A digest of this week’s Spanish financial, political and social news aimed primarily at Foreign Property Owners: 

Prepared by Lenox Napier.  Consultant: José Antonio Sierra

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 February 20 2020            Nº 338

Editorial: 

Much is written of Spain’s ambition to return Gibraltar to the motherland and of the Gibraltarians’ resistance to this project. We know that it wouldn’t be in any way easy, as in the unlikely event of a, let us say, hostile take-over, the 32,000 Gibraltarians would either need to become somewhat unconvinced Spaniards, or be repatriated to the UK… or be sent to populate the Isla de Perejíl. Joking aside, the situation remains tense in the Spanish conservative world, if less so elsewhere. The right-wing La Razón for example speaks of ‘The Spanish hostages of Gibraltar’, meaning the 14,000 Spaniards who cross the frontier each day to work there. We read that ‘Since Felipe González opened la Verja (the gate) just thirteen days after arriving in La Moncloa in December 1982, Gibraltar has miraculously gone from being an unsustainable enclave for the British and without an economy worthy of that name to become a flourishing financial and online gaming centre with the third highest GDP per capita on the planet after Luxembourg and Qatar. Meanwhile, the neighbouring municipalities of the Campo de Gibraltar constitute, with 30,000 unemployed, one of the most jobless areas in the entire European Union. How is this possible?…’.  There are other, more moderate voices, which aim to ease tensions, since Gibraltar provides wealth for the surrounding Spanish municipalities. If the smuggling and the offshore tax issues could be resolved… Reuters tells us that ‘Gibraltar is encouraged by Spanish ‘pragmatism’ on post-Brexit ties’, saying ‘….“Sánchez has called for a different approach, one which puts a historic sovereignty question to one side and focuses on the opportunity we now have to create an area of shared prosperity on both sides of the border”…’.

But as Spain considers Gibraltar, perhaps with some help from Brussels together with the UK’s change of fortune following Brexit, There is another player to watch. Morocco.

It has long been said that Morocco would find much support internationally, if Gibraltar were to fall into Spanish hands, to claim for itself both Ceuta and Melilla (with a combined population of 160,000 souls).  Now it appears that Morocco is beginning to make its move.

Morocco has built a huge container port east from Tangiers at Ksar es-Sghir called Tanger-Med which, by last year, ‘…was upgraded to handle over 9 million containers and now ranks 18th in the world…’ (wiki). An article from Reuters last July says ‘Morocco’s Tangier port to become Mediterranean’s largest’.

A headline from El Español this weekend: ‘Morocco strangles the frontiers of Ceuta and Melilla’, by banning passage of all merchandise into the two enclaves. The news-source, another conservative similar to La Razón above, says ‘The Kingdom of Morocco has never recognized Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, which it considers two «occupied cities.»…’. The Morocco World News also treats the story here: ‘The presidents of Ceuta and Melilla have called Morocco’s decision to tighten restrictions on the borders of the two Spanish enclaves an attempt to “isolate and suffocate” their economies…’. Inevitably, Ceuta and Melilla are fighting back: ‘Ceuta and Melilla go on the offensive to respond forcefully to the pressure of Morocco’ here. The plan appears to be to attract new kinds of business (possibly at Gibraltar’s expense!).

The tug of war at the border crossings of both enclaves that has been seen on other occasions appears to have become more notable as Morocco has also recently claimed authority over all its Atlantic coastal waters as far as the Canary Isles, and suddenly, if that weren’t enough to worry about, Algeria has done the same thing in the Med, claiming as its waters the sea as far as the Balearic Island of Cabrera.

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Housing:

The Madrid City Council will pursue the establishment of the so-called hives – rooms between 1.2 and 2.5 meters in spaces with common areas – because these ‘homes’, which in Hong Kong are known as ‘coffins’, are illegal in the capital because they do not comply with urban planning regulations. The developer of these homes, Haibu 4.0 (here), nevertheless announces the intention to build ten of these promotions with up to 579 places between Madrid and Pozuelo de Alarcón and, according to sources from the company made to Efe, expects to finish the first during this weekend in Vicálvaro, Plaza de Castilla and San Blas. The hives have individual rooms 1.2 meters high – where it is not possible to stand up – and an extension of 2.2 by 1.2 meters with a basic cost of 215 euros, plus «medium», where the height rises to the 2.5 meters and finally «double», where there are two beds or a bed next to a cot, for 315 euros per month. These spaces are stacked on top of each other next to the common spaces…’. El País reports here. 

A vulture fund which had acquired a number of public apartments in Pamplona (Navarra) has just jacked the rents up says Noticias de Navarra here. 160 families have had their rents raised up to 800€ a month. The apartments were ruled ‘public’ for just twenty years which time has now fallen due. One lady who pays 300€ per month has been told that she will now need to pay 790€. The fund is called Testa Residencial which controls 11,000 apartments in Spain; it belongs to Blackstone (here). 

There are several reports this week about the slow death of small interior villages, as the services dry up and the folk move to the cities. The foreign press likes to talk of abandoned villages for sale, and there are plenty of them (what one could do with an empty hamlet is another question). Around 1,900 villages are ready to disappear, says El Confidencial here.  León saw a major demonstration about the abandonment of the countryside amidst calls for ‘Futuro para León’ last Sunday.  El Comercio looks at ‘the 776 abandoned villages in Asturias here. Cantabria is at risk of depopulation in half of its municipalities (here). Villahoz (Burgos) has just 300 inhabitants, but it is fighting to survive with initiatives like ‘StartUpVillage’ which encourages small business projects, in the hope they can spread out to other small pueblos. The idea has attracted the interest of the European Commission. Pezcueza in Cacares has turned its moribund village into an old peoples’ residence. This interesting initiative brings jobs and young people, says Cuatro here (with video). An article in El Confidencial sums up the problem in ‘León vs Parla’ asking how can there be fewer inhabitants in a Castilian capital city than in a Madrid suburb? As the countryside is slowly drained of inhabitants and is quietly forgotten, the farmers have been raising hell for the past few weeks – low prices paid for work-intensive farming has made them angry. 

Not that all villages facing annihilation are convinced with any and all solutions. A local Almería newspaper whimsically complains of ‘Partaloa and Arboleas: Spaniards in ‘danger of extinction’’! Luckily, it says, the local police ‘speak the language of Shakespeare’ (not that that’ll do them much good). 

‘No water, toilet or electricity: Life in Spain’s shameful shanty town. El País in English visits a migrant workers’ camp in Huelva province, described by UN expert Philip Alston as having among the worst conditions in the world’. The Government has said they will change the law allowing work inspectors access to these camps.

Aethicus is a law and consultancy firm specialised in providing real estate advice both for individuals and companies in all those issues related to property and construction law’. They are based in Murcia and have helped Lenox in the past. Their webpage, in English, is here. 

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Tourism:

‘Portugal is considering offering British tourists subsidised post-Brexit healthcare in an effort to retain their custom in the Algarve, Lisbon and beyond. It is one of several novel measures being considered by the Portuguese government in an effort to minimise the disruption of Brexit to its economy…’. From The Guardian here. 

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Finance:

The ‘humiliating’ trek around Spain made by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston has been followed by El Periódico in grim detail here. 

‘Spain’s government approved Tuesday the introduction of new taxes on digital business and stock market transactions, following similar steps by other European countries. The Cabinet agreed at its weekly meeting to adopt the so-called Google tax and Tobin tax. The measures still require parliament’s approval. Finance Minister Mara Jesus Montero said the Google tax, which has angered U.S. authorities and brought a threat of tariffs by the Trump administration, will be levied only from the end of the year…’. Found at Market Watch here. The Google tax is aimed at top-earning cyber platforms (Google, Amazon, Facebook and so on) that elude paying proper country tax, while the Tobin tax is a tax on financial transactions. El Huff Post explains in detail here the two taxes.  

The new list of ‘fiscal paradises’, as defined by the EU – which includes the Caiman Islands and Panama – will inconvenience some of the Ibex35 says Público here, namely Acciona, ACS, Arcelor Mittal, BBVA, Mapfre, Meliá, Naturgy, Repsol, Santander and Técnicas Reunidas. 

‘On Tuesday, it was made public that Spain has achieved a significant reduction in debt with respect to its GDP (although not in absolute terms). The new data leave the debt of the Public Administrations at 1,188 billion euros, or 95.5% of GDP, the lowest relative figure since 2012. This good news is the result of a faster economic growth than the growth of the economy together with some debt and technical changes in the Excessive Deficit Protocol (methodology used to account for public debt), which has allowed Spain’s debt to fall by 3,798 million euros at the stroke of a pen in December 2019…’. The story at El Economista here. 

The monthly duty for the autónomos (self-employed) rises by 0.3% as from last month (when the paperwork is finally done). Expect to find the increase (retroactively) soon…  

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Politics:

‘A meeting on Monday between Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the head of the conservative Partido Popular, Pablo Casado, concluded with no advances. Via a statement, the executive stated after the encounter that “the PP has not changed any of its positions, despite its responsibility as the main opposition party, and is still adopting a strategy of deadlock.”…’. Item from El País in English here. 

The PP and Ciudadanos have agreed a joint candidature for the Basque elections for April 5th under the leadership of the PP’s Alfonso Alonso. 

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Courts:

Trampolin Hills: ‘Two face jail over Spanish golf resort that became a €54 million swindle. The Costa Calida complex attracted investors from all over Europe – hundreds duped’. An item from The Olive Press here.

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Brexit: 

An answer from Your Europe (here) to a query from Brexpats in Spain as to whether Brits residing in the EU (holding a residents permit) will need to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver for travelling either within Schengen or out to UK (non-Schengen) and back: here: 

‘…Clearly, in the wake of Brexit, UK citizens will be required to process and obtain an ETIAS document prior to embarking on their trip to the Schengen member states.

However, your query raises whether this new requirement will also apply to UK citizens who are already residents in the EU, and who hold a residence permit issued by a member state. In other words, will UK citizens, holders of a residence permit issued by a member state of the EU be exempt from obtaining an ETIAS? In short the answer is yes.

The answer to this question is provided under article 2 of Regulation (EU) 2018/1240 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 September 2018 establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). 

For those not thrilled by Brexit, a piece from Prospect Magazine titled: ‘Brexit and the final defeat of honesty’. 

‘UK to close door to non-English speakers and unskilled workers’, says The Guardian here. We imagine what would happen if Spain took a similar tack. 

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Ecology: 

The president of the Region of Murcia, Fernando López Miras, says «It is only a matter of weeks before the Mar Menor becomes a green soup again». The regional president criticizes that the State Government does not give the order to stop the runoffs of nitrates into the lagoon’. Headline from La Opinión de Murcia here.

‘The condemnation that Spain received in July 2018 for the lack of purification of urban waste-water in several urban agglomerations – which contemplated a fixed fine and semi-annual penalties as long as the breaches of community regulations last – has already led to the greatest sanction that the country has ever had to pay to Brussels. In addition, the fines will continue to increase, at least, until 2023, when the Government estimates that all the problems in this issue will have been solved….’. The fine stands at 32.7 million euros, so far. The story is at El País here. 

‘The General Directorate of Industry, Energy and Mines of the Junta de Andalucía has granted Cardial Recursos Alternativos SL the concession for the exploitation of geothermal resources over an area of 15 mining grids – equivalent to 457.29 hectares – in the municipality of Níjar (Almería). The ultimate goal is to use the geothermal energy of the place to heat the invernaderos (green-houses)…’. The water, lying at 1,200 metres underground, is at 100ºC. The story is at Energías Renovables here.

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Various:

Murcia has decided to do away with the gorrillas, those tiresome people who wear a cap (una gorra) and help you park your car for a euro. Fines plus their takings…

The Roma (they used to be called gypsies) need careful handling in the hospitals. Or rather, says Antonia Espejo, they don’t. It’s our perception of them, she says. At any rate, Antonia and a group of nurses are offering courses to the health profession in Andalucía to better treat the Roma and their families says the ABC here. 

Smokers can expect the tightening up of the rules – higher prices and more places where one can’t smoke, says La Vanguardia here. Currently, between taxes and IVA, 80% of the price of a packet of smokes goes to the Govt, compared with 42% on booze and 51% on petrol. 

‘The number of bars in Spain is decreasing, with nearly 4,000 bars closed in the last two years’ says The Olive Press here. 

An article from El Confidencial looks at those who live in one province and work in another. This daily migration, says the report, affects some 630,000 workers. 

The most expensive roundabout in the world is in Valencia. It cost fifty million euros to build, says Cuatro here (with video). The observation post (huh?) alone cost 24 million and, after eleven years, has still never been used. 

 

The curious story of the only herd of wild horses in Andalucía comes from El País here. It begins ‘The hill of the Majada del Arce is a scree dotted with herbs and small shrubs accustomed to the cold. At almost 1,800 meters of altitude, it has views of the Vega de Alhama de Granada to the north and the Mediterranean to the south. This peaceful habitat has become the home to a dozen horses, which can sometimes see in the distance the walkers who pass that way towards the summit of La Maroma, the highest peak in the province of Málaga. When they cross each other’s paths, curiosity is mutual. How did they get there? The answer lies in a story that goes back four years (to when they were abandoned without microchips). And that has made this herd the only horses existing in Andalucía in the wild…’. 

Sometimes a fine old building is quietly demolished while everyone sucks their teeth and looks the other way. El País finds eight which have recently disappeared from view and worries about a disheartening nine hundred others…

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See Spain:

From Eye on Spain, a look at Morella (Castellón) here: ‘ Morella’s geographic location has been key over the course of centuries. A town of passage, a crossroads between the Ebro Valley and the Mediterranean, linking Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia, Morella has witnessed important events throughout its history. Since prehistoric times, times of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews, Christians … everyone saw in this place a fortress with a strategic position. The shape of the city, its castle and walls have witnessed the passing of the likes of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, who fought two battles in this region to serve the Muslim king of Zaragoza in the eleventh century.

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Finally:

The entrance to Cuevas in Asturias is quite something. Video at Astroaventura here. 

 

Enviado por José Antonio Sierra