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The International Writers Magazine: From our Spanish correspondent

Education is Paramount in Spain
• James Skinner
The first of the month was ‘Labour Day’. It was a holiday and as usual the Trade Unions and all the left wing plus nationalist opposition parties took to the streets in every town and city to demonstrate against the government rather than celebrate the commemoration of the achievement of workers’ rights.

Instead of a big bang it was more like a wet squib; lots of chanting and banner waving and nothing much else. By lunch time all the demonstrators were enjoying their yearly festive meal.

Apart from the obvious introduction I can’t think of a better way to start this month’s report than on a humorous note. EUFA, the European Football Association has just admitted Gibraltar as a new member allowing its ‘National’ team to compete in the European tournaments. The Spanish sport’s authorities are naturally up in arms, not to mention the three autonomous regions, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia that are seeking independence from Spain and have already sported their own ‘international’ lot in the odd friendly game around the world. Apparently the ‘Rock’ presented its application way back in 1997 before a new requirement by EUFA in 2001 changed the rules that allows only nations belonging to the UN to participate. At least the football authorities have ruled that Spain will never have to face Gibraltar in a match. What happens if they reach the finals is anybody’s guess! Apart from ‘the mouse that roared’ in football, there is a certain amount of good news on Spain breaking through at last, that hopefully will try to kick start the economy and, if anything put the brakes on the rising unemployment rate.

The government has come through with a plan for entrepreneurs and small businesses to reduce the bureaucratic as well as the financial burden not only to start a new enterprise but to introduce a breath of fresh air in the existing small ones that are the backbone of Spain’s economy. Vice-President Soraya Saenz de Santamaría stated that 99% of companies registered with the Social Security – the statistic barometer - employ less than 250 workers, and 87% less than 9. This is a major indication that the country is made up of very small and medium size enterprises. The bottom line is that start up documents will be reduced to a single set as opposed to several that included separate central, regional and local paperwork; personal financial liability will be capped at three hundred thousand euros. The previous amount was limitless. And the most important of all is that small autonomous businesses will not have to pay VAT on invoices until they are paid for their goods or services. In the past many went belly up because of non-payment of bills although the government had collected its share of tax. Ironically the worst culprits were the local administrations. Ms. Soraya said that more than 2 million small businesses will benefit from this law. As this does not affect the labor laws the opposition and trade unions have had to swallow their objection, that is, if they had any!

The above is not the only spurt of good news especially as the summer season is upon us. The influx of tourists from around the continent and the world are bound to have a further positive effect on the economy, albeit as a short breather before the winter. Once again the world’s troubles both economic as well as safety will allow foreigners to flock to the open gates of ‘Welcome’ at the Spanish beaches and tapas bars. Unemployment is bound to drop as more hotels and restaurants increase their income and employ more staff.

Based on these happy opening paragraphs a recap of the Spanish scenario is appropriate to bring us back to the reality of the overall situation of a country that continues to battle with its internal diseases that could still end up in disaster. The hopeful recovery is a long way off, the following is a summary.

  • The banks continue to be overhauled by the so called ‘Troika’ (IMF, European Commission and the European Central Bank). They’ve been loaned the money and ‘the men in black’ are still auditing the results. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of citizens around the country are still demonstrating, so far peacefully, on two fronts. The first are those that have been swindled with preference shares that are now worthless followed by the increasing number of defaulters that are being evicted from their homes. At least the government is trying to do something about it but time is against them. If  we add the increasing number of executives that are now before the  judges for different reasons ranging from bad management to actual fraud the Spanish banking sector nightmares are far from over. Finally, the much needed credit for business continues at a standstill. In future, watch this space!
  • Then we have the ongoing saga of the independence movements. The Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia to a lesser extent, are well advanced in seeking a future referendum, Scotland style, to break away from the motherland. This has been reported time and time again. Suffice to say that the government continues to hold its breath hoping that internal politics, especially in Catalonia will eventually turn the situation against the nationalists. There is corruption, infighting and negative warnings, especially from outside institutions like the EU and UN that have meekly advised these autonomous governments of the consequences of separation. The Basques are slightly different because of the threat of ETA reprisals.
  • The amount of judicial corruption cases including those already in progress that keep hitting the press is beginning to tire the Spanish public. What with Cristina, the princess royal married to Undargarin, now under the tax authorities microscope, the governing conservative party’s past treasurer Barcenas who issued personal undeclared handouts to many members including those now in government offices, the family of the previous Catalan President, Jodi Pujol, bank managers galore and thousands of petty town council politicians are a tip of the iceberg of the quagmire that Spain has turned into. To top it moonlighting is now hitting 30% of GDP, up from less than 20% 10 years ago despite the fact that it is keeping the lid on social revolt. The Spanish IRS has recruited the tax SWAT team to chase after everyone that has a few euros to hide.  
  • Unemployment continues to be the basic problem hurting the country. Over the past year more than a quarter of a million citizens, mainly foreigners have left the country. These include sixty thousand university graduates. Germany’s Ms. Merkel is welcoming them with open arms. As mentioned early, tourism and the new entrepreneur initiatives may turn the situation around, but it will take at least another decade to return to the past levels of the boom years.
  • The government has yet to really cut back on public expenditures. The reduction in education (see end of essay) and health costs has caused a revolt in both sections of the public institutions but it is not enough. The real battle is the reduction in duplication of effort thanks to seventeen mini-states, hundreds of provinces and thousands of town councils, all doing their own thing. This is the real issue. It’s still going on and the question remains: who has got the guts to go to the heart of the matter (the Constitution) and change the status quo. There is a great deal of talk of a ‘State Pact’ but it’s the same old story; ‘I’ll scratch your back as long as you do what I say,’ says the opposition. The government just ignores the issue.  You’ve heard it all before therefore on to the next issue.
  • We mustn’t forget the new (soft) labour law. The PM had a meeting with the trade unions, the opposition and the industrial management representatives. All sorts of changes were demanded. The PM ignored them all. The effect so far has been negligible.   
  • Last but not least is the public health service. The cut backs are hurting the core of the Welfare State; health. Pharmaceutical costs have skyrocketed over the years. The government has introduced all kinds of measures to cut back on medicines including change to generic types. Result? State authorized drug stores are losing money and many are shutting down. The whole system of supply (of drugs) and demand has turned on its head. A separate essay on this subject would be needed to explain the problem. Meanwhile the public (patients) suffer. As examples, pensioners have to pay a percentage despite being the most vulnerable whilst doctors are having a problem trying to keep up with the demand without over prescribing or issuing the wrong (expensive) drugs. There are also cuts in hospital and medical staff. The question remains as to whether all these reductions will deteriorate what most Spaniards consider as the best public health service in the world. Even the privatization programs in progress are causing massive repulsion from both the public and the medical profession who still believe in a totally free medical service, albeit unsustainable.
  • Finally we have the monumental investment in useless and phantom projects. Empty airports, sports stadiums, auditoriums, museums and many other ghost buildings and infrastructures. What is going to happen to them is anybody’s guess. No political sector dares talk about the forthcoming bubble of how to maintain what is already in place.      

Now on to the main topic: Education.

Education strife Since time immemorial education has been considered the basis of survival of the human race. Evolution over the ages has demanded a constant supervision and review of even the most elementary rules and yet conflict especially between ideology and technology has always been and still is an ongoing battle. In today’s world, economics, religion and politics are the main ingredients in this present universal war. Since democracy, Spain has had its fair share of education reforms although most have been socialist orientated.

Since the death of Generalissimo Franco, the country has gradually evolved towards a super public and free system with left wing indoctrination imposed on all educational institutions.In 2004 when the Socialist Party ousted the conservatives, mainly due to the terrorist attack in Madrid a new wave of extreme left wing laws were introduced by the new PM, Rodriguez Zapatero that included, quite obviously a radical change to the existing education system. As the party began a sort of anti-church campaign the religious subjects in the public curriculum that were part of the 1978 Constitution were eradicated. They were substituted by a so called subject called ‘Education for the Citizens’ that was erroneously based on human rights values, but in effect was a further push towards the government’s imposition of their ideology and control of the public schools. For the first time parents were left out of the equation. Other laws, such as the ‘Equal rights’ and the ‘Historical Memory’ ones were injected into the system confirming the governments inclination towards the radical left. The right wing opposition began a fierce battle against the new laws. Setting aside the political aspect of the education what was even more impacting was the weakness of the government in controlling the ‘emerging’ separatists regions that had their own educational program, especially when it came to the imposition of the regional languages. Thus, Catalonia, Galicia and to a lesser extent the Basque country embarked on their own changes splitting the subjects into part Castilian and part Catalan or Galician. Naturally a fierce battle is still going on between different parent’s associations and the nationalist movements that defend their regional language. But what about statistics?

This is where the real crunch is.

Details from the 2012 UNESCO study on world education have revealed that 1 in 4 youngsters in Spain between the ages of 18 and 24 had no studies at all. This is because according to the report they have dropped out early added to the low quality of education. A second fact that is even more damaging is that Spain is at the top of the European list of scholar failure that leads to a lack of competitiveness for future employment. Why has this come about? Because the education laws were based on ‘coffee for everyone’ without taking performance or achievement into account. In other words, it didn’t matter whether you studied or not, you could continue through the grades without much effort and receive a certificate at the end saying you’d been to school!

So now we have a new conservative government and for the first time in 30 years a new law has been passed to completely change the system and revert back to basic teaching principles. The ‘education for citizens’ is out and religion is back in although it is not obligatory. Emphasis is on mathematics and the Spanish language. The important part is that if you fail you will be diverted to a ‘professional training’ program teaching you how to use a hammer and chisel and earn a living. Sound familiar? The law will take effect in 2014 as all the textbooks and other material has to be adapted for the scholastic years ahead.

The reaction from every sector of the opposition, from the nationalists to the republicans, from the socialists to the anarchists was obvious; to rebuke the law. As the government has the overall majority it can go ahead, for the time being and implement the changes. No institution, trade union, media or the above political parties has mentioned the horror statistics or the fact that Spain has at this moment a massive brain drain of young talent to greener pastures.

Those that have survived the low class education have made it and gone to higher education (university) and most intend to leave the country. Very sad!

* News Update: Apparently the ex PM Jose María Aznar (PP) has come back on the scene more or less implying, among other comments that Rajoy should be lowering taxes rather than increasing them. This has really caused a stir on both sides of the political fence. Government (PP) has kept silent and opposition (PSOE) have gone to town lambasting his statements. The other hot issue continues to be the abortion law imposed by ZP that was probably the most liberal in the whole world. The government is revoking it and going back to the original one of 1985 which more or less is in line with the rest of the European laws on the subject. Neither side, abortionists or anti abortionists are pleased. The final snip is that there are murmurs that ETA has rearmed and could attempt a terrorist attack.
At the moment it is just a rumour

© James G. Skinner June 2013.

Spain & The Media
James Skinner

Here in Spain its business as usual, chaos all round. Spaniards like any other humans are more interested in what happens in their neighborhood than events hundreds of miles away

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