Given the overpopulation and the consequent stresses this causes, the exclusion of the Balearics seems appropriate. | MDB

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What do Mallorca and the Balearics have in common with Asturias, the Basque Country and Cantabria? Geographically very little, but geography does play a part. All four regions have been overlooked by the Spanish government’s grand plan for tackling the problem of Empty Spain. While areas of the country are not exactly devoid of people, they aren’t as populated as they might be. Depopulation is evidence of this, and where there is depopulation, there are weakened local economies and social cohesion.

Grand mediaeval cities such as Ávila in Castile and León, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1985, are not immune to the crisis of depopulation. Ávila is in fact one of the worst affected cities. Not huge in any event, it has lost some 15,000 people over the past ten years. The municipality’s population, according to town hall figures earlier this year, was 61,400, only some 10,000 more than Calvia in Mallorca.

Curiously perhaps, the Ávila province had the honour of the highest temporary population growth in Spain last summer - almost 50% more than the resident population on August 15. This was an indication of Covid-prompted Spanish staycations, and it would have been very welcome economically. But it was only temporary, as Ávila suffers like other places in Spain’s interior from a geography that has concentrated opportunities - people gravitate to Madrid or perhaps the Basque Country, a region that historically has been a key centre for Spain’s industry and financial sector.

In January 2021, the town hall in Ávila made the Spanish government an offer. Relocate one of the many institutional headquarters to the city. A council meeting motion noted that “depopulation is a phenomenon that is affecting Spain’s interior”. “This gives rise to what has become known as Empty Spain, in which Ávila is located.”

The government had announced that there was to be a plan to tackle depopulation and that relocation of headquarters would be an aspect of this. The plan doesn’t envisage anything as extreme as replanting the prime minister’s Moncloa Palace somewhere in Extremadura, but it does have in mind a number of departments, agencies and other bodies. Correos, the Post Office, is one of them.

The plan has advanced to the point that the government has now determined that there are regions that can be excluded, and the Balearics is one of four which has been. Confirmation of this has led to an observation that Mallorca is to be denied HQs for two purposes for which the islands have been innovators - tourism technologies and renewable energies.

Both would undeniably be of importance in assisting with economic diversification and general economic wealth, but the Intelligent Platform for Tourist Destinations is in Benidorm and the National Centre for Renewable Energies is in Navarre. One states “is” and not “will be”, because the choice of Benidorm was made in June 2021 and the renewable energies centre has been in Sarriguren, Navarre since December 2000. The government was most unlikely to contemplate moving the latter, given that the centre has existed for getting on for 22 years, or to backtrack on the Benidorm decision.

Strategically as well as economically, these would both make sense in Mallorca (and one says Mallorca, as the other islands wouldn’t get a look-in). However, we are talking here about a plan for dealing with depopulation. It’s no good crying foul if Mallorca is neglected, when the Balearic government has been lobbying as strongly as it has been for a reformed regional financing system to take account of overpopulation.

Population growth in the Balearics is, in percentage terms, greater than any other region of Spain. Ávila province might have knocked out a 50% temporary population rise last summer, but that would have given a total of around 240,000. For high summers pre-Covid, the total population in the Balearics (residents, tourists, temporary workers) was up to two million - a 66% rise.

Given the overpopulation and the consequent stresses this causes, the exclusion of the Balearics seems appropriate. If relocation of government bodies were to mean high numbers of people, there would be issues because of personnel who could bear the higher costs of living and for those who could not. The latter would surely be averse to a move, which would create local jobs but would at the same time cause a labour relations headache for the Spanish government. With the higher-earning personnel, this would add another burden to the existing housing problem.

Taking these factors into account, how would it be for the private sector? We hear much about the attractiveness of Mallorca as a work destination, but it is this very attractiveness that has led to an overpopulation that the government frequently highlights. Would a large business contemplate relocation to the island and bring with it potential benefits in terms of diversification away from the core tourist model? Great, one might think, but then population can have its drawbacks, be it too small or too large.