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OPINION: Will Spain continue to be a viable country for foreigners to live and work in?

OPINION: Will Spain continue to be a viable country for foreigners to live and work in?
Life in the new normal on Barceloneta beach. Photo: AFP
Many foreign citizens in Spain might be reconsidering our lives here given the economic crisis that appears to be only just beginning. Writer Graham Keeley examines when and if Spain will ever really recover from coronavirus.

Living through lockdown has given us plenty of time to think.

Now, as we begin to return to some semblance of normal life, our priorities may have changed. 

If we have lost our jobs or have been laid off, we will be cutting back on spending or even trying as best we can to find new jobs.

Those lucky to still be working, may be re-thinking how they do that.

Office life, who needs it? Who wants to take the risk of mixing with colleagues, just now? Or who wants to rent an expensive office in the centre of the city when home working was not that bad after all.

Holidays? It may be summer and some of us could do with seeing something else than our own four walls, but is it worth cramming onto a plane with scores of other people all wearing masks?

There may be many other aspects of our lives which for once we have had a moment to ask ourselves about.

If we are foreigners living in Spain, we may even be thinking about our lives here.


A man with a face mask sits by the Prado Museum in Madrid. Photo: AFP

In the past few weeks, I have seen a steady stream of emails from people selling up everything because they have suddenly decided to – or been forced by circumstances – to leave.

For others who may have been vaguely thinking of making a move, lockdown was the game changer.

A friend told me that living in a flat with noisy neighbours above was the thing that made a difference. Then a good job came up elsewhere and it was a done deal.

Another friend said many people they know are shipping out to the suburbs to work from home and have left the commute behind forever.

Whatever language you get your news in, it will have been hard to avoid the grim forecasts that Spain is heading for a deep recession. Unemployment could reach 19 percent, according to the Bank of Spain, and GDP might shrink by nearly 13 percent.

Statistics do not mean much to most people. What really matters is if they have work and a roof over their head.

So, perhaps, some of us have been considering how viable Spain will be as a place to live?

If you chose to come here to live, the last thing you probably want is to leave.

However, life is, as John Lennon said, what happens when you are making other plans.

Your future in Spain may depend, of course, to a large extent on what you do for a living.

Some industries have been worst hit than others.

Tourism and the automotive sectors, two of the most important sectors in the Spanish economy, have been crippled – for the time being. The impact on the service sector has also been significant.

However, Spain's central bank does predict the economy will resurge next year, provided there is not another outbreak of the virus.

For others, the coronavirus epidemic may have been a big opportunity. I know someone who recently landed a job selling PCR tests and is up to their eyes in work.

Another friend works in finance and specialises dealing in failing companies. He has obviously been busy.

Aside from employment, something else to consider is what kind of place will Spain be?

Spain's minority government will have to get the country out of this mess but lacks the political strength to make the bold reforms necessary to do this easily. So, it will be a struggle to pass every law given the splintered nature of the Spanish parliament.

Given the makeup of the coalition between the Socialist Workers' Party and the far-left Unidas Podemos, there have been hints it will resort to raising taxes on the wealthy.

Business leaders have expressed concern at the way the government has done much to help workers who have suffered from the crisis but little to assuage the concerns of company owners.

For example, workers who have been on ERTEs – or laid off temporarily – cannot be sacked until at least six months after they return to work.

It seems a reasonable measure to take. However, how will these companies be able to pay this workforce when they have had little or no income during the state of emergency.

An internal report from the Civil Guard which was published by El Periodico newspaper last month predicted civil unrest and attacks on political party headquarters because of the economic problems caused by the epidemic.

Then Madrid and other cities were gripped by days of demonstrations mainly by right-wing groups calling for the government to quit.

Might this be a taste of things to come? The demonstrations in Madrid seemed politically motivated but if the economic downturn gets much worse, perhaps those who are struggling to find enough to eat might get desperate.

On a recent visit to a Red Cross food bank, I met people who, from one day to the next, had no income and no savings. The number of people forced to resort to handouts from food banks has grown by at least 30 percent since the start of the state of emergency, according to the charity.  

However, what might make us think again about living abroad are our families at home.

Lockdown has emphasised the fact we cannot see our loved ones. For some, particularly those with elderly relatives, it could make us think we want to see more of our families. 

On the other hand, in case you think this is a sermon of doom, perhaps it is worth thinking about this: when I came to Spain years ago, someone said 'you will love it, you will hate it, but you will never be bored.' 

How right they were.

 

 

Graham Keeley is a Barcelona-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .

 

 

 

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Member comments

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  1. Most of what the author discusses will be problematic in any country, not just Spain,
    as the world adjusts to and recovers from the pandemic.

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