Saturday, May 13, 2006


Quite a lot happening in Spain today for this inaugural entry - I now declare this blog open!

Spanish government in the balance

The future of the Spanish government could be put in doubt by developments yesterday in Cataluña, where the leftish Catalan nationalist party Esquerra Republicana have been expelled from the regional government. The national government, a minority administration of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), depends on support from Esquerra and Izquierda Unida to get their majority in Parliament; so the question now will be whether Esquerra will maintain their support at national level. The crisis in the Catalan government forms part of a complicated political dance which has its origins in the rivalry between nationalist parties in Cataluña. The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, got the support of the conservative nationalists (CIU) for his reform of the autonomy statute for Cataluña. Esquerra, which had been involved from the beginning in the reform process, then got upset about their rivals being involved in the process and getting credit, so they opted for a blank vote in the referendum which has to be held to approve the new statute. Their membership, in internal meetings, then started campaigning for a no vote and pushed their leadership into this position; leaving them with the prospect of campaigning against the only significant result of the government which they form part of, and which has significant support amongst their electorate. The Catalan socialists refuse to accept a partner in government campaigning against them, hence the expulsion which will mean new elections after the referendum has been held. Esquerra, having been pushed out of the government, and looking likely to be on the losing side in the referendum, are now making threatening noises about ‘consequences’ in Madrid. Its been quite normal in recent years for Spanish governments to depend on minoruty parties, now that Cataluña has two significant nationalist parties they are competing with each other for influence at national level and for power in Cataluña itself. The last elections in Cataluña threw out the conservative nationalists after a long period in power, its going to be a pity if the only achievement of the government that replaced them is a new statute, something which in the end has minimal impact on the day to day lives of people. The rivalry between the different parties means that each tries to be more nationalist than the other, in the end thats all such parties have to offer.

Investment scandal

The world of postage stamps does not usually provoke many headlines, but its at the heart of a what could potentially be a huge investment scandal here. Two companies who have persuaded thousands of people to invest their savings in stamps in return for higher than average interest payments are now being investigated for fraud. The case involves hugely overvalued stamps being sold to investors and shows all the signs of being a pyramid scheme where the companies use the money from recent investors to keep paying interest to the old ones. The juiciest detail to emerge so far has been the discovery of 10 million euros in a recently created hiding place in the luxury home of one of the directors of the companies involved (presumably in 500 Euro notes – the banknote of choice in Spain these days). There is no real protection for the people who are at risk of losing their savings, unless they make so much noise the government decides to bail them out.

Elections In Real Madrid

Elections for Cataluña and elections for a new president for Real Madrid. The club is supposedly in the hands of its members and the president must be elected by them, although the membership always seems more than happy to elect any passing construction millionaire who promises them glory. Florentino Perez resigned faced with the imminent prospect of a third season without any trophies, as has subsequently turned out to be the case. He put his own man in place as interim president (yes, another construction millionaire) and thought he would continue to run the club this way without elections. Unfortunately his substitute went ‘off-message’ and started acting as if he really was the president of the club, so Perez organised his downfall and the inevitable result is elections. Most of the candidates are of the usual kind with the potential novelty of rally driver Carlos Sainz entering the race; expect wild promises of players and coaches that they intend to hire in a bid to gain votes. Whether any of this will make any difference to the dismal performance of such an expensive team remains to be seen. July 2nd is the day, leaving the new president one week in office before the post World Cup sales begin.

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