Many Britons and other English speakers live in or at least find themselves passing through Spain. Only some actively try to get to know it. We cannot all be Hemingways, but we want to share our impressions in the same language.

Spanish regions top European Union unemployment tables

Por: | 23 de abril de 2014

Seven of the ten EU regions with the highest unemployment are Spanish, including the top four.

Get all the data used in this article here.

More fantastic economic news: seven of the ten EU regions with highest unemployment during 2013 were in Spain, including all of the top four, according to data from Eurostat.

Such depressing figures clearly show the depth of the employment problem facing Spain, and that any talk of a recovery means little to the millions of people still looking for work. The numbers make for pretty glum reading all around, including youth unemployment.

What’s more, the cost of labour in Spain hasn’t decreased, meaning it isn’t any cheaper to employ people or to export Spanish goods.

Here is a breakdown of the ten EU regions with the highest unemployment:

Of the ten regions with the lowest unemployment, not one is in Spain, and all are in northern Europe or Scandinavia.

Spain features only slightly less strongly in the 15-24 bracket, with youth unemployment continuing to be a huge issue:

Spain and Greece provide the bulk of the regions affected by high unemployment, which is unsurprising. France features but only through its overseas territories, Montenique and Reunion Island.  

Germany, Sweden, Austria and Finland feature frequently in the best-performing tables.

When it comes to long-term unemployment the figures Spain does not feature in the top 10. This is not always a good sign however, as it can mean that people have simply given up looking for work or have moved overseas looking for work as many young Spaniards are doing.

Spain’s unemployment in Context

Compared to the EU as a whole, Spain is lagging well below the employment average. While 10.8% of Europe’s active workforce is unemployed, the figure is a whopping 26.4% for Spain.

 Here is a simple map showing how different comunidades contribute to Spain’s total. Click on the the community you want more information for.


While Spain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shown modest growth it is nowhere near enough to stimulate relief in the labour market. It is generally held that sustainable annual growth of 2% is required for an economy to be creating jobs.

Spain’s problem is often viewed as a lack of competitiveness. Spanish labour costs increased when it joined the Euro and when the crisis hit the shared currency meant it was impossible to make the Euro weaker.

Weakening a currency is a good trick in times of crisis: it means that more of your goods and services will be exported even if the buying power of the currency is weakened. With a shared currency this is not an option, so instead making the products and providing the services must be made cheaper, and according to some that means cutting labour costs.

Politicians call this labour market flexibility. It means making it easy to hire and fire people through looser contracts.

Making people work for less or cutting jobs is only one approach which is roundly rejected in some quarters. Paul Krugman, who has his blog translated in this paper, is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist for the New York Times.

Krugman posted about Spain’ devaluation back in 2012, and also wrote a “wonkish”, complicated post which you can read here, in which he explains the alternative: some bond-buying by the ECB and therefore inflation in the rich countries steadying the ship.

If it’s more expensive to buy olive oil in Germany, then the price a German would pay a Spaniard to import it would be relatively less.

Yup, that scenario won’t happen.

However as data from Eurostat showed last month Spain hasn’t yet managed to cut hourly labour costs anyway, which are higher now than they were in 2008:

As the graoh shows, Greece and Portugal have made cuts in their costs per hour in an attempt to improve competitivity. In comparison, Spain's costs have remained stable and, despite falling from a 2011 peak, have begun to rise again. 

Instead, despite enforced flexibility in the public sector, there are fewer people working, more pain and no end in sight.


Semana Santa Sevilla
A procession files past Las Setas in Seville. Picture: James Bryce

As I write, scores of Spaniards are preparing to heave crosses, Virgin Marys and Jesuses through the streets, or watch as others do so. And Seville’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) parades are perhaps the most extravagant of all. A total of 62 processions – some containing up to 3,000 penitents – will take to the streets between today and Easter Sunday. Unless, of course, it rains.

The preparations, as always, have been thorough. Anybody wandering through the old town from January onwards may have noticed white-clad costaleros (carriers) packed tightly under heavy wooden floats loaded up with weights. Because it certainly takes practice to be able to carry a 2,000kg flower- and candle-laden paso (float) through narrow streets for up to 14 hours. Others may have seen the same men in bars enjoying well-deserved cañas (beers) after rehearsals, or perhaps heard trumpets and drums playing that evocative – and somewhat repetitive – music somewhere in the distance.

The question is, will this year's hermandades (brotherhoods) make it safely back to their chapels without squabbling? This was certainly not the case in 2013. The controversy of the Panaderos brotherhood, which become a trending topic on Twitter and even made the national press, began on the afternoon of Holy Wednesday. An 80% chance of downpours was forecast, prompting several processions to cut short their trajectories. Two others were called off completely. "It's been cancelled," said the owner of the hotel where my dad was staying in Barrio Santa Cruz. The hotelier, who had been anticipating watching the San Bernado procession pass his home at about 9.30pm, was visibly extremely disappointed he was going to miss out. But then, when you’re talking about airing wooden statues that are up to 500 years old, one cannot take any risks with the weather.

And the rain was to have even bigger repercussions that night. The more the clouds formed, the less the brotherhoods kept to their itineraries. At 10:30pm, when the Panaderos had been out for under an hour, the heavens opened. They decided to cut their losses and immediately head back to San Andrés chapel. Unfortunately the route they chose to take, via Calle Campana, cut right in front of the on-schedule La Lanzada procession. The La Lanzana members had no choice but to stand getting soaked for close to an hour while all 1,200 Panaderos passed by.

The fallout to this decision was substantial, with accusations and insults flying in all directions. The Panaderos were criticised for not doing anything to speed up – instead continuing to sway to the rhythm of the slow, mournful brass music. The audience was shamed for shouting, whistling and even booing the Panaderos (see video below). Some said they heard insults being exchanged between Nazarenos (the ones who wear tall, cone-shaped hoods). On the internet, devotees took to Twitter and YouTube to air their grievances, with heated exchanges still flowing months after the event. Some called for sanctions to be taken against the Panaderos.

Video: Heated moments during Semana Santa 2013: The crowd's reaction

“This is a disgrace. The Panaderos could have easily have waited until the La Lanzada had passed,” said Alejandro, from Cordoba, on YouTube. Meanwhile a member of the Panaderos brotherhood, Joaquin Mañes, had tweeted late on Holy Wednesday: "I would like to apologise to La Lanzada...I hope there will be some resignations tomorrow. Shameful."

Indeed, this degree of altercation, described by one local paper as “reminiscent of conflicts between brotherhoods at the beginning of last century,” is perhaps surprising for a festival where followers are performing penances in what one would hope would be a respectful and orderly religious event.

For some, the rivalry will have come as no surprise. "Semana Santa has nothing to do with religion," said Rafael, my Sevillano conversation exchange partner, as we sat in a cafe in late March, 2014. He added: "It's just a competition to see who can have the biggest paso and the most brothers following it.”

Rafael is not a fan of Semana Santa, dismissing it as a money-making exercise and pooh-poohing the entire concept on the basis that worshipping idols breaches the third commandment. While some would stress that Semana Santa penitents are not technically worshipping the effigies, the monetary gains associated with Semana Santa cannot be ignored.

Switching to English in case he offended any eavesdroppers, Rafael told me what is needed to join a brotherhood in Seville. Surprisingly, it is not necessary to be a member of the church whose effigies are to be carried, or to even attend it regularly. Instead you must join an association attached to that church. A monthly fee is required, and eventually brothers are told they have been selected to be part of the procession. "If they miss one payment, they’re put right at the end of the list again," said Rafael. Waiting lists for the most prestigious brotherhoods can be years long. Similarly, where Rafael lives in Dos Hermanas (on the outskirts of Seville) there are two brotherhoods, with only one shop selling the correct Nazareno uniforms. This means a pretty penny is made from their sale each year. All in all, being a brother is an expensive business.

For some Spaniards, however, Semana Santa is worth every cent. Jose Ruiz, a brother interviewed for a local paper I worked at in Ronda, Malaga province, said: “It’s a tradition for my family as we’re all members of the church. I grew up watching the parades and have always liked the imagery. When you see and feel something special like that, it makes you want to be a part of it.” Like Seville, Ronda is renowned for its traditional approach to Semana Santa.

For others though, Semana Santa is simply a reason to get out of Seville for a week – not only because you can rent your flat out for four times what it'd usually fetch, but also because any hope of leading a normal life – or, in some cases, getting to your own front door – needs to be put on hold until it’s all over for another year.

Semana Santa Sevilla 2
Nazarenos. Picture: Samuel Sánchez


Picture: Billy Ehrenberg 


Additional reporting by Nassos Stylianou (@nassos_)

Spain has the highest number of empty houses in Europe: 3.4million of them at a time when many are facing evictions for defaulting on their mortgages. House prices in Spain are also at an all-time low, according to Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) numbers for December 2013.

What is more with prices so low, record numbers of foreigners have been flocking to buy houses, with numbers tripling since 2009.

These things in themselves are not news; we’ve know this for a while and it’s been well publicised in the press both in Spain and abroad.

What is an interesting exercise is to look at where these empty homes are and how much house prices have dropped in those regions.

We don’t have the data for where exactly expats are buying the most houses, but we can make an educated guess that it will be on the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava.  

So first lets look at where the empty houses are. I’ve plotted them on a map, with the bigger red bubbles corresponding to larger amounts of empty homes:


Click on the bubbles to get the stats for each region.

The first thing we notice is that the largest numbers of empty houses are in the Valencian Community and in Andalucía. This figure holds true, even when we look at the percentages:

18.5% of houses in Andalucía are empty - almost a whopping one in five. Valencia isn’t far behind on 14.7%. These are big numbers.

Surprisingly, Cataluña is third with 13% - despite being one of the few regions to have seen a drop in the total number of vacant homes.

As you may have suspected it seems that a large number of houses were built in theses areas because they are popular for second homes, both for Spanish nationals and ex-pats.

So where are the cheapest houses? Or rather, where have the biggest drops occurred?

The INE published the figures, and as you can see from this graph they’ve been dropping steadily since 2007 in some communities, with all areas having experienced large declines.

You can use the drop-down menu in the top-right of the graph to choose which regions you want to include or exclude. Click on the names of the regions in the legend to select the line for that Autonomous Community.

What is interesting is that, despite having the highest number of empty houses (both by volume and %), houses in Andalucía and Valencia have held their prices far better than other regions.

Andalucian properties are going at 73% of their 2007 value and the Comunidad Valenciana is seeing houses sell for 68% of 2007 prices; the third and eighth highest on the list, respectively.

Not so Cataluña. Prices have dropped to 55% of their 2007 level for the Catalans, despite that overall reduction in the number of empty properties.

Why might this be? One possible conclusion is that the number of foreign buyers snapping up cheap properties could well be preventing more pain in Valencia and Andalucía, where the areas around Benidorm and Malaga/Marbella remain favourites for ex pats.

Let’s have a quick look at who it is buying the most properties. Click on the tabs at the top to change between numbers and percentages. 



By far the biggest buyers are the Brits - which will surprise few - but the figure fails to take into account is that 12.85% of all new house purchases in the fourth quarter were by non-Spaniards. El País has a more in-depth article here.

How long that support will last is anyone’s guess, but the number of foreign buyers is higher even than before the crisis, perhaps showing how any recovery from the crisis is leaving Spain behind.

How long it will last is anyone’s guess.


Nassos Stylianou is a freelance data journalist working in London. You can read his blog The Data Party here.


Festivals of Spain: More tea than bull

Por: | 01 de abril de 2014

“Do you want to know a secret?” grins Jorge Martín, mayor of Algo, a village hidden in the mountains behind Málaga’s Costa del Sol. “If we have a problem, we can work it out.” He is talking about one of Spain’s wonderful festivals, but one of the few with British connections. On this occasion, it’s an annual tribute to The Beatles, which includes music, fashion, and the obligation of using their song lyrics in conversation. As a festival influenced by British culture, it’s not alone. Two other locations have also chosen to extol different aspects of our lifestyle.

Our much-loved British fish and chips are the basis for the festival in Salyvinagre, a small village near the port of Santander. The weekend celebration originated in the 1950s, when ships from the UK docked in the city. Many English seamen preferred to head to the little village to escape the hustle and bustle, and inevitably they told tales of the cuisine from their homeland. The villagers, always eager to welcome visitors, tried to create the dish for them, albeit with varying degrees of success and confusion. At first, as a seamen’s diary confirms, it was hit and miss. “Sometimes fish with no batter, sometimes batter with no fish, but the biggest problem was mushy peas. The villagers asked why they had to mush all the peas together. To be honest, we didn’t have an answer, so in the end we told them it was because it was easier to keep them on the plate.”


Festival ingredients: Fish, chips, mushy peas and tea.                             Photo Flickr (CC): Kevin Hutchinson

Nowadays, participants wear appropriate costumes, with some villagers dressing as fish and others as chips. During the Saturday end-of-festival party, they all run around the village plaza chaotically, until music starts and each fish undertakes a choreographed routine with a chip. The intention is to make calm out of chaos and to emphasize the harmony of the dish. Matches have been made here. “I was a chip and I met my future wife because she was a fish. I immediately knew I had the most wonderful piece of cod in the village,” says Juan Porshon, a keen festival attendee.

Whilst fish and chips are waltzing near Santander, the British love of tea and theatre is celebrated at another village, Escenamiedo, in the north of Extremadura. Originated by the De Quetelisson family after a visit to the UK in the 1970s, their eldest son, Gladwen, now oversees the events. “My late parents were besotted with the British way of life, but especially tea and acting, so they decided to start an annual festival to celebrate both,” he explains. “We call it Tea-atre, and the idea is that all of the productions have a tea theme. It takes a lot of imagination to adapt a script in a suitable way. For example, last year we did Teatanic, about the sinking of the great ocean liner, but from the perspective of all passengers drinking tea. We decided that, under those circumstances, there would have been considerably less panic. We’ve also tried a stage version of the movie From Here To Eternitea and, of course, E M Forster’s A Room With A Brew.”

Popularity has meant the festival has been extended to incorporate other initiatives. “A sculpture competition was introduced in 2011. The works have to be made from dried tea leaves and each sculpture must include the word ‘tea’ in its title, in the same way as the theatrical productions. Winning entries for the last three years have been an aeroplane called ‘Prioritea Boarding’, a strange taxidermy-style creation named ‘Reflections on Immortalitea’, and 2013’s controversial ‘Nuditea’,” concludes Gladwen. For the closing party, or par-tea, the village plaza is cordoned off, with sugar cubes taking the place of tickets. One lump will get you a normal seat, whereas two permit you to enter the VIP area.

Back in Algo, meanwhile, Jorge Martín is musing on the plans for this summer. “I feel fine,” he smiles. “If things get difficult, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” I ask if he’s expecting a good attendance. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he laughs, “It’s not unusual.” He thinks for a second, and then adds, “Sorry, that’s Tom Jones!” I tell him not to worry, and that we’ll just let it be. He has to leave the interview a little early as a delivery lorry arrives with a consignment of Beatles-style wigs. The mop-top additions are obligatory for the final day of the three-day event, although many festival-goers wear them throughout.

The British flavour makes all three of these events an unusual diversion, far removed from the normal delights of bulls, tomatoes or olives. However, the timing of the celebrations can change from year to year, so it’s highly recommended to check the date of all information carefully.


“Spring,” I say, looking out from the balcony at a beautifully sunny day, “has sprung.”

My Catalan girlfriend looks at me suspiciously.

“No,” she replies, “spring starts on March 20, the first day of the vernal equinox. We’ve talked about this.”

And indeed we have. Many times. There are not many things we argue about, my girlfriend and I, but the passing of the seasons is one.

Let me explain: as someone who grew up in Britain I have a rather hazy, non-constrictive view of the seasons. They start, I have always believed, on a rough date that has everything to do with the weather and little to do with the calendar. So if there is a day of beautiful spring-like sunshine in early March, say, then spring has to all extents and purposes started.

For my Catalan girlfriend, however, the seasons have very definite dates for starting and finishing. These are based on the vernal equinox (March 20), the summer solstice (June 21, when summer kicks off), the autumnal equinox (September 22, when autumn boots summer out of the way) and the winter solstice (December 21, when winter takes its grim hold).

As you might imagine, this inconsistency in definition, tied to the depressingly real differences between the weather in Scotland and Barcelona, gives us very differing views indeed about what each season contains. And this leads to arguments.

In the interests of inter-European peace, then, I have decided to explain definitively here the differences between the Barcelona seasons - as my girlfriend sees them – and the British ones, in the hope that you, too, may avoid an argument one day.


In Britain, winter is the evil overlord of the seasons, typically running from November to March, inclusive. It will be cold and / or wet, the trains will probably stop running and most foreign visitors will finally realise why central heating is in fact a very good idea.

It is a depressing season, in other words, only enlightened by Christmas, drinking and the very slight possibility that heavy snowfall will keep you off work for a couple of days. Needless to say, going to the beach and – heaven forfend – swimming, should only be done a) as a dare or b) for charity, preferably both.

The Barcelona winter, meanwhile, is seen as something of a relief after all that relentless heat. You will need that heavy coat you so usefully brought from the UK for, maybe, one week total, during which time you will also wonder for the first time why your flat doesn’t possess any heating.

All this will be soon forgotten, though, when March comes around and you realise you could, just about, go swimming in the sea, even if only to tell your friends you did it.


In Britain spring is the most elusive of seasons. It lasts for about a month and mainly consists of moderately sunny days, which each last about 12 hours before winter kicks back in. Spring is a tease, then, and the most deceitful time of the year.

The problem, really, is that spring is actually rather nice in Britain: the sun comes out at last – although not enough to merit the suntan lotion – plants show their bedraggled faces and you can finally ditch the heavy winter coat in favour of the optimistically thin one you bought in the sales. At the back of your mind, though, you know it’s going to be raining again tomorrow.

In Barcelona, “spring” runs from March 20 to June 20, a time when temperatures average about 24 degrees centigrade. You can go swimming, sunbathe on the beach and invite your friends to a barbecue, safe in the knowledge that it won’t be too cold. This, you will hardly need me to tell you, doesn’t exactly constitute spring weather for the British.

Ah but it does rain, the Catalans will say. True: they even have an expression for it: “En Abril, aguas mil, el Maig cada dia un raig” (basically, “In April, lots of rain, in May, a little bit every day”).  But spring in Barcelona is so hot that this rain will be a genuine relief, rather than the guaranteed party pooper it proves in the UK.


Summer is the blessed season in the UK: the sun comes out, everyone goes to the park and not stopping to have a pint in the local beer garden is punishable by law. It’s lovely.

Then again, it only really lasts about two months – July and August – during which time some 80% of the population will go abroad to somewhere warmer anyway. Even then, you’ve probably got about 10 sunny days, unless there’s a “heat wave” (three consecutive days over 30 degrees) during which the trains will stop working again.

Expect to see at least one newspaper headline during the British summer that declares “Britain hotter than Majorca / Ibiza / the Costa Brava”, which you will inevitably read in a thunderous deluge of rain. Nevertheless, summer is basically everyone’s favourite season in Britain and if anyone disagrees they’re just trying to be different.

By contrast, summer is, for many Barcelona dwellers, their least favourite part of the year on the grounds that it is – brace yourself for this, British readers – simply too hot, as if averaging above 30 degrees for three consecutive months was somehow a bad thing.

This partially explains why everyone who is anyone abandons Barcelona in August, leaving just American tourists who spend much of their time wondering why they can’t find a dry cleaner that is open.


Autumn is, according to John Keats, the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. Accordingly many British people will put up an argument for autumn being the most beautiful season and it is, certainly, rather attractive, as the leaves turn a goldy red and the fog rolls in.

Rather like spring, though, it is marred by its elusive nature: it is pretty much guaranteed in Britain that the moment you conclude that autumn is here it will be replaced by the freezing winds and rain of winter. And, quite honestly, who wants to go outside to look at the lovely trees when you know you’ve got a 50% chance of picking up a cold and the pub’s fire is incredibly warming?

In Barcelona, however, autumn is essentially summer 2. There’s a little less humidity, sure, and the mosquitos may retreat an inch. But essentially it is still summer, with all the warmth and outdoor leisure that implies.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for having to go back to work and the fact that the local dry cleaner is open again, then you probably wouldn’t even notice the season had changed. Which is how it should be, surely?



Authors (Bloggers)

Our regular bloggers develop their own themes related with life in Spain and the interaction of Spaniards with the wider world, while guest writers add spice.

Jessica Jones. Hailing from the north east of England, Stockton-on-Tees native Jessica has had a passion for all things Hispanic from an early age. She has lived in and written about France, Chile, Spain and Germany and has been contributing to the Trans-Iberian blog since 2012, when she moved to Madrid after graduating from Durham University.@jessicajones590

Joseph Walker. A graduate of Leeds University, Joseph is a sports journalist based in Madrid, and has written on and covered a wide range of events, from the Champions League to Gibraltar’s first ever UEFA match and Spain’s national rugby team. He writes columns for several websites and will pen his thoughts on the latest goings on in sports-obsessed Spain. You can find him on @joe_in_espana

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Jeff Wiseman is an experienced journalist and comedy writer. He was formerly editor of ‘InMadrid’, a monthly English-language newspaper in the Spanish capital, and has contributed scripts and sketches for radio and television in the UK. Published his first book, ‘Shawley Nott: Comic Tales from England’s Strangest Village’, in 2013.

Billy Ehrenberg is an Journalism MA student at City University in London. He lived in Spain for three years, in Granada, Madrid and A Coruña, translating and teaching English. He has written for The Times, The Western Morning News and The Plymouth Herald in the UK and has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2013. He enjoys telling stories with numbers and infographics, data visualisations and general statistical tomfoolery. He tweets from @billyehrenberg

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