A year of going full circle in Spain

Catalunya's ex president Carles Puigdemont attended a debate on autonomy in Geneva in March.
Catalunya's ex president Carles Puigdemont attended a debate on autonomy in Geneva in March. / EFE
  • The last twelve months saw a change in national government in Madrid and preparations for a likely sweeping new look in the Junta de Andalucía too

  • 2018 started and ended with news of tragic discoveries and the political problems in Catalonia

They say that news goes in cycles and a look over our reporting from across Spain in 2018 seems to prove that rule. The year started and ended with headlines on the Catalan political question and inquiries being launched into the murders of two young women that shocked the country. There was pride in Spain celebrating 40 years of its democratic constitution this year and change at the top in both central and regional governments.

If you've been unfortunate enough to have been out of the country for some of the last twelve months or just need a reminder, here's a round-up of what we've been telling our readers about Spain in 2018.


Catalan conundrum

We began the year waiting to see if Catalan separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, would be sworn in as regional president despite being self-exiled in Brussels and wanted in Spain over the 2017 illegal independence referendum. It was a story that would roll on into the spring.

Meanwhile, our first edition of the year reported the sad news that the body of Diana Quer, who disappeared in Galicia in August 2016, had been found. The arrest of a local man fuelled a debate on length of prison sentences in Spain.


Drugs smuggling

The daring raid on a La Línea hospital by hooded members of a drug gang to remove one of their members who had been injured and arrested made the news in February. It was the first of a string of headlines this year highlighting the rise in violent crime associated with drug smuggling from North Africa in the Campo de Gibraltar area.

Carles Puigdemont stopped trying to be Catalan president and separatist parties searched for a new candidate.


Little Gabriel

The last days of winter were dominated by the disappearance of eight-year-old Gabriel Cruz just a few metres from his grandmother's home in Cabo de Gata, Almería. There was disbelief when his father's partner, Ana Julia Quezada, was arrested while secretly trying to move his body and was charged with his murder.

Also in March, pensioners pressurised the government into better rights and Carles Puigdemont was held in Germany on a Spanish arrest warrant, although an extradition attempt failed when the German court didn't recognise the Spanish offence of rebellion.


British tourism

The peak tourist season, key to Spain's economy, kicked off with early reports that there were slightly fewer British tourists visiting Andalucía. It was a trend that would continue through the summer. Although there were industry worries about a possible long-term impact of Brexit, it seems some UK visitors were switching to destinations in the eastern Mediterranean.

Brits abroad were also in the news with UK and Spanish authorities successfully fighting back against false compensation claims from Britons for sickness while on holiday.

In May, the Partido Popular (PP) leader of the Madrid regional government, Cristina Cifuentes, gave in her notice after the pressure of a scandal involving an allegedly fake university degree and a shoplifting video became too much. It was the beginning of a wave of corruption stories that would claim the scalp of the PP government within weeks.


At last, the end of ETA

May started with good news for those in Spain who had lived through decades of terrorism. After years of ceasefire, Basque-separatists group, ETA, announced that it was disbanding at last.

Catalonia finally got its new president, Quim Torra, who set about forming an uncontroversial cabinet that allowed the return of the devolved powers to Barcelona which had been suspended by Madrid.


All change in government

At the end of May the damning verdict in the Gürtel corruption trial against former top PP officials said that the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, had been an unreliable witness.

The wheels of a no-confidence vote in parliament started turning, and to the surprise of many, opposition leader Pedro Sánchez managed to get support from nationalist MPs to oust Rajoy in early June.

A new cabinet was sworn in, with a majority of women ministers, as the PSOE government got to work.

Migrants continue to head to Spain

Migrants continue to head to Spain / EFE.

Sánchez was met by the ongoing migrant crisis, with the numbers arriving from North Africa by boat increasing all the time. The new PM gave permission for the rescue flotilla, Aquarius, to dock in Valencia with 630 on board after being refused by Italy and Malta. Spain was the main gateway for migrants into Europe by boat his year and the issue was never off the political agenda.



As the searing heat arrived, the Spanish authorities were concerned about the accidental deaths of several young Britons jumping from balconies "for fun" in tourist resorts, especially the Balearics.

There were signs of police success in the fightback against drugs in the Strait of Gibraltar, with arrests and plans to ban rigid-hulled power boats.

King Emeritus Juan Carlos was in hot water as recordings emerged of a former close female friend suggesting his business dealings were murkier than publicly known. The retired king has kept a low profile for much of the year.

In politics, the PP voted in a new leader, Pablo Casado.

August and September

Tattoo madness

A vulnerable Polish man living on the Costa Blanca went missing briefly after a British stag group had paid him money to have the groom's name tattooed on his forehead and a photo was posted on social media.

Meanwhile plans for Guardia Civil officers to be banned from having almost any sort of body tattoo were dropped when it was pointed out that their boss, the new Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, had tattoos himself that made him also ineligible.


Best GP in the world

The high quality of the Spanish public health service was highlighted in our reporting this year, not least the decision in October to award a GP from Valladolid, northern Spain, the title of best family doctor in the world.

There was an extra international title in Andalucía too, with the granting of World Heritage status to the Islamic ruins of Medina Azahara, outside Cordoba. And there was also news about a much more famous monument. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona finally applied for planning permission 130 years after it was started and began paying municipal taxes.

October brought confirmation that the Spanish economic recovery was continuing, albeit in stops and starts, when it was announced that the unemployment rate in September had fallen 15 per cent, its lowest since 2008.

In politics, the first anniversary of the illegal independence referendum in Catalonia meant the month opened with separatist protests across that region. And the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Susana Díaz, announced she was bringing forward regional elections a few months to December after a pact with Ciudadanos broke down.

In north-east Mallorca, torrential rain caused streams to burst their banks, flooding villages and killing 13 people. Local tennis star, Rafa Nadal, helped the clear-up and donated one million euros.


The Valley of the Fallen, Franco's ceremonial resting place.

The Valley of the Fallen, Franco's ceremonial resting place. / REUTERS.

Killer medicine restriction

The new Socialist government in Madrid had lost no time in trying to fulfill some if its symbolic commitments. Among them, the planned reburial of former dictator General Franco, away from his ceremonial resting place in the Valley of the Fallen. So far it hasn't been done as fast as Pedro Sánchez promised, with Franco's family attempting to rebury him in the higher profile location of Madrid's cathedral instead. The story continues into 2019.

In November a controversial painkiller was restricted in Spain for people from northern Europe and tourists. It followed evidence that Nolotil could be fatal to certain genetic types, including many Britons, and after a high-profile campaign to impose more controls.

There were red faces at the Supreme Court after its unheard-of attempt to reverse a ruling that forced banks to pay an important mortgage paperwork tax instead of the customers. A public outcry and political pressure contributed to judges backing down after a marathon meeting and saying that banks should pay the tax from now on after all.


All change at the Junta

This month started with a shock regional election result in Andalucía. For the first time in 36 years, the ruling POSE Socialist party faced the prospect of being out of power regionally at the Junta de Andalucía.

Parties on the right were in a position to form a majority and force out Susana Díaz. Negotiations went on into Christmas between the PP and Ciudadanos to bring "a promised change", with speculation over the future role of Vox, a far-right party that had achieved 11 per cent of the regional vote with an anti-constitutional manifesto, surprising everyone including themselves.

Ironically, Spain was also celebrating at the time forty years since the referendum approving its post-Franco democratic constitution.

The government gave the green light to new rules to help residents in housing developments prevent neighbours renting out their homes to tourists without a 60 per cent " community" vote, marking the next stage in the ongoing story of the pressure caused by the rise in holiday lets in local neighbourhoods. Many town halls have debated the issue this year and tried to square the circle between the rise of mass tourism and the preservation of traditional local lifestyles.

The year closes as it starts with national grief and exasperation at another brutal sex crime. 26-year-old school teacher, Laura Luelmo was apparently murdered by a neighbour with a violent criminal record in a village in Huelva province weeks after moving there to start a new job.

The search for the young teacher Laura Luelmo

The search for the young teacher Laura Luelmo / EFE

News in Catalonia closed the national political year, with violence around a meeting of the Spanish Cabinet in Barcelona, calls from the opposition for Catalonia's devolved powers to be suspended again, and Madrid needing the support of separatist MPs in the national parliament to get its 2019 budgets approved.