Business over Tapas: November 19 2020

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

Lenox Napier¹

Opinion

Earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
George Orwell.

I had just arrived at the almazara, which was due to press my olives and turn them into golden sunshine, or olive oil as I prefer to call it. But first, the man wanted my identity card. I’m a foreigner I said brightly (I look like one too, even wearing a face-mask). I offered him my Spanish driving licence with my handy NIF impressed on it for some reason in needlessly tiny print.

‘No, it’s because I need your address’, he goes.

So I give him my oak-framed with the double-bevelled mount glassed green A4 letter from extranjería which normally hangs over the bed. Except these days of course, it’s on the roof-rack. The same NIF as on my driving licence, although the address is wrong (it’s from a dozen years ago), but he’s happy and so therefore I’m happy. Thus goes the administrative minuet.

Paperwork is a vital part of life. It is, as someone once said, the glue that keeps the wheels of industry from turning. It’s the key ingredient to amassing sometimes useless information, and it provides employment to many, who are known here as funcionarios. In English – functionaries, officials, civil servants, desk-jockeys… something to do with ink anyhow.

‘In the mid-eighteenth century, the term bureaucracy entered the world by way of French literature. The neologism was originally forged as a nonsense term to describe what its creator, political economist Vincent de Gournay, considered the ridiculous possibility of “rule by office,” or, more literally, “rule by a desk.” Gournay’s model followed the form of more serious governmental terms indicating “rule by the best” (aristocracy) and “rule by the people” (democracy)…’.

But, as we know, it caught on. In Spain, while no one likes the funcionarios (there’s a funny video here you may have already seen), the truth is, everybody wants to be one. You get good pay, good benefits (including the eleven o’clock coffee break), fourteen monthly payments a year and, best of all, you can’t be fired. Become a funcionario, they say, y tienes la vida solucionada – as if life itself is a fearsome thing that needs to be tamed.

There are 2.6 million of them, and something must be done to keep them all relatively busy, hence (and forget the ventanilla única or the paperless office), there are endless and incomprehensible forms to be filled out. And if there aren’t enough, somebody will legislate to create some more. It’s the modern equivalent to the army kitchen that never stops cooking, cleaning, washing. And now do it again.

Indeed, the paperwork is slow, even when correctly filled in: Las cosas del palacio van despacio say the people, waiting patiently for their opening permit, or driving licence, or pension: Things move slowly at the palace.

A story this week tells of a person who had downloaded a form from the ministry website, printed it, filled it in and taken it to the offices of the Social Security. It was bounced by the functionary because it was in black and white and not in ministerial yellow and blue. The anecdote comes from a larger story: ‘Of the 837,000 people who have applied for the minimum wage (IMV) between June and October, so far only 1.5% of them have been approved and paid’. Slow, complicated and you need to collect a few more forms, which, in turn, will also need their own formularios to be filled out – oh, and signed with a blue biro. Another story, in El País, tells of a woman who has moved to the country to telework from an old farmhouse and wants to buy a couple of sheep to eat the weeds, because they are full of ticks. Hah, said the vet, lemme tell you, it’s not that easy…

One’s papers need to be right, ‘in order’, in case there’s an inspection; to avoid a sanction – a fine.

But life can’t always be reduced to the printed page or the Boletín Oficial del Estado and one can easily fall foul of being fuera de la normalidad – like when they want your dabs and you are missing a finger, or when you only have one surname…

All of which brings us to the gestorías – those agents that deal with ‘la administración’ and help get one’s paperwork done… for a price.

The Local (paywall) has an article which begins ‘In the midst of this pandemic, many people have been forced to think about changing careers. Perhaps one job which might suit foreigners living in Spain – and which must pay well from my experience – would be setting up a business guiding other foreigners through the madness of this country’s bureaucracy.

Think about it for a moment. If you have ever negotiated your way through this hellish maze, then you will know how difficult it is…’.

Heh! is my answer to that. The Spanish are remarkably difficult in allowing foreigners to push their way into traditionally Spanish professions.

Now my friend at the olive press wasn’t a bureaucrat; just like the rest of us who must from time to time help the tax collector or the police or the statisticians, he just has to fill out some forms before he can press the button to start the process of making my jugs of oil.

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José Antonio Sierra, who kindly advises this newsletter from his roost in Málaga, is a retired teacher and journalist, who spent many years living and working in Dublin. He has just been awarded a prize for his lifelong work by the Federación de Asociaciones de Mayores de Málaga. Our congratulations go to him.

Housing:

From Idealista, it seems that ‘The covid is causing an increase in the purchase of luxury homes on the Costa del Sol among national clients’. Thus, it says ‘52% of buyers during the third quarter of 2020 were Spanish, compared to 24% in 2019…’.

A British couple raffle their home in Tenerife at 2€ a pop says El Diario de Ibiza here.

A piece from Lenox on a buyer’s visit to La Matanza at Eye on Spain here.

Tourism:

Arriving to Spain from certain countries without a negative PCR test result can mean a massive fine. These 65 countries include the USA, UK, France, Italy and Germany.

Finance:

With the consumer not consuming, not drinking or eating out, or going shopping, or to the cinema or to Gay Paree for the weekend, it appears that we are all saving money. Which, it turns out, is a Bad Thing. With luck, says El Economista, they’ll come up with a vaccine soon, so that we can worry once again about our shrinking wallets while the money starts to circulate once more and the economy is working again.

The BBVA and Sabadell say that they are in merger talks says La Vanguardia here. The BBVA also confirms that it has pulled out of the USA, selling its subsidiary to PNC, a giant Pennsylvanian lender, for the equivalent of 9,700 million euros (Thanks to Jake). ‘There will be less financial competition in Spain after the mergers: five groups will dominate more than 70% of the banking business, double that in Germany. The forty financial entities that operated in Spain in 2008 will become only three when the BBVA-Sabadell, CaixaBank-Bankia and Unicaja-Liberbank mergers are fully completed’ says elDiario.es here.

The Banco de Santander is to close 1,000 offices, fire 4,000 employees and move a further 1,090 to other offices says Cinco Días here. In happier news, the president of the bank, Ana Botín, has just bought a company jet for 45,000,000€.

The tax on car and home insurance will rise from next January from 6% to 8%. Thus, a typical annual car insurance will increase by some eight euros or so.

Politics:

The latest poll from the CIS (the most famous pollster, much reviled by the right) has the PSOE maintaining its leadership in intention to vote with almost 12 percentage points over the PP. The PSOE now runs at 30.4%, the PP at 18.6%, Vox is third with 13.2%, UP next at 11.4% and Ciudadanos at 9.5%. El País (limited paywall) has the details here.

To get the budgets passed by the Cortes, the ruling minority Government needed a few extra votes. The PP and Vox wouldn’t budge, so they went cap in hand to the ERC and the Basque Country’s EH Bildu. Bildu is the Spanish equivalent to Sinn Féin and the criticism ‘of doing deals with terrorists’ has been much in the news as a result. La Razón for example doesn’t hold back here: «Whoever negotiates with the terrorists legitimizes them» it says. Canal Sur, the official Andalusian TV channel, has been showing vintage ETA murders on its news channel for the past few days, in case we missed the point. The focus is also on Ciudadanos, now freed from its leadership of Albert Rivera, and now apparently moving towards the centre. The PSOE wants to count on C’s support, while Unidas Podemos is totally against any deals. Público explains the whys and wherefores here.

Several socialist barones have been criticising Pedro Sánchez for his dealing with EH Bildu. These include ex-vice president Alfonso Guerra who appeared on national TV this week to say that Sánchez is wrong to make a deal with terrorists. An opinion shared by at least two other barones – Extremadura’s president Guillermo Fernández Vara, and from Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page (all of the aforementioned being old-style ‘smoked-salmon’ socialists). As Pedro Sánchez said in return ‘They have my telephone number’. Iñaki Gabilondo, the left-leaning journalist and commentator is on Sánchez’ side: he says on the radio Cadena Ser (video) that it’s not like we haven’t reached out to the Basques before now (Aznar for example). Gabilondo also notes that a full third of the Cortes is made up of the far-right, the far-left and independents, and they are all part of the current parliament.

Pablo Casado would like to have his party absorb Ciudadanos: a worthy plan. Thus, he has told his lieutenants not to attack the C’s leader Inés Arrimadas while he holds out the carrot of dropping future regional partnerships with Vox. The item comes from El Mundo here. In truth, Ciudadanos is cautiously moving towards the PSOE and away from its erstwhile partners. So much so, that Albert Rivera, from his lawyers office, has weighed in: ‘Inés is going to need an escort to protect her from her own voters’, he says acidly.

Gibraltar:

The HM Government of Gibraltar has announced it will take the practical step of issuing a physical document to the 6,000 EU citizens living in the territory, to recognise their residency rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. La Razón echoes the news item, which will allow the cross-border workers to continue as normal after Brexit, although it helpfully adds ‘…the Spanish Foreign Ministry has announced that the agreement has been closed between “the authorities of Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar” – the Government once again falling into the error of giving Gibraltar status as a State on an equal footing with Spain and the United Kingdom. This extreme conflicts with the position traditionally held by Spain, which regards Gibraltar as a British colony on illegally occupied Spanish territory…’.

The Coronavirus:

Tuesday’s deaths from Covid-19 were a record for the Second Wave at 435 people.

The College of Doctors (CGCOM) have called for the sacking of the Government’s tame expert on pandemics, Fernando Simón. Indeed, the ECM has a readers-poll on getting rid of him with 94% in favour of his departure. Political or not? One person suggests on Twitter whether it’s merely bad luck that the same outfit haven’t had time to complain about the sealed health centres, hospital floors with UCIs closed and the lack of doctors and trackers. Símón himself, in a TV interview, said ‘You shouldn’t think that this job of mine is fun’.

In 2019, 1.098 people died in Spain from traffic accidents.

Call it 21 people a week.

Deaths from Covid are currently running at 1,315 per week (last Friday’s figures from RTVE).

An editorial at Nueva Tribuna contrasts the protestors who throw rocks at the police because they want to live their lives without face-masks, those patients in the UCI weeping because they know they will die without saying goodbye to their loved ones, and those in the hospitality sector who bitterly complain about their livelihoods (or lack of them) and the reduced number of tourists. It ends with ‘…Let us consider that the more deaths, illnesses and consequences that the coronavirus causes, the more difficult it will be to overcome its economic dilemma, simply because a decimated population does not consume or produce wealth. The priority order is restoring health, and in many respects this is incompatible with simultaneously saving the economy’.

Those irritating telesales people on the phone. Zzz. ‘Hello, my name is Marisa, would you like-‘. ‘Stop right there Marisa, I’m going to hang up now’. One of the telemarketing offices in a town in Cantabria, with over a hundred people crammed into a room with cheap masks and no ventilation, has reported at least sixty infections of coronavirus.

From Think Spain here: Nuns who took up the ‘Jerusalema Challenge’ (sic) and staged a group dance to ‘cheer the world up’ have gone viral on social media, much to their delight. Based at the San Miguel Monastery in Trujillo (Cáceres), they decided to film themselves dancing to a song that has become something of a pandemic ‘anthem’, as its lyrics speak of hope for the future…’. The video is here.

How it’s been, how it is with Spanish views from a small town.

Courts:

From El Confidencial here: ‘Justice has just convicted two members of the Podemos political group, Pablo Echenique and Juan Manuel del Olmo Ibáñez, Congressional spokesperson and an advisor to Pablo Iglesias, respectively. The decision was made by a court in Leganés (Madrid) after the pair had accused a man in 2019 of rape, an accusation on which the Supreme Court was unable to find evidence. The accused had died in 1985, shot by his victim. Or apparent ‘victim’ as no proof of rape was ever found. The shooter, many years later, was a candidate for Podemos for the town hall of Ávila in 2018. The lawsuit for alleged violation of the right to honour of a dead person was presented by one of the victim’s brothers. The judge fined the two politicians 80,000€ because their words about this person took for granted a crime that was never proven by justice’. -Speechless-

Media:

It’s been a hard year for newspapers. Copy-sales are down, advertising is down and, with the Covid, both of these doleful situations are even worse. No one wants to buy a newspaper; no one wants to advertise in one. In the past year, sales of newspapers have fallen by 29% says the Asociación de Medios de Información. Advertising revenue is 75% down on ten years ago. The hope has been the digital editions, with pop-ups, click-bait and maybe a paywall… But, there’s always another news-service at the click of the mouse without them… The other tactic is to fire journalists, or pull back on real news or expenses or satellite offices and try and save money by filling the paper with agency or promotional material which, of course, the reader doesn’t want. ElDiario.es says ‘…The printed newspaper is running out of time, publishers are reluctant to see it and that can cost them the flames of the paper house fire spreading to the digital townhouse on which they propose to live…’. However, as Wolf Street says, most of the cyber-advertising these days goes to just two companies: ‘…The internet has changed the power structure of advertising, with Google and Facebook getting most of the spoils. This shift has been going on for years and has upended the newspaper publishing industry – long before the arrival of Covid-19…’.

Aw… the Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya confused Joe Biden with Bin Laden. It must be true, it was on Social Media. In fact, and not for the first time, we read that ‘the bulo was shared by sources close to Vox’.

Jotapov kindly leads us to a trove of historic press cuttings featuring the PP cozeying up to EH Bildu. The radical Basque party’s first order of business is to try to get the ETA prisoners moved from the four corners of Spain and into Basque prisons (where, presumably, the families can visit more frequently). ETA itself (Wiki), agreed to a «definitive cessation of its armed activity» in October 2011.

An essay on ‘disinformation’ at elDiario.es here. An excerpt: ‘…The Spanish Government accepts the definition of the term «disinformation» proposed by the European Commission, which does not refer to fake news, but to the dissemination of false or misleading information that can be verifiable and that is presented or disclosed for profit or to deliberately mislead the population, potentially causing public harm…’.

Ecology:

From The Guardian here: ‘Can Spain fix its worst ecological crisis by making a lagoon a legal person? Murcia residents hope to protect the polluted Mar Menor, Europe’s largest saltwater lagoon, with a change in legal status’. Anyone who has visited the Mar Menor resort of La Manga recently can attest to the fetid smell carried on the wind there.

Various:

The ex-king of Spain continues on the front page. Don Juan Carlos is planning on leaving Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in search of a new country of exile. He is also under advice from his circle to ‘abandon the title of king’. El Español reveals that Juan Carlos habitually travels under the pseudonym of ‘Juan Sumer’.

Cars are getting expensive – at least when one adds in the fines. (While in other countries drivers have ‘dash-cams’ in their cars for insurance – or entertainment reasons) El País warns us that ‘the fashion of installing a camera in the car can lead to a fine of 1,500 euros’. The Data Protection Agency recently fined a citizen from Toledo who carried a recording device in the back of his vehicle for violating the right to privacy of passers-by. The article says that they might be obligatory in Russia, but here… So, while Tráfico doesn’t fine you for having a dash-cam, the Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) just might.

Spain is credited with inventing the autogyro in 1923 (Wiki). It’s a plane with forward thrust from a propeller and ‘an unpowered rotor in free autorotation to develop lift’. There are some interesting photos of autogyros from the 20s and 30s at Rare Historical Photos here.

La Sáhara Occidental – an eight minute video tells the story on YouTube (en castellano).

Nueva Tribuna says – 45 years of injustice. Rabat of course watches Spain’s reaction to events in the Western Sahara, knowing that it largely controls the economies of Melilla and Ceuta and the boatloads of immigrants (El Español).

These days, Spain’s historical heritage is (more or less) looked after with great care (and agencies). Culture is tourism. However, in past times, things were very different. An article at El Español recalls ‘The «insatiable» plunder of the Alhambra and its relics suffered in the 19th century’. Napoleon’s forces were responsible for much of the destruction and looting.

The Minister of Culture insists that Catalán and Valenciano are two different languages. Some Catalán enthusiasts from Plataforma per la Llengua disagree. I know, a storm in a teacup, but what about Mallorquín?

Jail-speak – some prison slang for our education, from Nueva Tribuna here.

See Spain:

Since it’s hard to go for a drive these days, we are reduced to cyber-travel. But, that’s not so bad, because they always have the best photographs… Here is an article called ‘The most beautiful interior villages in Spain’. Here’s another which takes us in comfort around the most interesting Roman sites in Spain. Finally, here’s the village of Urueña (Valladolid).

Finally:

Stuart from Spain Speaks on YouTube here: ‘Dealing with bureaucracy in Spain. Is it as bad as people say?’

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Licenciado en Filosofía y Letras, Magisterio y Estudios en la Escuela Oficial de Periodismo de Madrid. Residente 40 años en Francia, Reino Unido e Irlanda como profesor de español. En Irlanda fundó el Centró Español de Documentación y el Instituto Cultural Español, actual Instituto Cervantes de Dublín. Asímismo, fue corresponsal de: Agencia EFE, Diario Informaciones, Carta de España, Crónicas de la Emigración, España Exterior, La Región Internacional y Escuela Española. Jubilado.

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