Spain’s State of Alarm (SOA) is ending. This means that the Spanish constitution is back in action, and Spaniards can now travel around the peninsula. With one in two people from Madrid being born outside the capital, Madrileñophobia has become a real thing. Many Spaniards are worried about madrileños returning to their pueblo home and bringing the virus with them.
The legal and political frameworks of the country will also come back into force and this will change the political rhetoric and the blame game. It has also been decided that tourists from the EU will also be able to enter for the summer holiday season.
Who knows what they think about tourists returning?
When Pedro Sanchez started the SOA on the 14th March, he revoked regional administration’s responsibilities for various things, the major one being health. In hindsight, this was the right move, as we have seen during the quarantine. Spain’s death figures had been variable and have even dipped on the weekends. Reports of regions not reporting deaths, or counting them in unorthodox ways, shows how disjointed the country’s autonomous region system is. This is a frustration that no political party is willing to address; it also causes a lot of unneeded political dramas; was the source of much corruption prior to the 2008 financial crash, and it is being used by the far-right to legitimise their own visceral nationalism.
The removal of power has caused a huge backlash from the autonomous regional governments for the PM. Most regions, normally used to a high degree of autonomy, had to sit back and let Moncloa take over. At their weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, the presidents of each autonomous region hit out in frustration. Madrid, which is run by PP’s Isabel Ayouso, has been the most outspoken alongside Catalan premier Quimm Torra. Torra however learnt to wind it in a bit whereas Ayouso seems to be digging a bigger hole for herself.
Battles were also evident at the highest level of government in the Congress of Deputies. Catalan left-wing independentistas (ERC) voted with right-wing national parties, at the peak of the lockdown, against the extension of the SOA. It was only after promising that they will get funds from the EU bailout and be exempt from targets that the Basque nationalist groups supported the government. Also, the fact that the ERC rely on being the mature-looking separatist group meant that the ERC could not push the government too far without alienating their supporters.
Then, not forgetting, the PP and Vox have used this opportunity to attack the government at every turn, whilst Cuidudanos, the rights shooting buddy for a while, has moved back to the centre ground and is supporting the government with various policies. This has helped them as their polling rate has risen a little along with both the PSOE and Podemos who are in government. More impressively is their leader’s approval rating, which has risen as a result of her not taking part in verbal wrestling matches. She is nearly as popular as the PM. Ines Arrimadas, their new leader, will have a wider appeal to the proportion of the electorate that is socially liberal, in favour of the EU and growing tired of male-centred, chauvinistic mudslinging politics. The coronavirus has made this clearer than ever. Populism may not be in vogue at the moment, but it is not going anywhere.
Now the SOA is over, regional-level parties will have to get back to work. Most of them are putting similar measures in place regarding venue capacities and sports events. Madrid will have its work cut out. As a hotspot for the virus and with a depleted health care system, the regional government has come in for a lot of criticism over its handling of the IFEMA field hospital; trying to blame care home deaths on central government when it was their responsibility, and they are unpopular with medical staff.
Junior doctors employed by the regional health department are planning to strike at some point due to their poor working conditions, low pay (average of 1,200 euros), 24 hour on-calls and lack of resources. Conditions in other regions are similar, but Madrid has some of the worst in the country. This is a side effect of devolved health care systems.
The care home catastrophe has been shocking. At the beginning of the SOA, the army found dead bodies in the care homes, and there are reports that staff never had the resources to care for them. Of the 710 care homes under the regional government’s control, 5986 people are reported to have died. El Pais also made an estimate that 19,000 people have died in the care of social services, including homes that cater for people with disabilities.
140 legal cases have been opened regarding the deaths and further investigations are peeling away at controversial comments. The Madrid administration is alleged to have released specific guidelines to medical staff to help them decide if people from care homes should be admitted to a general hospital. Alberto Reyero from Ciudadanos who works in Madrid’s Social Policy department said that the guidelines excluding certain citizens from treatment was illegal and that “They’ll die in undignified conditions”. This was later denied by Ayouso saying that what had been released was a draft. Families of the dead don’t see it this way, and many feel their family members’ deaths were a sacrifice.
Later reports showed that over 10,000 people from care homes had been admitted to hospitals, but this was not during the peak of the virus. Doctors have disagreed over these guidelines with some stating that they felt uncomfortable denying patients care, and with others stating that it was for individual assessments. Neither the regional nor central government seem to take the blame and may well resort to legal proceedings to decide who held the responsibility for managing these homes. It is not clear as the SOA removed some powers of regional administrations, yet they continued to write guidelines and take credit for managing the field hospital, despite people complaining about outsourcing elements of it to private companies. This was what caused a series of small protests this weekend all over Spain with the sole aim of protecting the public health care system.
The courts in Spain have a backlog of work, but that will not stop the politicians tying each other up in knots. Until now, Vox and the PP have been challenging the government in the courts. This has been regarding issues on regional and national levels. Several entities took José Manuel Franco Pardo, the central government delegate to the Madrid regional government, to court. The case was thrown out as there was not enough evidence to suggest that Franco should have cancelled the Woman’s Day March: 8M. Then there is also the follow up from Pablo Iglesias’s father being called a terrorist in the Congress by the PP spokesperson.
The previous King Juan Carlos I, aged 86, stood down because of unpopularity after they photographed him hunting elephants at the cost of the taxpayer during the height of the financial crisis.
His shady past has come back to haunt him and his son and couldn’t have come at a worse time. Various elements of Spain do not want a monarch and with the unity of Spain threatened previously by the Basque country and now with Catalonia, there are many parties that would like to see their downfall. With 46% of the country supporting them, they are not in a sound position.
Podemos are openly republican and this week they voted to open a parliamentary investigation into the previous king’s finances. They were also supported by various independentist parties. However, their governing partner, the PSOE voted with the PP, and Vox against opening the investigation.
The allegation includes taking money, 100 Million euros, from a Saudi prince as commission for acting as an intermediate in a deal between the countries. This was commission for a contract awarded to Spanish companies to build the train line that will lead to the Mecca. Following this announcement at the beginning of the virus outbreak, the current king denounced any inheritance from his father and removed his economic funding that he still receives from the state. You may ask what is wrong with this, but a head of state, future, past or present should not benefit privately from their position when representing their country. Further allegations have been made that a business associate from Catalonia paid for the current king’s honeymoon in 2004. These private deals are what many dislike about politicians and this will soon be extended to the monarchy, putting into question their very existence.
Another hero of the transition, Felipe Gonzalez, the PSOE Prime Minister from 1982 to 1992, will also be investigated for past actions. Last week, the CIA released documents regarding GAL, the dark governmental anti-terrorist organisation set up to combat ETA in the early 1980s. They were mercenaries that were funded by elements of the Spanish state. They were ordered to kidnap and torture ETA members and even cause trouble on the French side of the Basque country to put pressure on the French government. Following the closure of GAL, several Spanish politicians and police officials were sentenced to time in jail. Felipe Gonzalez was also suspected of being Señor X, the head of the group, yet he was never convicted as some claim it would question the legitimacy of the Spanish state.
Following the release of the documents, a commission was set up by PNV and EH Bildu, the two Basque nationalist parties. To pursue the investigation, they needed members to vote in favour of it. However, unlike Juan Carlos, Felipe Gonzalez will be investigated as the CIA papers prove that Señor X was in fact him. Podemos acknowledged that this was a dangerous move as their coalition partner is the same party responsible for GAL, yet Podemos deputy Pablo Echenique said that Podemos are “against the illicit use of deep state structures and the need to investigate state terrorism in parliamentary headquarters.”
Despite the judicial sideshows, the government has pushed on with its agenda. So far, they have started to pass the Rhodes law, protecting children and changing the law around child abuse, and minimal vital income has also started. The government is spending cash hoping to boost the economy, subsidies for up to 4000 euros for people buying new green cars, and 4.2 billion for the tourist industry. These are just part of the 150-billion-euro plan to kick start the Spanish economy which shrunk 34% during the lockdown.
The investment coming from the EU is welcomed by many after Spain and others stood up against the more financially conservative countries in the union. The method of pay back has not been decided at an EU level. Over 70 billion will be in grants that the country does not have to pay back, yet the rest is yet to be decided and needs to be voted on. Various elements of the EU commission and council want distinctly different things. In 2011, the Spanish constitution was amended and stated the Spanish state must pay back any significant debts. Many say this puts the Euro before the welfare of Spanish citizens.
Pablo Iglesias has accused the PP of siding with other conservative elements in the EU and voting against the interests of Spain. This seems to be an accusation that the PP would find hard to deny with Esteban González Pons, a PP MEP, saying that she will do all she can to curb the coalition government from repealing the labour laws passed in 2011 by the PP. She said that she will vote with the financially conservative countries to ensure that Podemos cannot carry out their program.
Spain has been looking out to reach other countries further than the EU this week, however they should have probably hired an original marketing team.
Spain For Sure is the recent campaign to try to bring tourists and investment back to the peninsular and save this summer’s tourist season. 14.6% of Spain’s GDP is from tourism and often poorer regions with less financial services and manufacturing rely on this, Andalucía being the prime example.
Spain For Sure will not be convincing any tourists or businesses. In the campaign’s launch this week, a promotional video was shown with various Spanish celebrities attesting to the values of Spain.
Spain For Sure is a play on the Spanish phrase España Seguro. In Spanish this has the meaning that Spain is ‘secure’ as in safe to visit, and Spain ‘of course/sure’, as in there is no other choice, however the double meaning doesn’t really translate into English. As one Twitter comment said It sounds like a type of deodorant.
Even without the crap campaign, the tourists have already started flocking back to the country despite some people here still being wary of the virus. A tradesman I know has been told by clients that booked him before the coronavirus outbreak that they do not want him in their house. On the other hand, I have seen pictures today from my local shopping centre packed to the brims. Whilst the push to get the tourist season may save the economy in the short term, it may be a risk to the country in the long term. We cannot stay in a bubble forever, but opening the borders to countries like the U.K or USA that are still having loads of new cases a day, it seems to undermine the collective efforts we have all made in recent months. From sacrificing our own mental health from staying indoors, to the thousands that have died, moving too quickly seems irresponsible and shortsighted.
*Just a reminder that less than two weeks ago the U.K had a daily death toll greater than all the countries in Europe put together. Don’t even think about the USA!
Not to mention that the track and trace system seems to be having problems and the medical staff have yet to fully recover from the three months of intense work. Lack of preparation and guidelines being made before letting people in, may well comeback to haunt the fragile coalition government. It is them, not regional governments that will take the blame, despite opposition parties wanting to open the country even earlier.
Tourists have a bad reputation in Spain already, and it is not difficult to understand that when you go on holiday abroad you relax, making people less likely to follow guidelines. Whilst not all Brits are disrespectful to their host country, the same cannot be said for binge drinking stag parties and groups on 18-30 holidays. It was only three months ago that tourists were disobeying lockdown rules at the start of the SOA. If that is anything to go by then things could get a lot worse. Fines in foreign countries do not deter people from behaving irresponsibly.
With unfinished court cases, regional elections in Galicia and the Basque country and with tourists more than likely bringing the coronavirus back to Spain, there will be plenty for me to write about. That is if I’m not hounded out of the country for being a one of the ‘tourists’ that brings back the virus!
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