Tag Archives: Spain

Air traffic management monopoly in Spain

Every now and then in Spain we have to suffer threats from this or that small group of workers from different sectors of paralyzing the country (or a given city). Transporters, workers in Metro de Madrid, the Madrid subway cleaners, pilots and air traffic controllers are examples of such elements. These small groups manage to impose their claims (rarely fair, and often capricious) thanks to: (a) the monopoly of the company employing them, and the resulting lack of competition, and (b) collective agreements.

These days of summer of 2010 air traffic controllers are once again pressing for new benefits (as they did also in 2009). In view of the situation of last year (2009), and in the face of what is already happening in 2010, José Blanco, the Minister of Development(Ministry in charge of air traffic control in Spain), has taken an excellent (and long over due) step: to liberalize the provision of air navigation services. It’s the best thing we can do to rid society (individuals, workers and businesses) of blackmailing maneuvers from worker unions.

In Spain there is only one airport operator, AENA, which is a state enterprise. It is a monopoly. If the company fails to provide service (by decision of its workers, as is the case of air traffic controllers), no other service provider of air navigation, leading easily to a halt of air traffic. It’s about time someone dismantled AENA’s monopolistic cartel.

With this new measure from the Ministry of Development (hopefully it will actually go into force), it will grant licenses to operate control towers to various aviation companies. Competition will be introduced in the service. Air traffic controllers will not belong all to a single company. Each one will have to negotiate their working conditions (salary included) with a given company, which in turn competes for the air navigation service.

Two problems remain to be solved: The point (b) set out above: The existence of collective agreements that can sill be used as a grouping mechanism that grants power to the controllers, even if working in different companies.

The second problem (point “c” in this list of problems) is derived from the air navigation service nature: Traffic is controlled service by a single control area or zone, within which there is no competition between service providers. It is a problem common to almost any type of infrastructure: data networks, roads, seaports, and airports: It is not easy (and perhaps not even possible) to have multiple service providers in the same place, for infrastructure users to choose different providers at any time. This problem of “local monopolies” is inherent to infrastructures, and it makes them very vulnerable to strikes and similar blackmail.

However, these “local monopolies” would not achieve the suspension of air navigation services in the whole of Spain: Some geographical areas may suffer a strike, but not others (which may be operated by different aviation companies).

It is necessary that the State eliminates collective agreements (this is a matter for another article), but the first step, the liberalization of service provision air navigation, seems to be under way. Congratulations to the Minister of Development, José Blanco, for this measure.

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Censored Spanish anthem?

Alberto Contador (from Pinto, in Spain) won the Tour de France today, but when he climbed up to the podium, the Danish anthem was played instead of the Spanish one. Mistake? I doubt it… it was pretty clear that Contador would win the Tour. How can the organizers make a mistake on what anthem to play? The on-line media I have read contains no explanations from the organizers about the mistake, but I think there is wrong-doing to avoid the Spanish anthem being heard. (Yes, I am proposing some small-time conspiracy theory, with the only proof of how absurd and unlikely the so-called mistake is).

How to pretend doing something without committing to anything

A nuclear energy plant in Spain, in the town of Santa María de Garoña, is the focus of controversy in recent weeks, thanks to the Government’s determination to close it down in spite of favourable reports that call for its continuation beyond its design lifetime of 40 years.

Spanish government president Rodríguez Zapatero‘s motivation to close it down is purely political. He wants to be seen as the promoter of “clean energy”, and also needs public discussion of a controversial topic (the debate on the use or not of nuclear energy) to divert attention from Spain’s real problems (unemployment, inefficient government, inefficient justice system, etc…)

But now (2009) it is a bad time to close this nuclear plant down, for it would leave thousands of people unemployed, and that would hurt Rodríguez Zapatero‘s image, in the midst of the economic crisis.

Therefore, what bright idea did our visionary president come up with? Simply introduce legislation that mandates the closing down of this nuclear plant in 2013. (automatically translated version here)

Why 2013?

Because the next national election will be in 2012. During the election campaign of 2012, we are sure to hear Rodríguez Zapatero claiming he will close down the nuclear plant in Garoña, while the opposition leader, should he win the election, will try to keep it operational.

If Rodríguez Zapatero wins the election in 2012, he can easily close down Garoña in 2013, claiming he is doing it according to law. By 2013 the economy is likely to have recovered somewhat, so the unemployment caused by this closing will not be so problematic (politically for him, that is). It wouldn’t be surprising, however, that in 2013 he would decide to extend the life of Garoña, if it suits him politically.

On the other hand, if someone else wins the 2012 election, they will be required by law to close down Garoña. This other “someone” would be the presidential candidate of the Popular Party (PP, currently the main opposition party). The PP has called for extending the operation life of Garoña, so the new law by Rodríguez Zapatero is intended exclusively to create problems for the PP, should they win the election.

In other words:

  • Rodríguez Zapatero introduces legislation to close
    down the nuclear plant.

  • He presents himself as committed to putting an end to nuclear energy use.
  • He presents himself as supporting clean renewable energy sources.
  • He avoids the unemployment problem in Garoña in the short term (2009-2011, his
    time in office)

  • He dumps the hot potato that he created on the next Government (after
    2012)

It surely sounds like the perfect move for a politician: dodging problems, passing them on to someone else. That’s all Rodríguez Zapatero is capable of.

Garoña produces 1.3% of the total national electricity production in Spain, and it reaches the end of its designed 40-year lifetime in 2011. Therefore, if it really must be closed, the Government should indeed close it, instead of passing on the problem to someone else. If it is deemed necessary for Garoña to continue in operation, then the Government should act accordingly. However, what Rodríguez Zapatero is doing is neither one thing nor the other: He is staying in middle ground, extending the life of Garoña just 2 years (from 2011 to 2013), just enough so that the problem falls on the hands of the next Government (in which he may not be president).

Silence, please

I usually condemn from this blog the Spanish penal code and the Spanish judicial system and its practices when they impose weak and slim sentences, but this time I have to applaud them (to some extent).

A bar owner in Barcelona has been sentenced to 5 years in jail for disrupting the lives of neighbors with the noise from the bar. The bar lacked operating permits, and did not comply with any regulation on soundproofing. Neighbors had to stand one year of loud noises at night, despite several formal complaints from neighbors to authorities about the noise.

Offenders like this bar owner know that the judicial system is slow and that sentences are rarely tough on them, so they risk skipping compliance with regulations, with their arrogant behaviour toward good neighbourly conduct: Problems started in 2005, and the bar owner has not been sentenced to jail until now (2009). There is ample room for improvement. The system must evolve to be able to put these people in jail from the first day of their offence. Everyone should be able to live quietly in their homes without interference of outside noise. Rest is of utmost importance for a healthy life and consequently a healthy society. Noise offences like in the case of this bar need to be much more swiftly restrained.

Silence is long forgotten as a virtue in today’s noisy society. People should learn to appreciate it and cherish it, and this includes respecting the space of others freeing it from our own noise.

More proof of the crappy Spanish justice system

As the city mayor in a Spanish city once very correctly said, justice in Spain is a joke. A genuine joke. They prove it every once in a while, both on the part of the criminal law, designed to care for and protect criminals rather than protecting society, and on the part of judges pronouncing sentences.

Today, the joke is demonstrated by the fine imposed on judge Rafael Tirado, who failed execute the imprisonment sentence of a known pedophile.

On this occasion, the joke is four-fold:

  1. The investigation on that judge (and about the mistakes that kept the criminal free) has only been done as a result of a death caused by the criminal while he was irregularly free. Had he not committed any other crimes, most likely the judge would not have been investigated for his failure to imprison the pedophile.
  2. The fine is imposed only on the judge, leaving the rest of the judicial system free of suspicion, despite it being responsible for the disastrous judicial system in Spain (loads of cases piling up, unexecuted sentences, etc…)
  3. The fine amounts to a meager 1500 € (some US$1000), a ridiculously low sum, compared to the damage done to society for not executing the imposed sentence.
  4. Justice takes care of itself: they self-impose a little skimpy fine, they pretend to be self-critical, and they seem to hope to resolve the issue just like that.

In one word: a joke. That’s Spain for you.

Spain's fake unemployment rates

The recent unemployment rate hike in Spain in the last month of August led the Minister of Labour to announce that Spain would end the recruitment of foreigners, to have jobs filled with Spanish manpower, and thus reduce unemployment.

The solution proposed by the Minister is action on jobs demand. In order to reduce unemployment, it is necessary to reduce the number of job seekers (act on the demand) or stimulate economic activity to generate more jobs (acting on jobs supply), although of course it is normal to act on both the demand and the supply.

Regarding demand, there are ways of acting on it. The proposal of the Minister is not preposterous, but it ignores a key factor influencing demand: unemployment benefits. This allowance is an incentive not to work: Why bother to accept a job offer that involves effort and sacrifice, if one can stay quietly at home claiming unemployment, even if receiving somewhat lower revenues than those paid for a tedious job? . This reasoning is promoted by unemployment benefits.

Aid for unemployed workers is necessary when they lose their job, but the Spanish model of unemployment aids (as in other countries) is shameful. It is inconceivable that public aid is offered for long periods of time (more than 6 months), with a monthly subsidy higher than they pay of some jobs in the labour market. In its current form, it is nothing but an incentive to stop working and sit down to rest. Indeed, many people feel they are entitled to collect “their” subsidy after working for a sufficient amount of time to accrue unemployment benefits, because this aid comes from taxes they have paid out of their payroll during their period of work. Likewise, there are many cases of workers who want to leave their jobs voluntarily, but reach an agreement with their boss to pretend a fake layoff, so that they can collect unemployment aid. An absolute lack of control allows such fraud of law to abound in the system.

It is necessary to make a study to determine how many people are actually unemployed (those who really can not find any work) and how many are voluntarily unemployed (those who do not want to accept job offers). I venture that the unemployment rate would be reduced by at least 50% should we take into account only the truly unemployed. Of course, such a study is almost impossible to carry out: How many of these forgers of layoffs, or how many of these companies who fake the layoffs will confess?

We must radically change the unemployment subsidy system, restricting it to a period of aid of about three months, gradually reducing the monthly aid amount, and cancelling it completely when the job seeker rejects a job offer. Everyone is free to accept the job they want or even to be picky about it, but the Government should not help if the person prefers to wait for another better job opportunity (whether this means better paid, more comfortable work, or whatever the job seeker may deem “better”). The Government should help only those who need help, rather than helping anyone who will welcome some aid. In this manner, unemployment allowance would fulfil its role of emergency aid to those who need it, saving money and focusing Government’s resources on real needs, avoiding the present waste of money in unemployment aid for loads of people who pretend to need it.

The Ministry of Labour is right in trying to take action on the demand for jobs, but it is more urgent to act by removing incentives to not work (unemployment aid) than to limit hiring of foreigners.