The story of the “pact” government and its tourism policy has been one influenced by the nature of coalition. For Francina Armengol’s beloved “consensus and dialogue”, read trade-off, a process that began immediately on that night in May 2015 when it became clear that the Partido Popular had been trounced.
The horse-trading wasn’t straightforward. The first pact was to become an odd hybrid of in-and-out government. Podemos remained outside, while PSOE and Més carved up the ministerial booty. The lesser among supposed equals, Més needed to punch above their weight and ensure that Francina wasn’t in for an easy ride. There were ministries they cherished and there were ministries that were made for them - environment, social affairs, culture - where, generally speaking, they couldn’t do too much to upset the PSOE apple cart. But there was one other ministry, one above all others - tourism. Biel Barceló, the most prominent Més face, had a mission, and he was to fulfil it. The Més missionary of tourism was established, and it had Barceló’s stamp all over it, whether Francina liked it or not.
The tourism trade-off was one that PSOE were obliged to make. The pact had to be formed at all costs, and part of the bargaining was the tourist tax. Much though there was to be PSOE’s later spin, Armengol had - prior to the election - been playing down the likelihood of the tax. In fact, she had pretty much told the hoteliers that there wasn’t going to be one.
Barceló was to depart, forced into resignation over his trip to the Dominican Republic. His departure gave PSOE an opportunity. They now sought to wrest back control of tourism. The negotiations that followed his departure were led by he who would become tourism minister after the 2019 election, Iago Negueruela.
For Més, the chief negotiator was Lluís Apesteguia, now the mayor of Deya, a likely candidate to run as president of the Balearics in 2023, and the right-hand man to Bel Busquets. Armengol was prepared for Busquets to assume Barceló’s vice-president post but not tourism. There wasn’t so much a trade-off as a gun to the head. Busquets became minister.
When Més lost ground at the 2019 election, the revised pact - now with Podemos inside it - was to reflect the parties’ comparative electoral support. For PSOE there was to be no more pandering to Més and their tourism ambitions. Busquets had certainly never been Armengol’s woman; Negueruela, on the other hand, was very much her man.
For all that Negueruela has received pelters, especially recently, I don’t know that he could have done much differently. There was in fact much to admire about the way he sought and gained regular contact with German interests in the very early days of the crisis. He and Armengol took up the hoteliers’ notion of safe corridors in getting tourism restarted when he had once felt there would only be modest tourism by August. Ultimately, though, he, PSOE and the government have been dependent upon what Madrid has decided, be this to do with travel or emergency funding.
But what if Més had still been running tourism? Would there have been any difference? Characterised as being anti-tourism, the criticism was up to a point justified in that they seemed to create an atmosphere in which certain wild elements in society took encouragement to vent their anti-tourism spleen. However, having a view of a different model of tourism (and of the economy) certainly isn’t the same as being anti-tourism, and had they still been in charge of tourism, Covid-related matters may well have been different.
I’m referring specifically to the aid, and that’s because Més owe no obligations to Pedro Sánchez. They have a degree of loyalty to Armengol, albeit she has suggested that they have been disloyal because of their criticisms of Sánchez. But this is precisely the point. Antoni Noguera, the Més coordinator, has said that his party would press harder for measures such as exemptions from social security contributions and IVA (VAT). PSOE in the Balearics, he has added, do not have “advocacy capacity” in Madrid; they lack clout. Hence, Més criticisms of Armengol have increased, and not only when it comes to dealing with Madrid. They couldn’t understand how there could have been the order to close bars and restaurants without at the same time having announced an aid package.
The virus, whoever was running tourism, would have determined everything, but a less cosy relationship might have brought greater benefit for the tourism sector. There again, this would have been within the framework of Armengol as president, and Noguera has observed that the health and economic crisis has had a profile that is “very presidential”. He doesn’t necessarily object to this but what he does complain about is decision-making without consensus. Had Més still been running the tourism ministry, this decision-making would have been different, as it would have had to be different.