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In Madrid, Harsh Debates and Death Threats to Politicians Ahead of Closely Contended Elections, and Two of Spain’s Largest Banks Poised to Slash Workforce

Madrid Elections Death Threats Polls Tie
Madrid Elections Death Threats Polls Tie

Dear Expat,

The Madrid electoral campaign ahead of the 4 May has made the political headlines this week. There was a televised debate on Wednesday with the six candidates and a new survey by the Center for Sociological Research that, once again, predicts a tie, with a tiny margin in favour of the left bloc. The campaign took a sinister twist on Thursday after two members of the government and Pablo Iglesias, who recently stepped down as Deputy Prime Minister to run in the Madrid elections, received letters containing anonymous death threats and bullets. On the economic front, two of the biggest Spanish banks announced significant job cuts and the closing of branches, at a time when the country is mired in the consequences of the health crisis.Spain news in english

Dearexpat, is aimed at English-speaking readers who have been living in Spain for long enough to be interested in the country’s current affairs, with a focus on politics, the economy, society, and culture. In fact, anyone, anywhere with a keen interest in Spain might find it helpful. Since we are usually overwhelmed by an endless outpouring of news, this newsletter will be published on Fridays to provide readers with an overview of the most noteworthy events taking place during the week.

In Madrid, Harsh Debates and Death Threats ahead of Polls

The Madrid campaign trail has been in the spotlight this week. There was a televised debate with the six candidates on Wednesday that revealed the increasing polarization of Spanish politics.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis were the main issues of a debate that saw the socialist PSOE and the leftwing Podemos and Más Madrid parties come together against the incumbent Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the People’s Party, who is leading in the polls.

The three leftist candidates assailed Díaz Ayuso’s handling of the pandemic in Madrid. But as it has been common since the start of the health crisis, she defended herself from their attacks by blaming Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Madrid’s problems in an overarching strategy that seeks to propel the Madrid election to the national stage.

Díaz Ayuso is enjoying great popularity in Madrid for her frequent clashes with Pedro Sanchez on how to manage the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Unlike the rest of the Spanish regions, she has kept bars and restaurants open in a bid to avoid a steeper economic crisis, despite clocking up one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in Spain. Ayuso is pitting her approach in Madrid against Sanchez’s in Spain, throwing a helping hand to Pablo Casado, leader of the People’s Party in Spain, who sees in Ayuso’s popularity a way to win the national elections.

The blocs

On Thursday, a day after the debate, a new poll conducted by the state-owned Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) predicts the victory of PP’s Díaz Ayuso, but confirms the results of the first poll released two weeks ago, which forecast a tie between the left and the right blocs. The new poll gives 67-73 seats to the left and 65-69 to the right; 69 seats are needed for a majority.

The left bloc is formed by Pablo Iglesias of Podemos, who stepped down as second deputy prime minister to run in the Madrid election; Ángel Gabilondo of the PSOE, and Mónica García of Más Madrid, a small party established in 2019 and led by Iñigo Errejón, one of the co-founders of Podemos. García was the second-most valued politician in the debate. An anaesthetist by trade and a staunch advocate of public healthcare, García focused on health and inequality.

In the right bloc, Edmundo Bal of Ciudadanos, the junior partner of that Madrid’s coalition government that Díaz Ayuso dissolved to call this snap election, did not manage to provide a convincing discourse that would set apart the centre-right party, which polls predict won’t pass the electoral threshold of 5%. 

Rocío Monasterio from the far-right party Vox chose Pablo Iglesias as her main contender and fueled the controversy by showing a campaign sign depicting a hooded, masked, and dark-skinned teenager opposite a woman pensioner. The sign reads “€4,700 a month for a mena [the Spanish acronym for unaccompanied underaged migrant, used mostly in a derogary way] €426 a month for your grandmother’s pension”. “Protect Madrid” is written in smaller print at the bottom. 

The message is misleading since it has been proved that €4,700 is not money underaged migrants receive but is the cost per person in juvenile probation centres in Madrid, which covers all expenses, from staff to maintenance. According to El Pais, as of 31 March, there are 3,709 minors under the guardianship of the Madrid regional government, of which only 7.2% are unaccompanied underage migrants. 

The same campaign poster was placed on a billboard at Madrid’s Sol Metro Station earlier on Wednesday. Equality Minister Irene Montero and Social Affairs Minister Ione Belarra, both from the leftist Unidas Podemos, announced they were filing a complaint with the public prosecution service over potential hate crimes. 

Death Threats

The campaign in Madrid took a sinister twist after interior minister Fernando Grande Marlaska, former deputy prime minister and now leader of the leftist party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, and the head of the Guardia Civil police force, María Gamez, the first women ever to be appointed to that position, received death-threatening letters with bullet cartridges inside.

Pablo Iglesias published a picture on Twitter of the envelope, the bullets and an anonymous letter that reads: “Pablo Iglesias Turrión, you have let our parents and grandparents die. Your wife, your parents and you are sentenced to capital punishment, your time is running out”.

 

 

“They’re threatening democracy. Because they don’t attack us for who we are, but for what we represent,” Iglesias tweeted along with the picture. And added: “This is just another consequence of normalizing and whitewashing the hate speech of the far right. And it is also a consequence of impunity. Today it is me, but if the impunity and media whitewashing of the far-right continues, tomorrow it will be other colleagues”.

The anonymous letters sent to Grande Marlaska and Gámez both read: “You have 10 days to resign. The days of laughing at us are over. National Police. Civil Guard. Time is not on your side for the taponazos [very loud gunfire or explosion]”.

A Chaotic Pre-Electoral Debate

On Friday morning, a second electoral debate was held at the Cadena Ser radio station with all candidates apart from Diaz Ayuso, who had turned down the invitation.

The debate had just started when Pablo Iglesias threatened to walk out of the studio unless far-right Vox party candidate Rocío Monasterio retracted earlier remarks she had made during an interview with state radio broadcaster RNE casting doubt on the death threats.

“I condemn all kinds of violence, but I would have liked for them to have condemned what we suffered in Vallecas,” she had said about clashes between Vox supporters, police and protestors at a recent rally held by the far-right group in the Madrid working-class neighbourhood. And added: “I believe little of what Pablo Iglesias says”.

 

Video showing the clash at the Cadena Ser Radio Station.

 

Seeing that Monasterio wouldn’t back down, he threatened to leave the debate again. “If you are so brave, get up and leave!” Monasterio said. Iglesias ended up leaving. Ángels Barceló, the presenter and mediator of the debate, along with the other candidates, protested and admonished Monasterio for her attitude.

All candidates stayed on, but Monasterio kept interrupting and displaying a provocative attitude. She even told Mónica García of Más Madrid to “wipe the sourpuss look” off her face.

The leftwing candidates abandoned the debate after a break. Only Edmundo Bal of Ciudadanos tried to convince them to return to the table.

“I was hoping Mr. Iglesias would return,” PSOE’s Gabilondo said. “We must send a stronger message. We must stand with those who have been threatened. I support Mr Iglesias. I think this is a turning point. We must leave this place”.

Mónica García joined Gabilondo: “What has happened here is extremely serious. I don’t want to spend one more minute with you [referring to Monasterio] here or anywhere else. I would like for this debate to finish”.

Más Madrid and Podemos confirmed after the events that they refuse to participate in more debates with the far-right party.

Get up to date with what is going on in Spain in just one go.
Sign up to Dearexpat,

Two of Spain’s Largest Banks Poised to Slash Jobs

Spain’s banking system is undergoing a profound restructuring, propelled by the sweeping, long-lasting effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, it has two deal with two major market trends: the increasing digitization of financial services, making physical branches and staff redundant, and the growing fintech sector, a threat to traditional banking.

Add to this a current negative interest rates environment driving down margins, and the outcome is a forced streamlining of the banking system as we know it. According to the Bank of Spain, over the past decade, the number of bank branches has fallen by over 50% and around 100,000 bank workers have been made redundant.

CaixaBank, Spain biggest bank by market share in retail operations, offered some of these arguments on Tuesday to justify the laying-off of nearly 8,300 workers (18,7% of their workforce) and the closing of around 27% of branches across the country, in what is the biggest round of job cuts in the sector and the third-largest in Spain’s corporate history.

CaixaBank was born in September last year out of the merger of Barcelona-based Caixa Catalunya and Madrid-based Bankia. In 2012, amid a severe financial crisis, Bankia was bailed out and nationalized, costing Spanish taxpayers a staggering €22.4 billion. After the merger, the Spanish government holds 16% of the shares and a seat on the board of directors.

Leading banks in Spain by total assets
Source: 2020 year-end data from the banks. Graphic: Doubledose.

The Workforce Adjustment Plan announced on Tuesday, known in Spain as ERE, “is based on production and organizational grounds, given the overlaps and synergies derived from the merger and the current market circumstances,” management said in a statement.

Layoffs will be voluntary and based on meritocracy. To avoid a generational imbalance, there is a proposal for the percentage of workers over the age of 50 who volunteer to not exceed 50% of all outgoing workers.

Finance Minister María Jesús Montero “lamented” the news during a press conference on Tuesday amid the government “titanic efforts” to avoid a surge in unemployment by way of job retention schemes, known in Spain as ERTE (Temporary Employment Regulation File). However, she pointed out that the layoffs would be higher if both branches had restructured their workforce independently.

Unions CC OO and UGT billed the ERE as “savage”. Ricard Ruiz, a spokesperson for CC OO called it “a provocation and a lack of respect,” alleging poor compensation conditions for outgoing workers that could discourage voluntary leaves and promote forced cuts.

Nadia Calviño, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, has called for “responsible action” and said that the government will work to “minimize the negative impact on unemployment” of the bank’s ERE. At the same time, she decried the “high salaries and bonuses paid to bank executives” as “unacceptable” and called the Bank of Spain to limit their salaries: “they are not appropriate given the current economic situation and with some lenders announcing major staff cuts”.

A Second ERE by BBVA

On Thursday came another blow to employment in the banking system after BBVA, the third-largest bank in the country, announced plans to slash around 3,800 jobs (16% of staff) and shut down 530 branches (22,5%), with Catalonia and far behind Madrid as the most affected regions by the cuts.

Management alleged the ERE is “essential” to guarantee the competitiveness and sustainability of employment in the future. Meanwhile, unions said the numbers and the leaving conditions were “indefensible and scandalous, far from everything the bank has made its staff believe”.

Third deputy prime minister and labour minister Yolanda Díaz in Brussels also decried the layoffs, saying that “these are not times for EREs” and adding that “we all have to pull in the same direction” to maintain jobs amid the coronavirus economic meltdown.

Also from Brussels came more grim economic news: Spain closed 2020 with the highest deficit in the European Union, 11% of the GDP and a debt ratio of 120%, the fourth largest after Greece (205,6%), Italy (155,8%) and Portugal (133,6%).

Dear Expat,

The Madrid electoral campaign ahead of the 4 May has made the political headlines this week. There was a televised debate on Wednesday with the six candidates and a new survey by the Center for Sociological Research that, once again, predicts a tie, with a tiny margin in favour of the left bloc. The campaign took a sinister twist on Thursday after two members of the government and Pablo Iglesias, who recently stepped down as Deputy Prime Minister to run in the Madrid elections, received letters containing anonymous death threats and bullets. On the economic front, two of the biggest Spanish banks announced significant job cuts and the closing of branches, at a time when the country is mired in the consequences of the health crisis.

In Madrid, Harsh Debates and Death Threats ahead of Polls

The Madrid campaign trail has been in the spotlight this week. There was a televised debate with the six candidates on Wednesday that revealed the increasing polarization of Spanish politics.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis were the main issues of a debate that saw the socialist PSOE and the leftist Podemos and Más Madrid parties come together against the incumbent Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the People’s Party, who is leading in the polls.

The three leftist candidates assailed Díaz Ayuso’s handling of the pandemic in Madrid. But as it has been common since the start of the health crisis, she defended herself from their attacks by blaming Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Madrid’s problems in an overarching strategy that seeks to propel the Madrid election to the national stage.

Díaz Ayuso is enjoying great popularity in Madrid for her frequent clashes with Pedro Sanchez on how to broach the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Unlike the rest of the Spanish regions, she has kept bars and restaurants open in a bid to avoid a steeper economic crisis, despite clocking up one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in Spain. Ayuso is pitting her management approach in Madrid against Sanchez’s in Spain, throwing a helping hand to Pablo Casado, leader of the People’s Party in Spain, who sees in Ayuso’s popularity a way to win the national elections.

The blocs

On Thursday, a day after the debate, a new poll released by the state-owned Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) predicts the victory to PP’s Díaz Ayuso. but confirms the results of the first poll published two weeks ago, which forecast a tie between the left and the right blocs. The new poll gives 67-73 seats to the left and 65-69 to the right; 69 seats are needed for a majority.

The left bloc is formed by Pablo Iglesias of Podemos, who stepped down as Second Deputy Prime Minister to run in the Madrid election; Ángel Gabilondo of the PSOE, and Mónica García of Más Madrid, a small party established in 2019 and led by Iñigo Errejón, one of the co-founders of Podemos. García was the second-most valued politician in the debate. An anaesthetist by trade and a staunch advocate of public healthcare, García focused on health and inequality.

In the right bloc, Edmundo Bal of Ciudadanos, the junior partner of that Madrid’s coalition government that Díaz Ayuso dissolved to call this snap election, did not manage to provide a convincing discourse that would set apart the centre-right party, which polls predict won’t pass the electoral threshold of 5%. 

Rocío Monasterio from the far-right party Vox chose Pablo Iglesias as her main contender and fueled the controversy by showing a campaign sign depicting a hooded, masked, and dark-skinned teenager opposite a woman pensioner. The sign reads “€4,700 a month for a mena [the Spanish acronym for unaccompanied underaged migrant, often used in a derogatory way] €426 a month for your grandmother’s pension”. “Protect Madrid” is written in smaller print at the bottom. 

The message is misleading since it has been proved that the €4,700 is not money given to unaccompanied underage migrants, but the cost per person in juvenile probation centres in Madrid, which covers all expenses, from staff to maintenance. According to El Pais, as of 31 March, there are 3,709 minors under the guardianship of the Madrid regional government, of which only 7.2% are unaccompanied underage migrants. 

The same campaign poster was placed on a billboard at Madrid’s Sol Metro Station earlier on Wednesday. Equality Minister Irene Montero and Social Affairs Minister Ione Belarra, both from the leftist Unidas Podemos, announced they were filing a complaint with the public prosecution service over potential hate crimes. 

Death Threats

The campaign in Madrid took a sinister twist after interior minister Fernando Grande Marlaska, former deputy prime minister and now leader of the leftist party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, and the head of the Guardia Civil police force, María Gamez, the first women ever to be appointed to that position, received death-threatening letters with bullet cartridges inside.

Pablo Iglesias published a picture on Twitter of the envelope, the bullets and an anonymous letter that reads: “Pablo Iglesias Turrión, you have let our parents and grandparents die. Your wife, your parents and you are sentenced to capital punishment, your time is running out”.

 

 

“They’re threatening democracy. Because they don’t attack us for who we are, but for what we represent,” Iglesias tweeted along with the picture photo. And added: “This is just another consequence of normalizing and whitewashing the hate speech of the far right. And it is also a consequence of impunity. Today it is me, but if the impunity and media whitewashing of the far-right continues, tomorrow it will be other colleagues”.

The anonymous letters sent to Grande Marlaska and Gámez both read: “You have 10 days to resign. The days of laughing at us are over. National Police. Civil Guard. Time is not on your side for the taponazos [very loud gunfire or explosion]”.

A Chaotic Pre-Electoral Debate

On Friday morning, a second electoral debate was held at the Cadena Ser radio station with all candidates apart from Diaz Ayuso, who had turned down the invitation.

The debate had just started when Pablo Iglesias threatened to walk out of the studio unless far-right Vox party candidate Rocío Monasterio retracted earlier remarks she had made during an interview with state radio broadcaster RNE casting doubt on the death threats.

“I condemn all kinds of violence, but I would have liked for them to have condemned what we suffered in Vallecas,” she had said about clashes between Vox supporters, police and protestors at a recent rally held by the far-right group in the Madrid working-class neighbourhood. And added: “I believe little of what Pablo Iglesias says”.

 

Video showing the clash at the Cadena Ser Radio Station.

 

Seeing that Monasterio wouldn’t back down, he threatened to leave the debate again. “If you are so brave, get up and leave!” was Monasterio’s answer. Iglesias ended up leaving. Ángels Barceló, the presenter and mediator of the debate, along with the other candidates protested and admonished Monasterio for her attitude.

All candidates stayed on, but Monasterio kept interrupting and displaying a provocative attitude. She even told Mónica García of Más Madrid to “wipe the sourpuss look” off her face.

The leftwing candidates abandoned the debate after a break. Only Edmundo Bal of Ciudadanos tried to convince them to return to the table.

“I was hoping Mr. Iglesias would return,” PSOE’s Gabilondo said. “We must send a stronger message. We must stand with those who have been threatened. I support Mr. Iglesias. I think this is turning point. We must leave this place”.

Mónica García joined Gabilondo: “What has happened here is extremely serious. I don’t want to spend one more minute with you [referring to Monasterio] here or anywhere else. I would like for this debate to finish”.

Más Madrid and Podemos confirmed after the events that they refuse to participate in more debates with the far-right party.

Dearexpat, is aimed at English-speaking readers who have been living in Spain for long enough to be interested in the country’s current affairs, with a focus on politics, the economy, society, and culture. In fact, anyone, anywhere with a keen interest in Spain might find it helpful. Since we are usually overwhelmed by an endless outpouring of news, this newsletter will be published every Friday to provide readers with an overview of the most noteworthy events taking place during the previous week.

Get up to date with what is going on in Spain in just one go. Sign up to Dearexpat,

Dearexpat, is aimed at English-speaking readers who have been living in Spain for long enough to be interested in the country’s current affairs, with a focus on politics, the economy, society, and culture. In fact, anyone, anywhere with a keen interest in Spain might find it helpful. Since we are usually overwhelmed by an endless outpouring of news, this newsletter will be published every Friday to provide readers with an overview of the most noteworthy events taking place during the previous week.

Get up to date with what is going on in Spain in just one go. Sign up to Dearexpat,

Two of Spain’s Largest Banks Poised to Slash Jobs

Spain’s banking system is undergoing a profound restructuring, propelled by the sweeping, long-lasting effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, it has two deal with two major market trends: the increasing digitization of financial services, making physical branches and staff redundant, and the growing fintech sector, a threat to traditional banking.

Add to this a current negative interest rates environment driving down margins, and the outcome is a forced streamlining of the banking system as we know it. According to the Bank of Spain, over the past decade, the number of bank branches has fallen by over 50% and around 100,000 bank workers have been made redundant.

CaixaBank, Spain biggest bank by market share in retail operations, offered some of these arguments on Tuesday to justify the laying-off of nearly 8,300 workers (18,7% of their workforce) and the closing of around 27% of branches across the country, in what is the biggest round of job cuts in the sector and the third-largest in Spain’s corporate history.

CaixaBank was born in September last year out of the merger of Barcelona-based Caixa Catalunya and Madrid-based Bankia. In 2012, amid a severe financial crisis, Bankia was bailed out and nationalized, costing Spanish taxpayers a staggering €22.4 billion. After the merger, the Spanish government holds 16% of the shares and a seat on the board of directors.

Leading banks in Spain by total assets
Source: 2020 year-end data from the banks. Graphic: Doubledose.

The Workforce Adjustment Plan announced on Tuesday, known in Spain as ERE, “is based on production and organizational grounds, given the overlaps and synergies derived from the merger and the current market circumstances,” management said in a statement.

Layoffs will be voluntary and based on meritocracy. To avoid a generational imbalance, there is a proposal for the percentage of workers over the age of 50 who volunteer to not exceed 50% of all outgoing workers.

Finance Minister María Jesús Montero “lamented” the news during a press conference on Tuesday amid the government “titanic efforts” to avoid a surge in unemployment by way of job retention schemes, known in Spain as ERTE (Temporary Employment Regulation File). However, she pointed out that the layoffs would be higher if both branches had restructured their workforce independently.

Unions CC OO and UGT billed the ERE as “savage”. Ricard Ruiz, a spokesperson for CC OO called it “a provocation and a lack of respect,” alleging poor compensation conditions for outgoing workers that could discourage voluntary leaves and promote forced cuts.

Nadia Calviño, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, has called for “responsible action” and said that the government will work to “minimize the negative impact on unemployment” of the bank’s ERE. At the same time, she decried the “high salaries and bonuses paid to bank executives” as “unacceptable” and called the Bank of Spain to limit their salaries: “they are not appropriate given the current economic situation and with some lenders announcing major staff cuts”.

A Second ERE by BBVA

On Thursday came another blow to employment in the banking system after BBVA, the third-largest bank in the country, announced plans to slash around 3,800 jobs (16% of staff) and shut down 530 branches (22,5%), with Catalonia and far behind Madrid as the most affected regions by the cuts.

Management alleged the ERE is “essential” to guarantee the competitiveness and sustainability of employment in the future. Meanwhile, unions said the numbers and the leaving conditions were “indefensible and scandalous, far from everything the bank has made its staff believe”.

Third deputy prime minister and labour minister Yolanda Díaz in Brussels also decried the layoffs, saying that “these are not times for EREs” and adding that “we all have to pull in the same direction” to maintain jobs amid the coronavirus economic meltdown.

Also from Brussels came more grim economic news: Spain closed 2020 with the highest deficit in the European Union, 11% of the GDP and a debt ratio of 120%, the fourth largest after Greece (205,6%), Italy (155,8%) and Portugal (133,6%).