The Most Excellent Alberto Garzón is Spain's minister for consumer affairs. As such, therefore, he is like a ministerial presenter of a Watchdog-style programme, delving into misdeed and abusive practice that is prejudicial to consumers. But as with other ministers, he is prone to wander off into areas that aren't his brief. He did so again last week. His subject was tourism. Again. This wasn't to do with any consumer malpractice within the tourism industry. It had to do with tourism's role in the economy. His observations have led to calls that he resigns or that Pedro Sánchez sacks him.
Were Alberto to be invited to undertake an analysis of ministerial contribution to the welfare of Spain's consumers, i.e. the general public, he might come to the conclusion that there are certain ministers who don't provide a great deal of "added value". This assessment would be based on the fact that whereas until fairly recently there were just thirteen ministers, there are now 23. Alberto became minister for consumer affairs not because there was any need to have a minister with this specific portfolio alone, but because Sánchez was obliged to accommodate representatives of the partners who had facilitated his investiture - Unidas Podemos.
In terms of general added value for the nation's economic and social welfare, Alberto's contribution might be said to be negative, given that it costs the taxpayer to have him and other questionably appointed ministers as well as all the senior officials and advisors who are deemed to be required for ministerial functions; costs that the taxpayer didn't until recently have to bear.
The added value of tourism was the subject that Alberto contemplated on the soapbox last week. "We have a country which has specialised in sectors with low added value, such as the hotel sector and tourism. These are sectors which, as well as being low added value, are seasonal and precarious. Hotels are open six months and closed for the other months, resulting in a situation of structural weakness whereby, when things occur such as this (the virus), we have few instruments to leave it (the crisis caused by the virus) behind."
You couldn't really fault what he said insofar as everyone knows that this weakness exists, albeit that it exists in plenty of other countries as well. The weakness, as we certainly know, is at its greatest in the Balearics. So, he wasn't wrong and nor was he wrong in respect of much employment within the tourism industry. It is low added value. But the problem with his analysis, and why there were calls for his head, was the implication that tourism is low added value in terms of the general economy. It can't possibly be when, depending on which source you prefer, tourism generates between 12% and 14.6% of national GDP and some three million jobs.
Joan Molas, until recently the president of the Cehat national hotels confederation and now the president of the Tourism Table of leading business, said that it was "unacceptable that a person who holds a position of relevance shows such ignorance and lack of knowledge of the Spanish tourism sector". A learned professor of tourism research provided a lesson in economics (Garzón was in fact a student of economics) to indicate, for example, the value of tourism to the balance of payments and the multiplier effect of tourism.
Holding a proper and structured debate regarding national economic strategy is one thing, but Alberto's intervention last week was not terribly helpful at a time when the tourism industry and the general economy is on its knees. He's consumer affairs minister. He should stick to consumer affairs, grateful for the fact that he would never have got anywhere near a ministerial post, if it hadn't been for the desperation of Pedro Sánchez to form a government. Consumer affairs was conjured up from the midst of an existing ministry in order to find something for him to do. Added value?
The new normal of Balearics politics
It really was quite like old times last week. The crisis may have inspired it, but the Balearic government's decree for exceptional measures exposed the tensions that have always been inherent to Francina's pact of consensus and dialogue. And for good measure, we had the environmentalist lobby in full outrage mode.
GOB were insistent that, for example, "conversion of hotels into homes will fatten the real-estate speculative profitability of both owners and investors". This was despite the fact that it was being made clear that any such conversion would be for social housing purposes or for care home residences or for research facilities. Innovation and research is dear to Més, their one-time government vice-president, Biel Barceló, having invented a ministerial portfolio for this to go along with tourism. Despie this, a Més source asked: "Who would want a research laboratory in Playa de Palma?" Well, someone might. If you can have a massive great aquarium that undertakes a good deal of scientific work in the vicinity, why not some other research facility? It was a daft observation.
Més could see the eco part of their eco-nationalist tag disappearing yet further along the trail of land destroyed by the Llucmajor-Campos dual carriageway. Coordinator Antoni Noguera said that the same mistake wasn't going to be made, but Més ministers (and those from Podemos) had seemingly been willing to go along with the decree, even if Més succeeded in reducing by five per cent the amount of land that hotels could expand by.
This expansion caused great consternation, although Noguera observed that it would only apply to five per cent of establishments. Meanwhile, the PP's Biel Company was congratulating the government (Francina's PSOE) for having revived PP policy circa 2012. This really was twisting the knife, implying that PSOE were akin to Bauzá and Delgado.
With the Minorca Més totally incandescent and opposed, Francina was able to get El Pi to back her decree. The pine tree party came to the rescue, while Friends of the Earth were fearful of pine trees being uprooted by hotelier land grab and were threatening to stage protests against the whole pact government - Més included.
It was the new normal in a Balearics political style.