LONDON/VALENCIA. Second to Catalonia in Spain's list of indebted regions, the Autonomous Community of Valencia has accumulated a towering €17.6-billion overdraft. Yet, three and a half million of voters seem little worried about the shape of their economy while election time approaches.
Walking along the ‘Veles e Vents' building in the city's harbour that hosted the 32 America's Cup in 2010, its bleached decks offer a panoramic view over most of what nowadays defines Valencia. From Mediterranean splendour to damaged finances, the crude light of the sun exposes a mirage, a €2.8 billion-spending scheme of which visitors and tourists helped to recoup a mere 4.5 per cent.
Only during the past twelve months, the ‘Comunitat Valenciana''s public debt has risen by 9.14 million of euros per day in spite of having successfully entered the history of the world's oldest and wealthiest yacht competition, as well as that of the legendary Formula 1 race circuit network. Indeed, the second term of president Francisco Camps, the leader at the local branch of the conservative People's Party (PP), can be best described as nothing short of ambitious.
The Valencian Parliament's Hansard or ‘Diari Oficial' will publish this Tuesday 29 the official date for the regional elections: on May 22, Valencians will have their chance to look through the swirls of the latest and coming international tournaments and check some balance sheets. Most probably, they will instead re-appoint Mr Camps.
FOUR MORE FOR PRESIDENT CAMPS
At the moment of writing these lines, the PP's candidate to re-election enjoys an advantage of 25 points against Jorge Alarte, his challenger and regional leader of the socialist party PSOE ─which governs in Spain through José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. That means Mr. Camps will expand his current confident majority of 54 with six more seats over the 99-member chamber. Last week GAD polls estimated the socialists' loss in the ‘Comunitat' in between 115,000 and 160,000 voters comparing to its 2007 results.
Paco Molina, secretary general of labour union Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), says "the Generalitat's (the Valencian government) figures are fiction; the PP administration was getting into debt even in the golden days of the construction boom. His ‘grand-event' policy has irresponsibly aggravated our economic fatigues."
He might be right, and the Valencian PSOE (PSPV) often seconds the critique from a shadow position they have been reduced to for 16 years now.
But the more they blame Mr. Camps' "triumphalist political discourse" for the distressed Valencian economy, the stronger is his popular appeal.
According to Banco de España, the regional public finances in 2011 accumulate a staggering 17.6 billion of euros in debt after a surge of 22.7 per cent since last year ─Spain's autonomous communities reached an average rate of 31.7 per cent, which somehow elevates Valencia's portrait to an epic category. Yet, 1.1 million people would cast their ballot in PP's behalf, 270.000 more than those who'd rather support the socialist opposition.
On Tuesday 22, Spain's Post Office or Correos suspended collection services to all courts of justice in president Camps' land. The reason is that the Generalitat owes this state's company 30 million of euros, denounces CCOO.
Numbers are circling the Valencian government, indeed. In 2007, it promised that America's Cup celebrations would bring to the region's economy almost 38,000 new jobs and €150 million of foreign investment. One year has passed since the last edition, which again took place in Valencia, but unemployment is the only sector that registers growth: at 415,091, the toll of a sinking GDP with a contraction of a 0.6 per cent against Spain's 0.1 per cent has left 172,937 people jobless since February 2010.
The story of Valencia's 5,440 km Formula 1 urban circuit, known as Grand Prix of Europe, isn't an exception in this regional drama. It had a fresh start in 2008, with front-line flats being let for up to 8,000 euros per week. In June, though, rents will hardly scratch the 1,500 euros barrier.
Valencia's PP local authority, headed by Mayor Rita Barberá, pays Formula 1 a grand sum of €30 million for the privilege.
Moreover, their intended "magnet-like" impacts on the region's tourism industry ─these were the very words of president Camps─ are all but invisible. This year, the budget for the Valencian delegation set at international tourism fairs has fallen 14 per cent and it has called off its participation in Denmark, Switzerland and Hungry.
IT'S NOT THE ECONOMY, STUPID!
Recently, commenting on public debt numbers, PSPV's Cristina Moreno warned there could be "more bills hidden in some bottom drawer." Unfortunately for her party, so far, this has been a back-firing strategy.
When president Camps four years ago shared his dreams for the future with his fellow countrymen, socialists eagerly exhorted Valencians not to believe him, as PP government's plans charted a road map to financial catastrophe. They should know since Valencian socialists didn't consider while in office during 13 years to contest Spain's fiscal system, by which the region suffers a €6.4-billion annual deficit ─the calculations were publicly revealed by the central government in 2005.
What the PSPV achieved with its counter-grand events campaign has confused the opposition ever since: 4 per cent less of voting support. In contrast, Mr. Camps obtained 11.4 per cent more ballots that in 2003, and 12 per cent more seats in the regional parliament. Doubtless, Valencians are dreamers.
Yet, illusions may easily turn delusional unless facts sustain them. Mr. Camps' government made its choice in 2007 and contemplates now a slim scope for correction with a budget that devotes more money to debt servicing, 678 million of euros, than to social welfare, 673.4 million of euros. In 60 days, it will be voters' time to make up their minds. Their margin isn't much wider.