Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Podemos Influence On Tourism Policy

Podemos have been threatening to scupper the government's holiday rentals' legislation. They have engaged in brinkmanship grandstanding in the past, as with the tourist tax law, and so have earned the criticism of the Partido Popular for "crying wolf" because they don't see their threats through. Things are unlikely to be any different this time.

The reasons for this latest bout of messing with the PSOE (PSIB) and Més government are twofold. Podemos insist that the government doesn't appreciate the scale of the problems with finding residential accommodation and that the legislation doesn't do anything to bring down the cost of renting or indeed purchasing. Nor does the law guarantee a right to housing. The second reason is that Podemos are demanding that the law includes a declaration of a housing emergency in Palma and Ibiza. This would entail the total prohibition of holiday rentals.

From a legislative point of view, Podemos are blurring two strands - one has to do with holiday rentals, the other with housing. There are two separate pieces of legislation going before the Balearic parliament. In essence, what Podemos would like is a unified bill, but this won't happen, much though - and Podemos would be right in this regard - the two strands are clearly linked. The government, meantime, justifiably argues that there would be encroachment into powers of town halls and island councils. Were there to be, then the legislation could end up becoming mired in the courts. It might do anyway, but for other reasons.

In fact, both Palma town hall and the Council of Ibiza have indicated they will use provisions in the new bill to severely restrict rentals. A specific declaration regarding emergency housing wouldn't therefore be necessary.

Previous experience suggests that when push comes to shove and votes are finally cast, Podemos will allow the legislation to go through. Although Podemos have been engaged in their usual last-minute attempts at horse-trading, the bill will surely be approved. Different alterations to the legislation should enable this. One is to increase the fine on websites like Airbnb for publicising unlicensed properties to 400,000 euros. Another is to give owners the chance of offsetting fines of up to 40,000 euros by providing so-called social rental.

The approval on Tuesday, assuming it does indeed go through, will be three days before PSOE (PSIB) convene for their congress. As mentioned in a previous article, this congress will be crucial for the party in mapping out its strategy leading up to the 2019 election. Central to this strategy will be issues related to tourism.

For Francina Armengol to secure a second term as president, a new "pact" will have to be arrived at. This is a cold fact for PSOE, as it is never in a position to get close to a majority: the Partido Popular is far too strong for this to ever happen. The congress will therefore have to take into account what the relationship with other parties might look like, with the Podemos relationship key to Armengol's ability to continue as president.

The PP could return with a majority, as it has in the past, but this is by no means certain. For all the at-times chaotic appearance of the current government, it has nevertheless presided over a period of improved economic conditions. The PP will attack it on jobs and on pay, but the electorate are unlikely to be convinced that the PP would do any better. In this respect, Armengol will be hoping that next year's wage negotiations and settlement for the hotel and hospitality sector bring about improved terms. Just as important, as mentioned before, will be any agreement on a special economic regime for the Balearics. A good one, and the PP will find it that much tougher to win.

The nature of the current pact or of a future one will, nevertheless, be an ingredient for the electorate to consider. When it comes to tourism policy, the tourist tax won't -as it stands - be a factor. In 2003, when the PP came back to power, it was an issue, as the electorate were concerned by an impact on tourism. Circumstances are quite different now. A Podemos demand for a doubling in the rate of the tax - a stipulation made for the party approving next year's budget - might be something for the public to baulk at. Or it might not be, given the "saturation" narrative.

Podemos do have the power to influence policy, and this can be seen in what the congress will consider in respect of limits on the number of tourists. PSOE, it is understood, is to change its tune. The congress will consider a limit on summer tourism numbers. A "battery" of proposals are to be presented in order to achieve a limit. The tourist tax is likely to be one of them. A doubling, and Podemos will take the credit.

No comments: