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ELECTION

Meet the foreigners in Spain battling for your votes in the local elections

Across the Spanish costas, dozens of immigrants - or expats as some still call them - will be standing for a council seat.

Meet the foreigners in Spain battling for your votes in the local elections
Chloe Gavin is standing for the PSOE in her town of Periana. Photo: PSOE

In towns with a high density of foreign residents, it has become more common to find 'guiri's' on the local councils.

In the last municipal elections in May 2015, a total of 85 foreigners were elected to take seats on their local councils. And it’s no surprise that Britons formed the largest group.

A total of 37 British residents in Spain were elected to their local councils, the majority on the coasts with 19 in the region of Valencia and eight in Andalusia.

This time round, there are even more running, and not just Brits. Scandinavians, Germans, Dutch, Belgians, all  appear on lists across a broad spectrum of Spain’s political scene.

For some it’s the first time they have ventured into politics.

READ MORE: 

After spending four years volunteering for the council as an intermediary dealing with issues of “expats” in the hillside town of Periana in the Axarquía area of Malaga province, one British woman decided it was time to do more.

Chloe Gavin told the The Local why she is standing for the PSOE, and how the number of foreigners signed up to vote are disappointingly low.

“As well as helping to organise events such as a Christmas market, cultural trips, and a charity walk, to promote integration into the community, I have also listened to a quantity of gripes (my water pressure is low, my pavement is broken, my track is in disrepair, I have rats in my street, why can’t I get a decent burger in any of the local bars…),” explains the 47-year-old, who moved to Spain 19 years ago, married a Spaniard and has two teenage children.

“Apart from the latter, these gripes can only be resolved by the local town hall.”

She believes it is very important for foreign residents to vote and get involved in the politics of their adopted home.

“The local elections are less about political ideologies and more about the individuals standing for election. Sunday is our opportunity to vote for someone who will sort out our bumpy track, weedy pavement, poor street lighting,” she said.

“Unfortunately of the 200 plus foreigners ‘empadronado’ in Periana only around 50 will be able to vote. This is because many (perhaps due to a lack of information) wrongly assume that being  ’empadronado’ automatically gives you the right to vote. 

“I have discovered since being asked to join the mayor’s team (and unfortunately too late to act upon) that a box also has to be checked declaring your intention to vote. Others just simply are not interested in voting.”

She is among dozens who hope that they can stand up for residents rights and make their voices heard on local councils

Bill Anderson is standing for the Popular Party in Mijas on the Costa Del Sol, just along the coast from Marbella where another British businessman, Darren Sands is also standing for the PP.

British founder of the Brexpats in Spain, Anne Hernandez is standing in Mijas on a local platform Moviemiento Vecinal Mijeño championing animal welfare, the environment and the effects of Brexit on Brits in Spain.

Liz Kaeg is on the list in Competa, also for a local issue partry Por Mi Pueblo, while in neighbouring Alcaucin, Chris Cluderay is standing for Ciudadanos.

In Sedella on the Costa del Sol, there are two Brits standing for the local council, Paul Knight for Izquierda Unida and Elizabeth Morrison as an independent.

Some are already old hands, Mario Bracke, a Belgian, has been the mayor of Alcaucín since 2015.

Lars Ake Olofsson, a Swede has been a member of the council for the PP party in Benahavis, where 68 percent of the population are foreigners.

In Manilva, where close to half the population hail from elsewhere a Dutch businesswoman for the PSOE is challenging British councillor Dean Tyler Shelton for a seat on the council.

If you live in an area with a high proportion of foreign residents, the chances are that there will be at least one 'guiri' name on your ballot paper on Sunday. 

Will you vote for them? 

 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

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Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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