Friday, April 07, 2017

Political Crisis And Holiday Rentals

There is a sense of history repeating itself. While the parties of the Balearic government agonise over what to do with the transparency and culture ministry in the wake of Ruth Mateu's resignation, there is also the tourism ministry. It was this ministry which set the Més contracts affair rolling. It could even yet spin totally out of control as more emerges.

It was tourism which was at the eye of the storm that engulfed the previous "pact" government, i.e. a PSOE-led one. This time a different party - Més - is involved, and while it may prove to be that nothing "irregular" occurred, the whiff of scandal has returned to the ministry.

The contracts affair couldn't have come at a worse time. The holiday rentals legislation was due to have been presented. It hasn't been because Biel Barceló and Francina Armengol are fighting fires, ones of Barceló's making, at least where one of the contracts (the largest) is concerned. The political vultures are therefore circling, and they don't come more predatory than Podemos.

The government, if it isn't very careful, is heading for the rocks. The political ramifications of the contracts affair could lead to a new election. While this seems remote, the inherent weakness of the pact is such that the opportunists which make it up can feel the time is right to strike. Podemos have been talking about directions being taken at the tourism ministry. They are not content with how the rentals legislation is going. Even before the contracts affair broke out they had the means to scupper the government if they chose to do so. Keeping the government afloat may now require Armengol bowing ever lower in the face of Podemos demands, with the rentals legislation at the top of the list. It is a key piece of legislation, and the political fallout could shape it in a fashion that hadn't been anticipated.

The legislation, moreover, is highlighting the differences which exist within Més. Antoni Noguera in Palma has revised his opinion and proposed an "Amsterdam" solution of a very limited number of months for approved apartment rentals, but his previous all-out ban was contrary to Barceló's thinking. The support he subsequently (more or less) lent to Noguera's proposal smacked more of ranks being closed than a thought-out policy decision. That proposal was very much more in line with Podemos in Palma. One can't help but feel that when Noguera and José Hila swap roles in June and Noguera becomes mayor, the "pact" in Palma will be locked in an endless battle. This assumes that Noguera survives. There could also yet be more about his part in the contracts affair.

Meanwhile, over at the Council of Mallorca things are calm, testimony in no small part to the presidency of Miquel Ensenyat. The Council is not embroiled in the crisis. It is said that this owes something to Ensenyat not being as tied to the Més mechanism as others. He is more independent therefore and not inclined to simply follow orders, if indeed there were any. The Council awarded no contracts to Jaume Garau.

Aptur, the holiday rentals association, has seized the opportunist moment as well. It has attacked what it considers to be the "belligerent" attitude of the tourism ministry and of Palma town hall (Noguera at any rate), while praising the willingness for dialogue shown by Ensenyat and others at the Council. Aptur needs all the political allies it can lay its hands on. Saying nice things about the Council may be its way of attempting to drive something of a wedge in the Més ranks and of hoping for a more favourable deal on rentals (the Council is responsible for setting the rentals' zoning agenda outside Palma). But in the same way that Ensenyat appears not to wholly bend to his party, he is unlikely to bend in a direction just because someone says nice things about him. He's far too savvy to fall for that one.

Processing of this all-important legislation now appears to be inextricably linked to a political crisis. For it go forward may require some (more) horse-trading, and its movement forward may not, as a consequence, be done with quite the same rapidity that the government had wished. It's almost Easter, the season (the real one) is looming. Rather like the tourist tax last year, new legislation appears destined to come into effect (if it does) slap bang in the middle of the season. This is no way to be supervising Mallorca's main industry.

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