Saturday, February 17, 2018

They Sing The Body Politic Electric

Around a month ago, Francina Armengol was ambushed in Madrid. At a pre-Fitur tourism fair session organised by the Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence she was left friendless in the face of an onslaught on various fronts. She couldn't even count on fellow PSOE-ite, the president of Valencia Ximo Puig: Valencia's PSOE is not in favour of a tourist tax.

The Balearic tax was but one issue. It was the one that grabbed most attention, as Francina copped it from the likes of Carmen Riu, whose brother is now of interest to the authorities in Florida. It was as well that the allegations against Luis Riu hadn't surfaced pre-Fitur; Francina might otherwise have wandered into dangerous territory re "irregular" practices in seeking to get her own back on Carmen.

Moderating that session was the president of Exceltur. The moderation was not as moderate as it perhaps should have been. The Exceltur president is José María González Álvarez. His day job is that of the CEO of Europcar, one of the car-hire giants which don't always appear to be the Balearic government's best friends.

Francina couldn't even rely on the moderator. Apart from the fact that José María was supposedly moderating, it wasn't entirely a surprise that he seemed disinclined to give Francina an easy ride. Within Exceltur, one has always felt that there must be business leaders who take a different view to the big hoteliers on an issue as controversial as holiday rentals: the car-hire sector would be one of them. Holiday rentals are good news for Europcar and others.

It wasn't holiday rentals, however, that had moderated José María's moderation. What had annoyed him in particular was an aspect of the Balearic government's proposed legislation for climate change. Faced with the prospect of all hire cars in the Balearics being electric by 2030, he informed Francina that "it will be the sector which decides this and not the Balearics". In actual fact the deadline for all hire cars being electric will be 2035. Seventeen years away; there is surely time for the car-hire sector to fall into line. Isn't there?

José María's apparent disagreement with Francina was not entirely in keeping with Europcar's own thinking. At the International Car Rental Show in Las Vegas last April, Europcar unveiled an initiative to create an all-electric car club. The car-hire sector is fully aware of the dynamics - electric cars, demanded because of their environmental friendliness, are going to have a significant impact on the industry.

In pure PR terms, José María might have adopted a more moderate tone with Francina. But the electric stipulation was just the latest issue in the far from harmonious relationship between the Balearic government and the hire-car multinationals. There has been all the business with not registering cars in the Balearics, with tax being paid elsewhere, with the hire-car sector being accused of "saturating" the islands' roads in summer.

It may have been the case that José María had felt that the Balearic government was stealing Europcar's thunder: look, we're already planning for an electric future, and we don't need a government to impose it. Possibly it was. But setting aside the differences that the multinationals have with the government, why should there be a problem with going all electric? Seventeen years represent a long time for technologies to further advance, for costs to come down, for infrastructure to be in place. The government is planning this infrastructure, and for islands the size of the Balearics, there can ultimately be little doubt that an all-electric future is eminently feasible.

There is a fear with the government's climate change strategy that some of it is just designed to grab headlines and be a potential boost to votes in 2019. Nevertheless, this government is the first to truly attempt to try and get to grips with climate change and with the related subjects, such as switching to renewables, if Madrid wasn't being as obstinate as it is.

An all-electric hire-car future is seventeen years off. Of course it's feasible. Who makes the decision shouldn't be the issue. 

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