More On The Local Economy

Well, as predicted by the polls PSOE were soundly defeated and PP will form a government with an absolute majority. I say ‘will form’ because there is a four week transition period during which PSOE continues in office, but with very restricted powers; whether this will help or hinder in reassuring global financial markets remains to be seen. As we wait, the situation in Andalucía continues with its grave economic problems. The latest figures, for instance, show youth unemployment in Andalucía as having risen to 53%. In other words, we are now in a situation where fewer than one young person in two has a job, which begs the question, “why are things so bad here?”
Andalucía’s economy is supported by three legs; agriculture, construction and tourism. So far as agriculture is concerned, there appears to be the potential for secure, stable employment. Vast, industrial farms, growing fruit and vegetables in vast plastic green houses, and supplying a substantial percentage of Europe’s needs, dominate the landscape of coastal Almería, extending into Granada Province; Jaén Province supplies three quarters of the world’s olive oil; and, of course, there is wine from Cádiz Province, centred on the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. Agricultural employment has always been precarious in Andalucía, however, as a result of the phenomenon known as latifundia, a term which comes from the Latin, latus, meaning ‘broad’ and fundus, ‘landed estate’ , in practice, the division of the cultivatable land into a small number of huge estates, owned by a handful of extremely rich families.Agricultural employment is usually on a seasonal and casual basis, often drawing heavily on immigrant labour from Africa. It used to be common for families to have their own modest terraces where basic crops - potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, beans and the like could be grown for their own use. The growth of tourism and construction, however, led many families either to sell off their plots to developers building villas for the second-home market from northern Europe, or to switch to crops such as avocados, chirimoyas or mangos, which generate a modest income (the real money is made further up the chain of supply), and require many fewer hours of work on the plot, freeing people up to work in the other two major industries.
So, what about these other two legs to the economic stool? Mass tourism was encouraged by Franco in the mid-sixties, and rapidly grew to be a major employer for the Mediterranean coastal areas of Andalucía, big enough to also attract and employ people from the interior of the region. Then, as visitors found a destination worth returning to and grew in confidence, tourism in turn gave rise to a booming construction industry churning out villas and apartments for the benefit of those who wanted a place of their own. For something like 30 years, demand continued to outstrip supply as new buyers came into the market - Scandinavia, Holland, Russia among others, joining the original Brits, Germans and Americans in the seasonal migration to the sun; many Spanish people also bought into the Costas. Then, in 2009 the bubble burst. Developers went bust, properties stood unfinished or empty, the forest of tower cranes, so long a less attractive aspect of the Spanish landscape, disappeared, and the dole queues grew. At much the same time, recession hit the countries sending millions of holiday makers to the costas and the tourism industry also went into decline, adding even more people to the list of unemployed.
Over the past twelve months, tourism has begun to grow again and is likely to provide the main source of growth, as construction is still at a standstill. But, as a reaction to its own recession, the hospitality sector has learned to operate more leanly, and have managed to shave around 10% off staff sizes. Things do not look good.
The only thing that is growing, jobswise, is emigration, the flight of young people especially, to other countries in search of a future beyond el paro.


So, What Happens Come Monday?

I ask because tomorrow is election day here in Spain. Although resident I do not have a vote in these elections which were called by José Luis Zapatero at the same time that he announced that he would not be seeking re-election. Instead, the deputy prime minister, Alfredo Rubalcaba leads the socialists (PSOE) into the elections, whilst the conservative, Partido Popular (PP) is led by Mariano Rajoy, who took over from José María Aznar after PP’s defeat in 2004.
The opinion polls show a somewhat confusing picture. On a party basis, the lead over the socialists is so great that, if carried through to the polling booths, it would result in a victory for PP with an overall majority in the Cortes. However, Rubalcaba enjoys much greater popularity in the polls than his main rival, Mariano Rajoy. Will people vote for party or person?
And how will the global, financial markets react, whatever the outcome? Governments have fallen recently in Greece and in Italy, and this past week the markets have turned the spotlight onto Spain. Will a new government stave off the presure, or will Spain continue to be considered another likely candidate for default? Only time will tell.
Whatever happens tomorrow, though, it is unlikely to change very much in Andalucía, except for the worse. As the largest of the 17 autonomous communities into which Spain is divided, Andalucía sends the largest number of Deputies to sit in Congress (60 compared to Catalonia’s 47 and Madrid’s 36, for example.). You might expect that to ensure a fair deal from Madrid for the community; it does not. The Partido Andalucista, which at present has no seats in the Cortes, is fighting on a platform of addressing that problem, and it is a big problem.
Spain presently ranks as the 133rd best country in which to do business. Unemployment has tripled in the last three years and now stands at 22% of the workforce. 24% of Spaniards are living below the poverty level, and the Roman Catholic charity, Caritas is operating feeding centres and food banks all over the country. Youth unemployment stands at 46%. And Andalucía heads these statistics within Spain. This, the largest autonomous community which the largest number of seats in Congress has the highest rates of general and youth unemployment, poverty, mortgage foreclosures and company failures. I’ll return to this theme next time, and look at possible causes, but for now I await with great interest but few expectations, the outcome of tomorrow’s voting.


A Studio (Of Sorts)!

My paints have been lying idle for far too long as I had nowhere where I could just walk away and leave things ready for my return. I had to use our dining table and then clear everything away before the next mealtime. That shouldn't be a problem, but being on the lazy side It meant that I stopped setting up at all.
A couple of weeks ago I hit on a solution. A local carpenter has made me a desk which will stand over the end of one of the beds in our guest bedroom which I can use without any restrictions other than when guests are coming. When that happens, the desk, which has a flat, level surface simply lifts across to stand between the wardrobe and the window where it can also serve as a dressing table. Magic! It was only delivered on Tuesday and already the paints are out and in use.