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POLITICS

Is Spain as corrupt as it was a decade ago?

Corruption doesn’t make the news as often as it used to in Spain. But as the nation drops in an international anti-corruption index for consecutive years, The Local looks into the statistics, the headlines, and main culprits to ask: is Spain as corrupt as it was a decade ago, and are things really getting worse?

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Former king Juan Carlos’s dodgy dealings, Andalusia’s ERE corruption case and the Gurtel PP scandal have all continued to erode the trust Spaniards have in politicians and the monarchy. Photo: Oscar Del Pozo, Cristina Quicler, Fernando Alvarado/AFP

Last week, it emerged that Spain had dropped in the global ranking of the 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) compiled by NGO Transparency International.

It dropped two places since 2020, to 34th internationally, and has actually fallen four places, from thirtieth, in less than three years. Its new position places it 14th among the 27 European Union member states, and in the bottom three of Europe’s biggest economies: only Italy and Poland (tied for 42nd place) finished behind Spain.

But what explains Spain’s steady decline? Is there anything that can explain the drop, have other countries cleaned up their act, or is Spain really becoming more corrupt? 

The rankings

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. Each is given a corruption score on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Drawing on information sourced from survey data carried out by globally respected institutions such as the World Bank, the index considers several factors or indicators of bribery, studying how susceptible public institutions are perceived to be to bribery, embezzlement, officials who use public office for personal gain, institutions preventing anti-corruption and enforcement regulations, bureaucratisation and nepotism, among others.

One key takeaway from the 2021 Index is that corruption levels are stagnant worldwide, with “little or no progress” made in 86 percent of the countries evaluated in the index over the last ten years.

​​At the top of the perception list are Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, countries that, according to the Democracy Index, are also the top for civil liberties in the world. The countries who received the lowest scores, 11, 13, and 13, respectively, were Somalia, Syria and South Sudan.

Transparency International suggests that the world’s larger economies – such as Spain’s, which is among the top 15 in the world – should never receive a CPI score of below 70, especially if it wants to maintain its respect and competitiveness on the international scene. Yet in the 2021 CPI Spain received a 61/100, not only lower than the previous year but a score that places it below countries such as Chile, Uruguay, Lithuania, Estonia, the Bahamas, and Barbados.

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Map showing Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2021

Looking back

Using data available from past CPI studies, it becomes clear that Spain’s recent slip in the league table is not an anomaly but part of a longer-term trend. In 2000, Spain sat in 20th place with a score of 70 (or a 7.0, as the CPI was done on a 1-10 scale back then), and was neck and neck with countries such as France, Ireland, and Israel. Yet by 2005 it had slipped to 23rd place, albeit with the CPI score holding firm at around 70.

Yet by 2010 Spain dropped to 30th position, and its CPI score had dropped dramatically by 9 points to 61 (6.1 on the old scale). By 2015 the position had worsened, sinking to a score of 58 and flanked by Lithuania and Latvia, and in 2018 Spain ranked 41st in the world albeit with an unchanged CPI score of 58. 

It seems clear that Spain’s CPI score had been in steady decline for the last two decades. Since the year 2000, the perception Spaniards have of their public institutions and actors – whether it be political parties and politicians, the police force, public administrations, and local ayuntamientos – and their susceptibility to corruption has worsened.

But the statistic that sticks out in the CPI data is the sudden drop in trust in public institutions from 2005 to 2010. Was there something specific that could explain such a change in public opinion?

Corruption in the news

The infamous Gürtel case is perhaps one famous corruption case that could explain both the sudden drop in public trust between 2005 and 2010, and the steady decline in more recent years. The Gürtel case, a case that engulfed right-wing party PP in accusations of money laundering, tax evasion, and bribery, came to light in 2009 but the main suspects were not put on trial, or even publicly named in some cases, until late-2016, both periods of time when Spain’s CPI score dropped.

The corrupt activities involved party funding and the awarding of contracts by local and regional governments in Valencia and Madrid, among others. Judges estimated the loss to public finances was a staggering €120,000,000.

Operation Kitchen has dominated the headlines in more recent years, and could also be a contributing factor in Spain’s falling position in the CPI. It also follows on and is connected to the Gürtel case, neatly tying together over a decade of corruption in PP.

Known as “Operación Kitchen” because the code name of the alleged informant was ‘the cook’, the informant worked as a driver for the former treasurer of the Popular Party (PP), Luis Bárcenas, who in May 2018 was sentenced to 33 years in jail for his role in a kickbacks scheme which financed the party known as, you guessed it, the Gürtel case.  

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Former PP treasurer Luis Barcenas in the National Court near Madrid in February 2021, on the first day of a new trial probing an illegal funding system run by the conservative party. (Photo by Juan Carlos Hidalgo / POOL / AFP)

 

The ruling led to the ousting of PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote in parliament several days later. Public prosecutors allege the driver received €2,000 ($2,370) per month, as well as the promise of a job in the police force, in exchange for obtaining information regarding where “Bárcenas and his wife hide compromising documents” about the PP and its senior leaders.

The probe into “Operation Kitchen” is one of several which have been opened based on searches carried out following the arrest of José Manuel Villarejo, a former police commissioner who for years secretly recorded conversations with top political and economic figures to be able to smear them.

Of course, you can’t talk about corruption in Spain without talking about its royal family. Juan Carlos I, the now exiled former King of Spain, has a list of alleged corruption charges longer than a Spanish waiter’s order pad on a Saturday night: the Saudi rail payoffs, and money hidden in Swiss bank accounts; the mystery credit cards paid off by Mexican businessmen; the €10 million found in a Jersey bank account and, finally, his goat hunting trip with the President of Kazakhstan in which Juan Carlos left with armfuls of briefcases containing over €5 million in cash.

People hold banners reading “Nobody is better than anyone else” during a demonstration against the alleged corrupted monarchy in Madrid on July 25, 2020. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

But corruption in Spain not only exists at the elite level; although the upper echelons of Spanish society – government, the royal family – have been tarnished by allegations of corruption, perhaps it is the perceived corruption of local and regional institutions that contribute to Spain’s falling CPI score.

Small town corruption is nothing new. Just this week, a councilwoman in tiny Alicante province beach town Santa Pola was arrested on suspicion of taking up to €40,000 in bribes over several years, and handing out catering contracts for money and favours.

The ongoing environmental scandal at Murcia’s Mar Menor has also been stained by corruption allegations. Former Minister of Agriculture in the region, Antonio Cerdá, is facing up to six years in prison for fraud and embezzlement and his role in the pollution of Murcia’s Mar Menor lagoon.

But police forces across Spain are no better, it seems. As the Catalan Generalitat investigates corrupt Mossos in its police force, port authorities and Guardia Civil agents across Spain, including Catalonia and Algeciras in Andalusia, have been arrested for taking bribes to turn blind eyes to drug trafficking. 

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, local Mayors across Spain and its territories have been caught out using their position and influence to queue-jump and get vaccinations before vulnerable groups.

Looking ahead

Perhaps the combination of this low-level corruption, and the slow-term eroding effect it has on public trust in institutions, with the more high-profile national cases that envelop kings and politicians explains Spain’s steady decline in the CPI score. Social media undoubtedly plays another role, as it provides Spaniards with minute by minute, rolling twenty-four hour news coverage of every misdeed anyone in public life does that they didn’t have in the past, yet, judging by the CPI data available, it does seem that public opinion in Spain is swayed by events.

The noticeable drops in public trust in institutions between 2005-2010, and again around 2018, mirror major national scandals, and perhaps Spain isn’t necessarily headed on the downward trajectory the figures would suggest, and it isn’t set to tumble further down the corruption league tables.

A local corruption case in Andalusia might encapsulate this best, and why many think Spain is, on balance, not quite as corrupt as its CPI suggests or Spain was ten or twenty years ago, that the culture of corruption in Spain is generational, and that things have steadily improved over time.

Seville judge Mercedes Alaya has been investigating the ERE corruption scandal for almost eleven years, but the case has been so far reaching, and the allegations so vast, that with time many of the accused have simply died before they could stand trial. Many in Spain hope the culture of corruption will also die with their generation, and that of old PP politicians and exiled-Kings who create major news stories and sully Spain’s reputation at home and abroad.

Judging by the CPI rankings, Spain has been on a downward trend.

A multitude of factors could contribute to the worsening public perception of corruption in Spain: greed, social media, a constant news cycle, small town politics, payoffs, bungs, bribes, major national scandals, exiled kings; however on balance, one must hope that the ERE case in Seville will be a precursor for Spain’s perceived problems with corruption, and that the culture that it comes from will die off in the future.

If Spain is to emerge from the pandemic economically secure, rekindle the trust between the public and its institutions, and live up to its position as one of Europe’s major players, it better hope so.

By Conor Patrick Faulkner in Seville.

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LIFE IN SPAIN

What childcare options are available over the summer in Spain?

Kids in Spain get around three months of holiday over the summer, but finding childcare options during this time can be challenging for parents, especially if they have to work. So what is available?

What childcare options are available over the summer in Spain?

Kids in Spain get to enjoy a ten to 12-week summer vacation, starting towards the end of June and lasting until around the second week in September. This is one of the longest summer holidays in Europe.

In the UK, kids get around half of this time with around five or six weeks, while in France they get around eight weeks and in Germany around six weeks.

Unless you are a teacher or are self-employed, most salaried workers in Spain, according to the Workers’ Statue, can only take up to two-weeks vacation at a time, meaning that parents are often stuck with what to do with the kids for the rest of the summer.

If you’re in this situation, what are your options for summer childcare and how affordable is it?

Summer school camps

Most regular schools in Spain offer campamentos de verano or summer camps. This means that your kids can carry on going to their normal school, even after the term ends. But instead of doing their lessons, they’ll get to do fun daily activities, crafts and games, as well as a variety of day trips.

If your children’s school doesn’t offer this option, then there’s always the possibility of signing up to a campamento at another nearby school.

Remember, you’ll need to enrol your kids in advance to make sure they’re able to get a spot.

The price for these is around €70 to €100 per week if your child is going all day, and this typically includes lunch. Be aware that these school summer camps are usually not available during the whole of the summer, so you may need to still organise childcare for the month of August or a couple of weeks in August, if you’re taking your vacation then too.

The advantage of these is that your kids will often get to be with their friends and will know the surroundings already, however it may not really feel like much of a holiday or a break from school for them, if they’re in the same environment. 

Specialised or themed summer camps

Another option, rather than going to a summer camp at a school, is a themed summer camp, based on your kids’ hobbies or the activities they love. There are many different summer camps across the country, focused on everything from sports and languages to music or even theatre.

For example, in Barcelona, the city zoo offers a summer camp, as does FC Barcelona, where kids can learn football from the pros all day.

In Valencia, the Bioparc offers a summer camp, as do a couple of the local outdoor swimming pools.

Try searching online for campamento de verano (summer camp) plus the name of the town or city where you will be, there are options across almost all of Spain.

As these are private companies, not sponsored by the state schools, they typically cost considerably more than the school summer camps.

Expect to pay anywhere upwards from €200 per week, and double this for popular summer camps. The general rule is that the better the facilities, staff and transport, the more expensive it will be. 

Temporary nanny or Au-pair

If summer camps or schools are not an option, or you’d prefer for your kids to get more attention or be around the house, hiring a summer nanny or au-pair is also a good choice.

There are many young people who want summer jobs in order to earn a bit of extra money and many career nannies who may be stuck without a job with their regular family in the summer.

This could be a good chance for your kids to learn another language, by hiring a native speaker from a different country. Many Spanish families hire native English speakers to look after their kids in the summer, so you could hire a Spanish nanny if your kids need to brush up on their language skills or even a French or Italian nanny, if you want them to learn new language skills.

According to Au-Pair agency Au-Pairs.com, the salary of an Au Pair in Spain is €70 per week if you live in the countryside, and €80 per week if you live in the city, which means between €280 and €320 euros per month, if they live in and more if they live out.  In cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, expect to pay a nanny around €10 per hour.

Ask family members for help

Many Spaniards will rely on family members such as grandparents to help look after their kids during the summer holidays.

If you don’t have family members in Spain then during the summer, you may be able to entice some family members to come over and help look after your kids or your children might enjoy a holiday back in your home country, if family members are able to take them in.

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