these demographic trends into account, with new types of housing catering for a new market profile.
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