••• The International Writers Magazine: From our Spanish correspondent
Brexit Trigger and Spain
It is ‘Brexit’ month when most public transport around Europe including the United Kingdom will have a large sign that says ‘ALL CHANGE’.
I know, we’ve been over this ground before but it has now happened and department store doors are open for the citizens to enter and observe how members of governments, political parties, civil services, major industries, banks, media, and hundreds of thousands of small entities open their ‘exam papers’ on the one hand and prayer books on the other to begin to - try – to unravel the unprecedented and monumental mess that lies ahead for the future of the European continent. It’s taken the British government almost 9 months before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and as expected a great deal of ‘new’ information has emerged in the meantime that should have been ready for public viewing before the referendum took place. But we’ll stop here because as the saying goes, ‘it is water under the bridge’. It is now 2017 and a new chapter of uncertainty begins. Therefore this month’s essay will concentrate, as usual on the effects of the relationship between Britain, or should I say England and Spain. And is probably one of the most important relationships in the EU that is at stake, and although the present British government has placed it on the back burner, it is about ‘people’!
There are approximately 200,000 Spaniards working in the UK and almost the same number of Brits in Spain. Add the ‘other’ British, retired folk that are split between permanent residents and what we called, during my consular days, ‘swallows’ (those that have summer residences but continue to be tax resident in the UK) and the numbers reach almost the 600,000 mark. Since the ‘Arab Summer’, the terrorist attempts around the European and Middle Eastern areas and the peaceful situation that still prevails in Spain, British tourism, despite the drop in the pound also continues to flourish. That’s an enormous reason for the Spanish government to make sure it strikes a positive deal with the UK once the divorce settlement is enacted.
But not all is sugar sweet and dandy. Now the other side of the coin. Again, a subject that has been discussed before.
The Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May’s promise to protect the interests of the colony is just one more of her verbal political statements. The thirty odd thousand citizens on the ‘Rock’ do not trust her and are not satisfied. The Spanish government on the other hand has vowed that it will review the relationship and reinforce its claim for Gibraltar to be returned to Spain, but on ‘softer’ terms such as joint government and protection of existing Gibraltarian rights. Too early to even try to predict what will happen especially regarding other important influences that have to be taken into account known as ‘The Royal Navy’ base.
Then there is the issue of Scotland’s plea to hold a possible new referendum for independence because the Scots do not wish to lose the present EU trade and other relations with Europe. Despite the fact that the Spanish government, up to a certain point sympathizes with their reasoning, the imminent clash with the ongoing movement for independence by the Catalan government puts a damper on Scotland’s possibility of going it alone.
(The other tendious issue is the Good Friday Agreement with Northen Ireland which gives them a right to a referendum on re-uniting with the South and staying in the EU if the UK leaves - all forgotten till now.) Ed
Pensions are another bone of contention, but will not materialize until the break actually takes place. You see, there are a great number of Spaniards that have worked, as well as those that are still working, that have been in long term employment in the UK. They receive and will be entitled to pensions from the National Insurance pension scheme. In fact the whole issue of European and UK pensioners’ rights will have to be ironed out. Why one may ask? Because when the UK finally leaves the EU the normal yearly increases will freeze as they are based on yet another bi-lateral agreement that not all countries around the world belong to. To top it all the British government has stated that the retirement age could be increased in the future. Hold on to your hats on this one!
Finally, to end another storm brewing in the future are the European ‘fishing rights’ agreements with the British Isles. Despite the fact that the sea in general is ‘no man’s land’ regarding law, millions of all kinds of agreements have been reached around the world as to who can use what means and where to fish and what type of catch including numbers are permitted. To put it bluntly, it is a real dog’s dinner. The British government has stated that after Brexit it will take back control once again of Britain’s territorial waters and will not allow foreign fishing vessels to exploit them. Spain not only has one of the largest fishing fleets in the world it is also one of the largest consumer of fish and seafood in the whole of Europe. So far there has been no rumblings or reaction. I would state this issue as ‘forthcoming attractions’ although am sure that in areas like Galicia, where I abode have already dusted off the files. Many readers may have forgotten about the famous Merchant Shipping act that hit the UK hard with fines on this very subject. Fishing rights!
Enough of Brexit, what else has been going on in Spain in the meantime?
And its move towards an illegal referendum continues as one of the most serious issues on the Spanish political agenda. Despite trials convicting some of the top and ex-top brass of the Catalan regional government the present lot are determined to go ahead with it. The PM, Sr. Mariano Rajoy’s government, is sticking to its guns and although have tried to open every door possible for a dialogue to reach some sort of agreement, they will not move away from the Spanish Constitution that proclaims Spain as a one and only binding nation. It is an ongoing problem that will reach a climax around September time when the Catalans kick off their ‘Catexit’ referendum.
The stevedore saga.
The EU has advised Spain that they must liberalize the stevedore sector of all Spanish ports or else face a very hefty fine that will be imposed including one on a daily basis if Spain does not comply with the mandate. The government has naturally taken heed and has proposed a legal amendment to be discussed and approved in parliament. However, the stevedore unions have boycotted the imposition and have threatened with strike action. These workers that operate the cranes and other machinery at the container sectors of the ports have had a lucrative monopoly for decades. Not only in remuneration, but as a closed shop for future workers that are picked and chosen from within their regime. If the strikers get their way Spain will be hit very badly from both sides. Their imports and exports would hurt the economy and the fine would increase the national debt.
May sound like a monotonous issue, but the future 2018 budget is still being debated in parliament. The distribution of the large ‘cake’ of public funds always has its tug-of-war competition between government and the autonomous regions, not to mention the town councils that have their own wish list. The main stumbling block is the ‘cap’ on expenditure that the government wishes to implement, thus placing a freeze on any increases in order to comply with Europe, the IMF and the European Central Bank to control the countries budget deficit. What is even more worrying is that the OECD has stated that Spain must increase its taxes, especially VAT and so far the Spanish government have told them, ‘Sorry, not this year.’ The good news is that the tax authorities have been cleaning out a whole series of fraudulent areas of tax evasion and the income from this sector alone has allowed some icing to be placed back on the ‘cake’.
The Socialist Party continues to be in a complete mess and is still fighting to find its identity in the new political scenario of the country. Two leaders were poised for the elections for a new Secretary General, Sr. Patxi Lopez (Basque leader) and Sr. Pedro Sanchez (twice loser of the elections) and suddenly, the charismatic President of Andalucía, Sra. Susana Diaz (see previous essays) has jumped on the bandwagon. She is backed by the so called ‘barons’ (previous PM of Spain, Sr. Felipe Gonzalez and stalwart ex-Minister Sr. Federico ‘Freddy’ Rubalcaba). Ever since the advent of the extreme left-wing party Podemos under the ‘renewed’ leadership of Sr. Pablo Iglesias that more or less crucified the existing communist ‘Izquierda Unida’ (United Left) and the young Every-which-way party (Ciudadanos), the left has been in array.
Sr. Mariano Rajoy
Finally we have our PM sits on the fence watching all this happen. At the same time, his minority government, as per his agreed coalition with Ciudadanos and pact - so far - with the PSOE to abstain where necessary in parliamentary decisions, continues to win brownie points both at home and abroad. It is rather ironic that once Brexit is triggered, Spain will become a more significant player in Europe and according to all international economic forecasts is doing quite well.
See you next month.
© James Skinner. April, 2017
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