Monday, January 14, 2008

The Ripple Effect

I had a message on my phone to call someone. ‘The house next door is being knocked down! The police are there and workers and a big bulldozer…
It was the beginning of a scandal which is rocking Spain, putting off potential settlers here and, of course, worrying many of the foreign residents already established. One house, as if the Junta de Andalucía was testing the waters to see what would happen. ‘We’ll knock down some foreigner’s house in the middle of Almería’, you could hear them thinking back in Seville, ‘and see what happens’.
Seville, the city and capital of the Andalucian autonomy, is as far away from Vera as is Madrid. Here in Almería – a wealthy province with agriculture (intensive farming under plastic to the west), marble in the north and tourism along the coast – we feel independent of Seville. They take our cash and keep it for themselves, we gripe. They don’t look after us in the way they look after themselves, we groan.
Just like they did with the South American colonies centuries ago.
In 1978, when Spain divided itself into seventeen autonomies, the people of Almería distinguished themselves by being the only provincials who voted against their proposed autonomy. Waste of time, of course; they got shuffled in anyway.
So, the opinion here is that the demolition of a house, located on some scrub-land near Vera, away from the motorway, the proposed AVE train-line, the beaches, hotels, apartment blocks and so on, was a calculated political act.
The national elections, together with most (but not all) of the autonomous elections, come up on March 9th. Already, we are in the ‘pre-campaign’. Under the law, they can’t ask for your vote (until the last fifteen days), but, by Gum, they can suggest wonderful and improbable ideas, reward their friends and, as here, punish their enemies.
I’m being a bit strong? The government has just agreed to export water from the desalination plant in Carboneras, in large sea-tankers, to Barcelona. Fresh water from Almería (the driest province in Spain), for our Catalonian friends who, three years ago, managed to stop the proposed water canal from the Ebro river down to Murcia and, uh, Almería.
It’s all politics. Vera town is controlled by the Partido Andalucista. The mayor of Vera recently put a spoke in the Junta’s delightful plan to build a gigantic eight-town sewage plant in Vera. Perhaps this is payback time.
Let’s look at the facts. There are half a million houses with some problems with their paperwork. So, instead of making an example by knocking down an illegal eyesore (the Hotel Algarrobico in Carboneras springs to mind), or an empty block of flats built by some rich pirate, we are faced with one single demolition of one house owned and used by what should be Spain’s dream customer: a reasonably wealthy retired couple who puts money into the local economy every day of the week.
If each British resident spends 500 euros a month (most of us spend more) and there are a million of us (according to the BBC), then we have five hundred million euros a month being sloshed merrily into the Spanish economy. Six billion euros a year. Throw in (forgive me) the French, Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians, Irish, Americans, Argentineans and so on and you can double the figure – 12 billion euros a year – at least – all for the cost of an occasional letter to a local town hall complaining about the noise.
Why on earth would our dear politicians be so foolish as to put this at risk? Perhaps they thought that there was no down-side, beyond putting a couple, with no political voice whatsoever, into the street.
However, the British press has played the story up. The British TV has run it on the morning shows. It's front page in Le Monde. A German magazine has just taken a room at the nearby hotel. A friend tells me his son saw it on Australian television! So what happens? Instead of one family being destroyed – no big deal in the great scheme of things – a whole wave of wealthy people who were considering buying in Spain, in injecting yet more money into the Spanish economy – at a time when sales are down, mortgages are tight and builders are hurling themselves off the top floor of their own skyscrapers – are deciding that, all things considered, perhaps they’ll buy in Cyprus instead.
One foolish pebble thrown into a pond has caused a gigantic ripple. Let’s hope its enough to swamp the PSOE.

1 comment:

John said...

Very well put. If you also include the extrememly poor (cr*p) Sterling exchange rate at the moment, it gets even worse. I have already heard of prospective purchasers in this area pulling out of property deals, because the loss of their deposit is far less than the greatly increased purchase price they face in Sterling at the moment. Are we headed for a Pound = a Euro soon?