On Friday last week, the grandly entitled Third Conference of the Presidents was held. The location for this auspicious occasion was the Raixa finca in Bunyola. In attendance were four presidents - Francina Armengol of the Balearic government; Catalina Cladera of the Council of Majorca; Susana Mora of the Council of Minorca; and Alejandra Ferrer of the Council of Formentera. The president of the Council of Ibiza, Vicent Marí, was present only in a virtual sense. He was beamed into Bunyola by video, but his lack of physical presence was compensated by that of Marc Pons, who isn’t a president but is the Balearic housing and transport minister.
The presidents and Pons had a variety of topics to discuss. Covid was one of them. “It preoccupies and concerns all institutions,” observed the president among presidents, i.e. Armengol. It would be an odd state of affairs if it didn’t preoccupy and concern all institutions. The capacity for statements of the obvious never lessens. It might be said to have increased, given that all institutions are forever gathering, usually in virtual fashion, in order to express their preoccupations and concerns. The statements of the obvious have thus risen in direct proportion to the sheer number of institutions available to make statements of the obvious.
While Covid, it could be argued, was the only item that should have been on the agenda, limiting the Third Conference to virus preoccupations and concerns would have diminished the clear significance of its staging - a significance denoted by the fact that it is worthy of being given a grand title. And significance there most certainly was. There were “long-term benefits” which needed addressing. Covid is seemingly for the short term; the long term demands what is scheduled to be on its way next year - “la ley de consells insulares”, the law of the island councils.
There already is a law for the councils. There is more than one. If there weren’t laws, there wouldn’t be councils. But the new law, the draft of which is said to be almost ready, will represent “an important step” for the current administrations, noted Cladera of Majorca. It will mean a “modernisation” of the island institutions. Armengol of the Balearics stated that the new law “will provide more weapons for islands’ procedures”. “The closer that decisions are made, the more successful they will be for the citizens.” Greater “functionalities” will be available, especially to the Council of Formentera. That council will therefore be even closer to its 12,111 inhabitants. Given the population, it’s hard to imagine how it can get any closer, but closer it will get, as President Armengol has said so.
When the new law was first presented as a future piece of legislation in September last year, Cladera of Majorca remarked that it was legislation which was necessary so that there can be “a more useful and closer Council of Majorca”. Reform of regional legislation governing councils will enable the Council of Majorca “to become a fully autonomous institution”. Within the autonomous region of the Balearics, therefore, there will be autonomous islands - modernised and closer to the citizens.
I am personally in favour of localised administration. In the Covid context, for instance, I disagree with the argument that Madrid should have been commanding decision-making after the deescalation process ended. Local should know best, so long as it has the resources and the people best suited to make decisions. But local does come with its drawbacks, and we all know what they are: the potential for duplication and for the seemingly never-ending process of expanding an already huge public administration ever more. Financial resourcing is therefore a function of everything that advancing autonomous administration entails, and this resourcing is ultimately felt in the pockets of taxpayers. Covid doesn’t preoccupy and concern institutions, it preoccupies and concerns everyone.
Covid has to be paid for, but the long-term benefits require a new law for councils’ autonomy that will also have to be paid for. There will no doubt be explanations as to why there will not be duplications, why there will be greater efficiencies, why the citizens’ quality of life will thus improve. But doubts will nevertheless be expressed about the cost and indeed about the organisational consequences of greater island autonomy.
One area of this is tourism. The Raixa gathering confirmed that the Council of Majorca is to finally acquire all competences for tourism planning and organisation. As the other islands already have these competences, Majorca will be brought into line with the rest of the Balearics. This being the case, what is the point of a Balearics tourism ministry or a Balearics tourism strategy agency? There will be a point because tourism also needs governing region-wide and being an “interlocutor” for the Spanish government and European bodies. Just, therefore, like everything else for which responsibilities are devolved to councils with ever more autonomy.