Today, Thursday, is Election Day in Catalonia. Three parties support independence, balanced evenly against three who are ‘Constitutionalists’. In the middle lies the seventh: En Comú Podem. Who will win and what will happen? Keep an eye on Lenox’ blog Spanish Shilling for the results here.
Many of the subjects close to British expatriate interests have been discussed in the Brexit talks.
‘Don’t worry’, says the ambassador benignly, ‘everything will be all right’.
‘We simply don’t trust the British Government to represent our interests’, say, with a certain logic, the ‘Remainers’ – those who don’t reside in the UK, that is. ‘Scaremongering’ (lovely word) disparagingly answer the surprising number of Brexit supporters who live – incapable of enjoying irony – in Spain.
In short, we must await events, as we shall only know how the cake turns out when we finally take it out of the oven (as our old grannie used to say).
One subject which has not received any attention so far – and one which will affect all foreign residents living in Spain, regardless of nationality – is the right to vote and to be voted for: the voto active y pasivo which was ceded to the foreigners from EU countries in Spain’s first change in her Constitution, back in 1992. We EU citizens indeed got the vote, but (thanks to a disagreeable Minister called Rubalcaba) we were only able to vote in the European elections of 1995 and not the municipal ones. Per Svensson, myself and José María Martínez de Haro formed a pressure group at the time called Ciudadanos Europeos to try and attract interest in the plight of the foreign residents in Spain.
(I even called for parallel elections with ghost candidates for the municipal elections of 1995 – earning my fifteen minutes of fame).
In 1999, we were finally allowed to vote in local elections, and even to form parties (why not?) and to join a local political party list. The expected surge in Partido Popular votes never occurred, because most foreign EU citizens (plus the Norwegians, who could vote but not run for office) never bothered to interest themselves in local civic affairs. In short (and much to the surprise of the Spanish politicians), they hardly voted at all.
Nowadays, there are a few more countries – including Trinidad and Tobago (!) – enjoying bilateral agreements with Spain to allow their citizens to vote in local elections, while unable to feature in any voting list (i.e. el ‘voto pasivo’).
But, with the British departure from the EU in late March 2019 – two months before local elections in Spain – what will happen?
Will we Britons have the vote? Maybe (no one knows, no one says). Will we be able to continue in local politics? There are currently a number of British councillors – some very active in foreigners affairs. Will the lack of votes from the British residents lose seats and support for other EU councillors? Without going any further afield, the sometimes vice-mayor of Albox is Irish, the mayor of Alcaucín is Belgian: both of whom have been very active in the issue of ‘illegal homes’ which their fellow-foreigners and supporters acquired ten or more years ago. Both of whom earned their position, in a large part, from British voters. Both of whom, without the British vote, would be unable to continue in politics.
Perhaps we British will be able to vote after all: with an elegant adjustment that, following Brexit, a bilateral agreement would be signed, restoring our vote. We would, of course, have to wait six months between being registered by the electoral board and being allowed to vote – unfortunately missing the May 2019 municipal elections. Oh my.
I was lucky to meet with the provincial (Almería) coordinator for Ciudadanos, Francisco Ramos, on Tuesday and to discuss the subject in some depth with him in a lengthy dialogue. He thought his party would be very interested in the matter and we will meet again for further discussions after the Christmas period. Lenox dixit.
‘Spanish home sales inscribed in the Land Registry were up by 28% in October, one of the biggest increases in sales since the recovery began. There were 33,727 Spanish home sales inscribed in the Land Register in October, and 37,228 if you include homes subsidised by the Government, known as VPO. Compared to the same month last year, Spanish home sales were up by 28% (excluding VPO, 27% including), all according to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE)...’. More at Spanish Property Insight here.
‘The latest property buying and selling report from the property portal Fotocasa reveals house-hunter budgets, and vendor asking-prices. The report shows that Spaniards who bought or attempted to buy a property over the last year had an average budget of €173,000. The figure varies depending on the region. In Madrid, it rose to an average of €212,000; in Catalonia to €206,000; in the Basque Country to €191,000; while in the Valencian Community it was lower at €146,000 and in Andalucía €126,000...’. More on this story at Mark Stücklin’s Spanish Property Insight here.
A recent article in El País says that British home-buyers are down by 16.4% in the first six months of 2017. Brits bought 13.9% of homes acquired by foreigners, followed by the French at 8.8%, the Germans at 8.2% and the Italians (7.7%).
Those ‘illegal houses’ have done much to tarnish the reputation of Almería, Málaga and other provinces. The damage has been massive – untold millions of euros and a serious number of jobs – all lost thanks to bumbling or crooked or inept funcionarios, lawyers, ecologists and politicians. Many innocent buyers were obliged to cut their losses, or perhaps stay on in some discomfort – maybe without electricity or water. Certainly without the correct paperwork The phenomenon is not entirely over, and the work of AUAN and SOHA continues. From Arboleas, Almería, some good news by way of La Voz de Almería: ‘An end to the nightmare for 300 homes. The provincial commission of urbanism approves the changes in the PGOU (planning laws) allowing the legalization of the houses’. Across Andalucía, where these problems continue, pressure is being brought on the Junta de Andalucía to change the laws in their new LOUA (urban planning laws). More here.
Too many tourists maybe? The World Travel and Tourism Council has some peachy ideas about how to solve this. See Spanish Shilling here.
Renfe’s Tarjeta Dorada is for those over 60 years old, and provides a discount of 40% on their services. See here. Useful to know.
‘Brexit could bring major opportunities for investment to Madrid, according to a report in British daily broadsheet The Guardian – as businesses and agencies leave the UK, they may be attracted to the Spanish capital as an alternative location. Spain's rapid growth – among the fastest in the European Union – and the fact that Madrid is responsible for 20% of the GDP, plus the greater quality of life in the city compared with other EU capitals, and the country's almost-exclusive links with Latin America due to its historical and cultural ties mean London's loss could be Madrid's gain. To help convince firms considering leaving Britain – particularly those in the financial services sector and within the City of London – the regional government has set up #ThinkMadrid in which it draws attention to the lower taxes and a new plan known as an 'administrative motorway' to fast-track the setting up of companies opting for Spain's largest metropolitan area...’. From Think Spain here.
‘The Minister of Energy, Álvaro Nadal, has persuaded the Council of Ministers of the European Union to support the controversial toll of support for self-consumption, popularly known as "the sun-tax", according to government sources. This is a levy following the reform of the electricity system, which indicated that those users who have a home energy system, such as rooftop solar panels, and are connected to the common electricity grid, must pay an extra toll on their energy bill...’. El Confidencial has the story here.
‘In 2016, the electricity system registered a surplus of 421,450,000 euros, according to the final figure for the year released by The National Commission on Markets and Competition (CNMC in Spanish). ... This was partially offset by revenues external to tolls which were lower than initially estimated. In the final liquidation for 2016, revenues totalled 696,3 million euros applying the Law 15/2012, of which 196,1 million correspond to the fee for using inland waters...’. From The Corner here.
Minimum salaries are to rise in the next three years from the current 707€ (in fourteen payments) to 850€ by 2020 says the Government. El País has the story here.
Nine ayuntamientos (of towns of over 20,000 inhabitants) have a critical debt situation in some cases of over 500% of their annual budgets and anything up to 600 days average payment to providers. These – with at least debts of twice their annual gross budget – are Jerez, Jaén and La Línea (Andalucía), Alcorcón, Parla and Navalcarnero (Madrid), Totana (Murcia), Gandía (Valencia) and San Andrés del Rabanedo (León). 20 Minutos has the story here.
The birth rate is low in Spain, and slowly, more retired people are being financed by fewer workers... From Cinco Días: ‘...Since 1941, Spain has never seen such a shrinking birth rate as the current one, with only 8.79 births per thousand inhabitants, a level with which it has been flirting for more than 20 years, but which is no less than half of what it had in 1978, when the baby boom was already declining. The last decade of the last century, the number of births per thousand inhabitants was less than ten, and it was only revived in the first decade of this century (briefly reaching 11.27 per thousand in 2008) due to the massive influx of immigrants with significantly higher birth rates than the natives. But with the recent crisis, Spain has returned to its old ways, and even the immigrant population no longer registers growing birth rates...’.
‘Spain in the world: an analysis of the Elcano Global Presence Index 2016’. A major political and economic paper by the El Cano Royal Institute (a think-tank). ‘The summary begins: ‘Incorporating the latest data from 2016, Spain received a total global presence index value of 204.1. As a result, Spain maintained its 12th position in the classification of 100 countries calculated by the Elcano Global Presence Index. Spain’s strength continues to be the soft dimension (11th), as well as the economic (also 12th place). However, in the military sphere (17th), Spain’s international role is more passive. The country’s global presence is projected domestically from all of its regions (or Autonomous Communities) and cities, although the leaders tend to be the largest in terms of economic output or population (i.e., Madrid, Catalonia and Andalucía). To draw a more precise picture of Spanish international activity that might inform foreign policy decisions, in this paper we calculate for the first time the geographic distribution of Spain’s global presence in the world...’.
The grand old man of the Spanish Left is Julio Anguita – the retired ex-leader of the Izquierda Unida. In an extended interview with El Salto Diario, Anguita says that the PSOE is nothing to do with socialism, and is more of a conservative ‘white’ brand.
From El País in English comes: ‘The day-to-day instability of Spanish cities governed by the far left. Turbulent relationships within Podemos-led coalitions are on display in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona’
If you can understand the odd English voice, this is a great video about Luis Bárcenas.
Ignacio González, the ex-president of the Madrid Region, is explaining in court how the corruption went during his time in service. The inquiry into the Caja B (the black cash in the Partido Popular head office in Madrid) finds that the PP head-office wanted to control all major investors and their investments in the region. El Diario has the story here. Some senior figures in the PP are outed in the inquiry, says El Mundo here.
...And how are things in Seville with the ERE inquiry? El Demócrata Liberal says that ‘it’s all dissolving like a sugar lump’. The two ex-presidents Chaves and Griñán, says the article, are being defended by the media itself. They took no money, so they can’t be bad! We shall see how it all plays out...
Digital Sevilla reports that the Junta de Andalucía’s accounts department – the Cámera de Cuentas – was surprised to find 13,310 employees for the Junta that aren’t on any government list. There should be 230,714 public employees... but, there are rather more than that. According to the bean-counters, ‘...there are actually 243,844 public employees and they say that “it is not possible to know or quantify the actual number of employees of the Junta de Andalucía at the end of each financial year on the basis of the information contained in the reports on compliance with budgetary programmes or in the report, both of which are included in the General Accounts submitted each year"...’.
‘FIFA have threatened to kick Spain out of next year’s World Cup after writing a letter to the Spanish football federation (RFEF) warning them about political interference. The foot-balling body say they are deeply concerned about the Spanish government’s’ continued interference in the upcoming election for RFEF president. The previous president, Angel Maria Villar stepped down in July after being arrested on corruption charges and an interim president has since been in place...’. From The Olive Press here.
‘Who’s a Spaniard These Days?’ The New York Times explains what’s been happening in Catalonia. Here.
From Noticias de Catalonia (‘lo que nadie más te va a contar’): ‘Spanish parties and the media have blamed independence for almost all the evils of humanity. The latest thing is to blame independence for an economic crisis unparalleled in Catalonia that causes thousands of companies to "leave" and lose investments and tourists. These claims are easy to sell, they only have one problem: they are all fake. According to the Official Gazette of the Mercantile Registry, it is clear that of the 3,000 companies that according to españolismo have left Catalonia, in fact only 320 have changed their registered offices. Moreover, as the experts have already made it clear, this change of venue "has no impact on the Catalan economy", even though Albert Rivera and his Ciudadanos would like to say the opposite...’.
by Andrew Brociner
Catalan elections are due to take place today Thursday, with the main pro-independence Catalan parties contesting from outside Catalonia, Carles Puidgemont from self-imposed exile in Brussels, and Oriol Junqueras from prison just outside of Madrid. On the other side, there are the anti-separatist parties, with Ciudadanos leading the way, the Socialists, who are open to some concessions to Catalonia, and the PP, which has never done well in Catalonia, but now faces the additional backlash of its repressive tactics. Then there is Podemos, which has criticised both sides, the separatists for declaring independence, and the PP for using authoritarian methods, and who just might hold the crucial card for there to be a majority.
Puidgemont once held all the cards, but chose to flee the country and the risk of arrest, and though he claims he wanted a wider platform in the EU to voice his cause, one cannot help thinking that had he chosen not to abandon his ship and to rather become a martyr for his cause, instead of enjoying moules-frites with his Flemish counterparts in Belgium, he might have had more credibility among Catalans. Indeed, although he was Catalonia's president, opinion polls now show he is running in third place.
Ahead of him in the polls is Junqueras, leading the pro-independence left-wing ERC (Esquerra) party. Apparently, his decision to stay in the country and face the consequences of declaring independence has found favour among Catalans. Running very close in the polls is Ciudadanos, headed by Inés Arrimadas, a centre-right party very opposed to separatism. And third is Puidgemont's JxCat. The new strong support for Esquerra is a way for pro-independence voters to show disfavour with Puidgemont and praise for Junqueras, while keeping alive the campaign for separatism. And the similarly strong endorsement for Ciudadanos is a way for anti-independence Catalans to finally voice their position, without conceding to the deplorable methods of the PP, who, according to the polls, are set to come in last and to lose half their seats, something which, given the behaviour of the central government, was only to be expected. Podemos meanwhile is trying a different strategy, that of trying to unite the left in a three-way coalition consisting of itself, Esquerra and the Socialists, in an attempt to shift the focus towards left-wing policies and away from separatism. This approach, although nothing new, at least has the advantage of embracing some of the different components of Catalan society, rather than fomenting its divisions, and, as such, would take some of the sting out of the recent events. However, for this to work, Esquerra would have to give up the idea of independence, at least possibly until a referendum can be legalised, and this remains to be seen. One of its election posters depicts it in a star wars movie fighting article 155 and they seem to be in battle mode.
Nothing can be ruled out at this stage, with computer simulations based on polls, and giving the number of seats rather than percentage of votes, indicating that different scenarios are possible. The separatist bloc could in theory be formed again, between ERC, JxCat and CUP. The result of a majority, however, appears to be more likely if Podemos lends their support. There is too some power struggle now between the two main rival separatist parties, Puidgemont fancying he will come back to lead the coalition bloc as before, fresh from his hiatus in Belgium, whereas Junqueras, after his ordeal, and with Esquerra likely to obtain more seats than JxCat, will now want to govern and thus, effectively, swap positions. On the other side, there is also the possibility of a coalition between the anti-independence parties, Ciudadanos, the Socialists, and the PP. In this scenario, Podemos also plays a role, making it more likely to gain a majority. Thus Podemos is conceivably a key player, but so far, it has refused to support either the pro or anti-independence sides. At least this time there will be a probable record turn-out of 82%, and any interpretation of these elections as being another take on a separatist referendum, no longer has the excuse of low voter turn-out. That neither side can be predicted with any degree of accuracy at this late stage demonstrates once again that Puidgemont's claim of an overwhelming majority of 90% in favour of independence was fallacious, given that only those in favour turned out, and that there continue to be deep divisions in the region. For all the jockeying around for a majority, grouping together this party and that in different combinations, forming a coherent government can only be done by the slightest of margins, if at all, and the only clear thing to note, therefore, is the diversity within Catalonia.
‘Britain has turned its fire on the EU over its insistence that Theresa May must come to an arrangement with Spain over the future of Gibraltar, if the rock is to be covered by a deal on a transition period. The EU effectively backed Spain in the centuries-old territorial dispute in April, when its guidelines outlining their approach to the Brexit negotiations insisted Gibraltar would be outside any future trade deal with the UK unless an agreement was reached in advance with Madrid...’. From The Guardian here.
‘The National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC) has fined Gas Natural and Endesa for fraudulently working to raise electricity prices. The authority suspects that the two electricity companies were making abnormally high bids to shut down their own gas-fired plants and thus activate the security of supply mechanism, which is always more expensive...’. El Independiente says that this caused a huge rise in electricity prices last Christmas – between October 2016 and January 2017.
From the British Embassy in Madrid, a video message update from the British Ambassador to Spain Simon Manley on the latest progress made in negotiations, ahead of this week's European Council meeting in Brussels.
‘The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has written a letter to UK citizens living in the EU, ahead of the Christmas period, in which she gives an update on citizens’ rights in the negotiations with the EU, following the December European Council last week...’. More at The Local here.
‘Onward free movement and local election voting rights for British expats appear to have been dropped from the Brexit negotiations, the latest information from the UK and EU suggests. The two sides have put out the fourth of a series of tables comparing their positions on expat rights – which now for the first time shows uniform agreement on everything. This is partly due to the parties coming to agreement on some of the disputed areas, however closer inspection shows that some contentious items have just been dropped – notably the right of British expats to maintain full free movement in the EU for life and to vote in local elections where they live...’. From The Connexion (France) here.
From The Press (York, UK): ‘Uncertainty surrounding Brexit has seen 37 nurses quit their jobs at York Hospital, according to a York MP. Speaking during a debate in the House of Commons with Robin Walker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Rachael Maskell claimed that out of 40 Spanish nurses employed by York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, only three remain after their compatriots chose to leave over the insecurity surrounding Britain leaving the European Union...’. Theresa May’s conciliatory letter to the EU citizens resident in the UK: ‘Too Late’, says Reuters here.
Excerpt from a pitch for El Diario subscribers: ‘...Large media outlets are financed by advertising. But many times that is not enough, especially if behind every media outlet there is a group of companies, a huge structure with interests that have nothing to do with journalism. For many media outlets, journalism is just a tool of influence for other businesses and power relations. Ask yourself something: Why are there red-coloured, unprofitable media outlets that continue to be published day after day? The answer is what it seems: there is someone paying to keep them running and the media accumulates a large debt to that "someone"...’.
As Business over Tapas readers know, the (print) newspaper business is coming slowly to an end. On Sunday, El País announced that they were closing their in-house presses and would, from Monday, be printing their newspaper from an outside - shared - printer. Thus, the press machines at El País, running since 1976, have fallen silent forever.
The Press Association of Madrid says that 45% of all self-employed journalists in Spain earn less than 1,000€ per month. Article here.
The European Commission confirms that ‘net neutrality’ will continue within the EU.
From The Guardian: ‘Madrid offers sun and sanctuary to businesses escaping Brexit. As Britain prepares to leave the EU, there is acknowledgement that some of the City of London’s losses could be this city’s gains’.
Bultaco, the erstwhile motorbike company, has been reborn: this time it makes electric bicycles (or rather, a ‘moto-bike’). The army has just bought a number of these machines called Brinco-A. These machines are quite impressive – here’s a video.
The old man, Justo Gallego Martínez has been building, all by himself, a cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, 20kms outside Madrid. See video here. He’s spent 56 years working on the project. Justo is 92 now, and the job is far from finished, but what will happen to the 5,000 square metre cathedral when he dies? There are no plans, no paperwork, no planning permission and no architect. It’s all in the hands of God! Article and second (amazing!) video here.
Things haven’t settled down in Murcia yet regarding the plans to build a surface entrance to the railway for the AVE, rather than an underground access. An elderly lady called Ana has taken to placing her chair just in front of the advancing work, to enjoy the sunny afternoons. She won’t budge, either. See Magnet here (great photo).
Those radar traps with a big blue warning sign that you see on the autovias may not be so silly after all. Apparently, this year they have taken in an average daily dose of 218,000€.
El Español offers ‘Spain’s fifteen best public hospitals’ here.
In all, just six Britons resident in Málaga (out of 4,772 foreigners, particularly Moroccans and South Americans) took Spanish nationality in 2016 says Málaga Hoy. No statistics found on the country as a whole...
From Lenox’ blog – ‘The observatory in the high hills behind Almería, Calar Alto, has announced its discovery of a planet. The sun about which it circles every 86 days is a white dwarf, half the size of Sol, and the planet, currently called HD147379b, is apparently the size of our own Neptune...’. More here.
‘What if I suddenly found myself living somewhere other than Spain? What would I miss about life here? That is the wrong question because I would miss almost everything about living here. I’d need to narrow down the parameters somewhat, like asking myself, "What things would absolutely break my heart to live without?"...’. From Leftbanker here.
From The Stage (London): ‘The Cervantes Spanish Theatre Company was founded in 2014 by director, actor and producer Jorge de Juan and fellow director Paula Paz. In November 2016, it opened its first permanent home – the Cervantes Theatre – based under a Victorian railway arch in Southwark, London ... The theatre presents a mix of Spanish-language classics by writers such as Gabriel García Lorca, as well as new writing. Plays are presented in both English and Spanish, with the same production often alternating between languages from one performance to the next...’.
‘Here's Why You Must Visit This Piece of Classic Hollywood in Spain at Least Once’.
‘Living in Valencia: Why is it better to live in Valencia than in Madrid or Barcelona’. A piece from Globexs here.
A foodie trip to Huelva with Molly at Piccavey here.
The History of Spanish cinema – a short video at YouTube here.
* * * * * *
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers.
Felices fiestas a todos nuestros lectores.
Un abrazo from Lenox, Andrew and José Antonio.
We shall take a week’s descanso and return, refreshed, in the New Year with Business over Tapas Nº 239, on January 4th.