Fulgencio Coll, Vox candidate for Palma mayor. | Joan Torres
Democracy, freedom and the Constitution are the three pillars on which the right-wing party Vox, which is rapidly gaining ground in Spanish politics, was formed and intends to make serious inroads into the fabric of Spanish politics at the forthcoming general and local elections.
Leading the charge in Palma is retired general and former Chief of Staff of the Spanish Army, Majorcan-born Fulgencio Coll Bucher. After an illustrious military career, Coll last year decided to accept an offer of becoming the party's candidate for mayor in Palma, and he told the Bulletin last week that he and his party are confident of winning significant support at the elections.
Vox has already shaken up Spanish politics by winning 12 parliamentary seats in the Andalusian regional election in December, entering a regional parliament for the first time and playing a key role in ending 36 years of uninterrupted PSOE rule of Spain’s most-populous region. Since then, Vox has been gaining increasing support by offering what the party considers to be a serious alternative to "political correctness and populist politics" and the gradual degradation of democracy in Spain.
Son of an infantry General, Coll was born on 18 July 1948. His grandfather Juan Coll Fuster, was an Infantry Colonel and mayor of Palma between 1945 and 1952.
He entered the General Military Academy of Zaragoza in 1966, reaching the position of lieutenant in 1970. He speaks Catalan, Spanish, English and French.
He served as commander of the Special Operations Group company in Barcelona and the famous Asturias 31 Mechanized Infantry Regiment until he became a brigadier general in 2001. He was then assigned first as chief of staff in the Pyrenean Command, and later as chief of the Mechanized Extremadura XI Infantry Brigade and military commander of the province of Badajoz.
Upon graduating as a division general in 2004, he headed the Brunete Mechanized Division Number One. With the creation of the Military Emergency Unit in 2006, he was appointed its head and was promoted to Lieutenant General. The emergency unit, of which Coll is extremely proud, has become a key service both for the military and society. It was deployed to Majorca, for example, to help with the Levante floods last October which killed 13 people and has also helped fight serious forest fires in the Balearics.
His missions abroad include being an observer of the United Nations in Angola, having assisted with a flood support unit in Mozambique in 2000, stationed in Bosnia Herzegovina until the end of 2003, and in 2004 in Iraq where he was responsible for the withdrawal of the Spanish troops. He was then promoted to Chief of Staff of the Army and held the position from July 2008 until July 2012.
Quite clearly, he has faced many challenges in his life and is the first to admit that, had it not been for the excellent professionals who served alongside and below him, many would not have been overcome, especially in the face of mounting financial cuts to the military. It is that experience of having worked with and for people in difficult circumstances and effectively and quickly solving problems which he wants to bring to the political arena.
Vox has been dubbed a far-right, at times extreme party. "If that was the case, I wouldn’t be a member of the party," Coll stated. "The trouble is that over these past few years of left coalitions, which in some regions, such as here in the Balearics, have included recognised extreme left-wing parties, we have become so politically correct. When things have gone wrong, which has happened more often than not here in Palma and across Spain, the answer or excuse has been to point the finger at ‘extremist’ parties.
"Vox is a party of the people. We are saying what many people are thinking but under this climate of political correctness have. until now, not had a voice. They have not had a party they feel part of or represented by. We have members joining from across the political spectrum - left to right - and many more who have not voted for years because political candidates have failed to connect with them.
"We've been accused of being anti-European; far from it. We simply believe that the European Union should be doing more for the common good of European citizens, and top of that list is tackling immigration while also respecting the sovereignty of its member states. For example, the Spanish High Court last year issued an arrest warrant for a Spaniard who had sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. Brussels ignored the warrant - that was a blatant insult to Spain and the Spanish people, so there is a lot of room for improvement in Brussels and Strasbourg, where I worked as part of the European military project and counter-terrorism for over two years. I’ve been and worked there, I’ve seen the flaws in the system.
"And this is what is happening over illegal immigration. If we are not careful it could become Spain's biggest problem, so it has to be dealt with efficiently. Recently a politician said that because the birth rate has fallen in Spain, we need more immigrant workers. No. What the Spanish government should be doing, and this is something we intend to do, is give Spanish couples and families greater support and incentives so they will have more children.
"With more public funding, we should be investing in helping African countries find their feet again, help to restore stable governments which want to recover the great wealth many African countries once had, provide properly paid jobs and therefore create a civil society in which Africans want to live and not come to Europe.
"But the trouble is that the public deficit has become so huge, the government can't even afford to properly look after Spanish residents, never mind immigrants. One of the reasons for the deficit is the cost of having so many levels of government. Here in the Balearics, we have the Balearic government, the island councils and then the town halls. For example, there are four employment offices. One in Palma, the Council of Majorca's, the Balearic government's and the Spanish government's; surely in this day and age of super technology, one would be enough. Four offices means quadruple the cost of people doing exactly the same thing. That is an area where vast amounts of public money - money paid by the taxpayer - can be saved and invested instead in what the general public, Spanish taxpayers, are concerned about.
"Education, health and home affairs should be controlled at state level, like in most other European countries, not at regional level.
"With regard to Palma and my plan for the municipality, it quite simply starts with better management and investment. Politicians should not be wasting time and money in fiddling about with the administrations and how they work. Our job is to answer to the people who live in Palma, whether they voted for us or not. In the case of Palma, for example, we are highly taxed because of regional mismanagement and this has to be redressed.
"Let us look at Playa de Palma and the increase in anti-social behaviour fuelled by alcohol and drugs. To begin with, it's mostly for just two months of the year when the hotels are 100 per cent full, and I want that to continue. We need full hotels, tourism is the engine which keeps the local economy moving.
"The answer is to give the police the financing, resources and confidence they need to tackle the problems while making sure that Emaya also has the adequate resources so that the streets and public spaces are cleaned regularly - every six hours, for example. It's only for two busy months during which we, especially those governing the town hall, have to step up and make sure that those who come to visit us on holiday are safe, secure and content in an environment which has an infrastructure more conducive to good behaviour.
"The public and private sectors need to work together; in doing so everybody benefits: residents feel safer to go out, holidaymakers have a better time, more jobs are created. There will also be a lesser sense of aggression and conflict in society which this current coalition has provoked with its anti-tourism stance and general lack of interest in the welfare of local communities and visitors.
"We also need to have the funds to provide more social housing while also reducing the time it takes for the private sector to obtain a building permit, which is currently around 18 months. We need to create a dynamic and efficient system so we can move forward. We need to break down all the barriers which have been erected by the current administration, we need to honour the wishes of the voters and the taxpayers.
"After all that's who we work for. We, Vox, are not in this for ourselves, we are in politics for the people of Spain. We need to take a leaf out of Giuliani’s book when he was mayor of New York."