How the crisis is helping Spain

Whether its home evictions, soaring deficit or the jobless rate, the negative side of the crisis gets a lot of coverage. This week in The Local, however, we decided to take a look at some of the silver linings to come out of this difficult period.

How the crisis is helping Spain
Is there any reason to smile during Spain's crisis? Photo: Brinzei/Flickr

Just 53.9 percent of Spaniards of working age are employed, new figures from the European statistics body Eurostat show.

At 10.6 percent of gross domestic product, Spain has the highest deficit of all eurozone countries.

On Tuesday, Spain's Economy Minister told the Wall Street Journal that the country's economy will shrink by 1 to 1.5 percent in 2013.

All this has to be placed in the context of a crisis that is now into its sixth year.

At first glance, there's not a lot to get excited about in Spain right now, but we've decided to try and extract a few positives from the situation.

Entrepreneurial spirit

In business terms, there has been a change in mindset since the crisis began, according to Iniciador, a foundation that looks at entrepreneurship in Spain.

A growing number of Spaniards have decided to set up their own business in the face of crippling unemployment.

This has created a more self reliant stance among some Spaniards.

Some 55 percent of entrepreneurs, for example, have turned their backs on the banks in the hunt for financial backing. Instead, they are funding their own business ideas or falling back on family.

In total, 37 percent of Spanish entrepreneurs have set up their own businesses as a direct result of the crisis, says Inciador.

The downside here is the huge turnover in the number of new businesses.

In the first nine months of 2011, 64,989 businesses were set up in Spain. However, almost 34,000 shut up shop during the same period.

More financially savvy

Spanish consumers are focusing a lot more on prices, and not on brands, the spokesperson for the consumer organization FACUA, Rubén Sánchez García, told The Local.

"They are not buying superfluous products and are also looking more closely at use-by dates," said Sánchez.

"Most importantly, they are much more likely to complain about fraud or if they feel contract conditions have been violated," he added.

"Although the crisis has meant a lot of suffering, it has had one positive effect in that consumers are better informed about their rights."

A study published in ABC newspaper in mid-2012 showed that 90 percent of the Spanish population believe saving is essential.

Eighty percent of all Spaniards were making an effort to cut costs on heating, air conditioning and lighting.

In 2012, the number of cars on Spain's roads fell by a staggering 38 percent, according to the international traffic information supplier INRIX.
That meant Spanish people spent 15 hours less in traffic jams last year than in 2011.
There is also less speeding because people are more conscious about petrol use and the chance of being fined.

"One positive impact of the crisis has been that there are less carbon dioxide emissions," María José Caballero, Campaigns Manager at Greenpeace Spain," told The Local.

"This is because people are driving less, and also using strategies like car sharing," said Caballero.

"There is also less building going on," the environmental campaigns chief said.

But she said Greenpeace was worried the government wasn't using the opportunity to push ahead with greener initiatives.

She said now was the moment to promote the use of new energy sources and invest in technologies like electric cars. 

More social awareness

With so many people in need, Spaniards have become more generous with both their time and money.

In 2012, over 6 million Spaniards did some form of voluntary work, according to Spain's Voluntary Work Association.

That was a 20 percent rise on a year earlier, the group said.

The Spanish Red Cross alone has 207,000 volunteers who work with homeless people and in education programmes, among others.  

Meanwhile, Ferrán Casamitjana, the donations manager for Cáritas Barcelona told The Local: "We've seen a 15 percent increase in the number of donations." 

"The crisis has made people more supportive of poor people," he explained. "This is because they are more exposed to poverty." 

Casamitjana also said the number of volunteers had gone up and they now had 4,000 people helping in Cáritas Barcelona. 

"People are changing their values. They are not as individualistic, and not as focused on money as they were before," said the Cáritas donations manager. 

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Activists board ship off Spain in palm oil protest: Greenpeace

Greenpeace said Saturday six of its activists boarded a tanker off Spain loaded with "dirty" palm oil to protest against a nature-damaging commodity found in everything from soap to biscuits.

Activists board ship off Spain in palm oil protest: Greenpeace
A file photo showing a Greenpeace banner during a 2007 protest at the port of Rotterdam. Photo: AFP

The activists, from countries including Indonesia, the scene of mass deforestation for palm oil plantations, were held by the captain of the ship after they boarded at sea, the NGO said in a statement.

Prior to that, “they unfurled banners reading 'Save our Rainforest' and 'Drop Dirty Palm Oil',” it added.

The ship was travelling from Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producer, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the NGO said.

The captain has turned the ship around and is heading to Spain, it added, where he intended to hand the activists over to authorities.

When contacted by AFP, the Guardia Civil police force said it had no knowledge of the matter.

According to Greenpeace, the ship is carrying “dirty palm oil” products, or those linked to mass deforestation.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in many everyday goods.

Growing demand for the commodity has led to an industry boom in Indonesia.

Green groups have long accused palm oil companies of rampant environmental destruction.

Many firms have made “no deforestation” pledges after coming under pressure, but activists say such commitments are hard to monitor and frequently broken.

As well as the destruction of rainforest, clearing peatland to make way for palm oil plantations causes enormous environmental damage.

Huge amounts of carbon are released when peat is drained or burnt, exacerbating climate change, according to environmentalists.

Peat fires are also difficult to put out and a key factor in outbreaks of toxic smog which choke Southeast Asia almost every year.

READ ALSO: Urbanisation of Spain's coast doubled in 30 years: Greenpeace