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Spain faces high risk of civil unrest in 2014 despite signs of recovery

Discussion in 'Europe & Russia' started by Hakan, Feb 10, 2014.

  1. Hakan


    Feb 9, 2014
    +40 / 13,336 / -2
    Source: IHS Janes 360
    Key Points

    • While other countries in southern Europe have faced protests and periods of serious civil unrest in the past year, Spain has remained relatively quiet, other than localised incidents such as the recent protests in Burgos. IHS assesses that there is an elevated potential for protests in Spain to become more common, posing risks to banks and retail businesses in particular.
    • Developments in Burgos show the potential for local disputes to attract widespread involvement.
    • Large protests in city centres are likely to affect the retail sector, causing disruption to operations and property damage, with government assets, multinational businesses, and banks also likely to be a focus of protests.
    Localised protests in Burgos in January 2014 have created a new term in Spanish political discourse: to experience a 'Gamonal', after the district of Burgos that resisted redevelopment of its high street through protests gained solidarity from across Spain and the cancellation of the project.

    The protests, which began in November 2013, serve as an indicator for the rising potential for civil disorder, both violent and peaceful, across Spain. The Gamonal dispute reflected local discontent over a project that would have pedestrianised a major commercial street, replacing free parking with a fee-paying underground car park.

    The project was seen by residents as benefiting two local construction firms close to the People's Party (Partido Popular: PP) municipal administration while hurting local businesses. However, it also showed more generalised anger over public sector cuts and spending priorities, along with the deterioration of business conditions in the area.

    The Gamonal riots illustrate how a long-standing local issue, that concerned only those living or having businesses in Gamonal, was able to attract support from activists, including those on the left, initially in Burgos and then from across Spain. Although local protests initially were peaceful, the later demonstrations resulted in riots and violent confrontations with police. This included several nights of disturbances in late January 2014 and around EUR50,000 of damage to property, mainly bank offices and refuse containers.

    Furthermore, the protests spread to several other cities with limited localised violence, and solidarity rallies were held across Spain (including significant protests in Pamplona, Vigo, Valladolid, Zaragoza, Valencia, Alicante, and Oviedo). In Madrid, 15 arrests were made on 15 January after part of a 500-strong demonstration attempted to attack the ruling PP's national headquarters in solidarity with the Gamonal protesters.

    Grievances remain high among the young
    The 15-M - or 'indignados' - movement arose in May 2011 reflecting the grievances of young people who felt let down by institutions and the political establishment, and felt that they had no opportunities in an economy that was rapidly shedding jobs, and more fundamentally that 'the system' was not working for them. Even if Spain grows at 1%, as recently forecast by Finance Minister Luis de Guindos, youth unemployment will remain exceptionally high. Eurostat reported in January 2014 that youth unemployment reached 57.7%.

    The rapidly spreading succession of 15-M protests reached hundreds of thousands of people and continued for several months, often involving permanent occupations of public spaces in city centres. What was notable at that time was the near total absence of violence, as protests only very rarely led to confrontations with police (primarily when police tried to clear camps or sit-ins).

    The 15-M movement provides a central database of protests for its followers. This lists protest events, their locations, the detail of which groups sponsor each event, and their purpose. Many of these demonstrations are also publicised by the National Students' Union (Sindicato de Estudiantes) on its national and local websites, and by other groups using electronic media.

    Recent events have served to emphasise the nature of the protests. The national party conference of Spain's governing PP party in Valladolid from 31 January to 2 February passed off almost without problems with one demonstrator allegedly suffering serious injury after police intervention. Subsequent demonstrations against police violence attracted roughly 1,000 demonstrators but were peaceful: a further protest is planned seeking the dismissal of those responsible for police tactics. Yet at the same time, radical groups allegedly infiltrated demonstrations at Fuenlabrada, in Madrid where Coca Cola bottling plant workers were protesting over the planned closure of the plant. Incendiary devices were thrown at the factory. In another Madrid suburb, Alcorcón, protests at night on 1 February over municipal job cuts and a refuse collection dispute also turned violent with damage to property leading to 15 arrests and 14 police injuries. This last protest had a high profile in the media. No major damage was reported from these two incidents, although shop and bank office windows were broken in Alcorcón.

    A renewed protest movement by youths, like the 'indignados' or '#occupy' movements, carries an elevated risk of violence.

    IHS assesses that the most likely trigger for major violent protests in the next year will be frustrated separatist sentiment in Catalonia and the Basque region. The referendum scheduled for November in Catalonia is highly likely to be blocked by the Spanish central government and the Constitutional Court. Such a blockage is likely to lead to large protests in Barcelona, with a high risk of small-scale violent confrontations between protesters and police. Within these, separatist groups are likely to attack property, targeting banks, multinationals and retail locations: they are also very likely to damage or occupy assets of the central government. A less likely trigger would be central government curtailing the region's access to government regional funding mechanisms, given its failure to meet fiscal targets. If funding were stopped or reduced this would cut off resources for schools and hospitals and other key welfare services in the region, which would be likely to generate major protests while fuelling regionalist pressures.

    The draft law on abortion, which will make its way through parliament in the next three months, is also likely to lead to protests.

    A key indicator for how much violence or property damage will occur is how widely anarchist groups, football hooligans, or far right counter-groupings latch onto such protests. Their involvement will generate increased risks to retail property, banks and multinational firms. Support for protests from the population at large is likely to be limited - as shown in Gamonal - and a strong police reaction can be expected, mitigating risks to property and business disruption. Protests relating to national identity, notably in Catalonia, are also likely.