• 10 May 2012

Location: Southwestern Europe . Spain borders to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea, to the north and north east by France and Andorra and to the northwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal.There are two autonomous cities – Ceuta and Melilla – and 17 autonomous communities including Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, and three small Spanish possessions off the coast of Morocco .
Total area: 505,370 sq km
Capital: Madrid
Natural resources : coal, lignite, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, uranium, tungsten, mercury, pyrites, magnesite, fluorspar, gypsum, sepiolite, kaolin, potash, hydropower, arable land .
Natural hazards : periodic droughts, occasional flooding and volcanic activity in the Canary Islands .
Environment current issues : pollution of the Mediterranean Sea from raw sewage and effluents from the offshore production of oil and gas; water quality and quantity nationwide; air pollution; deforestation; desertification .

Population: 47,042,984
Median age: 40.5 years
Population growth rate: 0.654%
Birth rate: 10.4 births/1.000 population
Death rate: 8.88 deaths/1.000 population
Urban population: 77% of total population
Rate of urbanization: 1% annual rate of change
Ethnic groups: composite of Mediterranean and Nordic types .
Languages: Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7% and Basque 2%.
Religions : Roman Catholic 94%, other 6%
Literacy rate: 97.9% (male: 98.7%, female: 97.2% ).

Government type: parliamentary monarchy .
Independence: 1492 (from the Muslim occupation ).
Constitution: 31 October 1978 .
Suffrage: universal.


Spain’s mixed capitalist economy is the 13th largest in the world, and its per capita income roughly matches that of Germany and France. However, after almost 15 years of above average GDP growth, the Spanish economy began to slow in late 2007 and entered into a recession in the second quarter of 2008. Government efforts to boost the economy through stimulus spending, extended unemployment benefits, and loan guarantees did not prevent a sharp rise in the unemployment rate, which rose from a low of about 8% . Spain’s large budget deficit and poor economic growth prospects have made it vulnerable to financial contagion from other highly-indebted euro zone members.

Currency : Euro
GDP (Gross Domestic Product): $1.411 trillion
GDP-per capita: $30,600
Real growth rate : 0.8%
Unemployment rate: 20.8%
Public debt: 68.2% of GDP
Inflation rate : 3.1%
Central Bank discount rate: 1.75%

Production :
Agriculture : grain, vegetables, olives, wine grapes, sugar beets, citrus; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products and fish
Industries: textiles and apparel (including footwear), food and beverages, metals and metal manufactures, chemicals, shipbuilding, automobiles, machine tools, tourism, clay and refractory products; footwear, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment .
Industrial production growth rate : 2%

Energy sector:
• Production: 275.1 billion kWh
• Consumption: 267.5 billion kWh
• Exports: 14.86 billion kWh
• Imports: 8.104 billion kWh
• Production: 29.970 bbl/day
• Consumption: 1.441 million bbl/day
• Exports : 240.700 bbl/day
• Imports: 1.584 million bbl/day
• Proved reserves : 150 million bbl

Natural gas:
• Production: 48 million cu m
• Consumption: 35.82 billion cu m
• Exports: 1.152 billion cu m
• Imports: 36.71 billion cu m
• Proved reserves : 2.548 billion cu m

Current account balance : -$60.9 billion

Exports: $330.6 billion
• Commodities: machinery, motor vehicles; foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, medicines, other consumer goods .
• Main exports partners: France 18.7%, Germany 10.7%, Portugal 9.1%, Italy 9%, UK 6.3% .

Imports: $384.6 billion
• Commodities: machinery and equipment, fuels, chemicals, semifinished goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods, measuring and medical control instruments .
• Main imports partners : Germany 12.6%, France 11.5%, Italy 7.3%, China 6.8%, Netherlands 5.6%, UK 4.9% .

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold : $31.91 billion
External debt : $2.57 trillion
Stock of direct foreign investment :
• At home : $634.2 billion
• Abroad : $678.7 billion

Transportation :
Airports : 154
Railways : 15,293 km
Roadways : 681,298 km
Ports and terminals : Algeciras, Barcelona, Bilbao, Cartagena, Huelva, Tarragona, Valencia (Spain); Las Palmas, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands) .


Greece: Left seeks coalition, ghost of new elections looming

  • 9 May 2012

ATHENS, 9 MAY – After the Conservative leader of Nea Dimocratia Antonis Samaras failed to form a coalition government on Monday, the day after the elections in Greece, it is now the turn of the radical left party Syriza. However, the situation has not been unblocked yet and the risk of having to vote again in June is growing more concrete with every hour. The country’s political situation caused the Athens Stock Exchange to collapse to its lowest levels since 1992. As for negotiations are concerned, yesterday only talks were carried out and Tsipras only gained the availability of Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of Democratic Left (19 seats). However, Tsipras was also heavily criticised by Samaras, who reminded him that ND “is ready to provide external support to a minority government only if it will ensure that Greece will stay in the Eurozone and the protection of Greece’s national interests”.

At late morning, the President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias had officially asked 38-year old Alexis Tsipras, the youngest Greek political leader whose party, having gained nearly 16.8% (52 seats) of votes, is now the second political group in the country, ranking before the Socialist party, Pasok. According to some experts, Tsipras intends to make his mandate last for the whole three days provided for by the Constitution, in an attempt to form a coalition government with other left-wing forces.

After his meeting with the Head of State, Tsipras went back to his headquarters, where he reiterated that his party intends to form a coalition government with the country’s left-wing political groups in order to obtain, first of all, the annulment of the Memorandum signed by Greece’s previous governments with international lenders and the abolition of all laws against workers issued by the same governments. Furthermore, Tsipras said that his government (in case he succeeds in froming it) will call for the State’s control over banks, that, in his opinion, are still managed by the same people who led Greece to the current situation. Syriza leader added that the new government will have set up an international committee on the country’s debt and concluded by stating that “the economic crisis is not only Greece’s problem, it is Europe’s problem and it must be tackled at the European level.” While Tsipras was waiting for the meetings with Kouvelis, with representatives of the Green Environmentalists (who did not make it to the Parliament) and with Luka Kasteli, the leader of Social Pact (another centre-right party that did not make it to the Parliament) to start, it became known that Aleka Papariga, the leader of the Greek Communist Party (KKE, 26 seats) rejected the invitation to discuss the possibility of entering a coalition.

Papariga explained such decision by mentioning the fact that, unlike Syriza, the KKE wants Greece to get out of the EU and the Eurozone. Kouvelis, in his turn, stated that his party will support a left-wing parties coalition government with a vast majority “to avoid new elections in our countries” and repeated the conditions set by his party to Tsipras: annulment of the Memorandum and Greece staying in the Eurozone and, therefore, in the European Union. On the other hand, the representatives of the Green Environmentalists (who also oppose the Memorandum), at the end of the talks with Tsipras stated that they are waiting for Syriza’s “concrete proposals” concerning a possible solution for Greece to come out of the crisis. “We want to stay in Europe”, they stated, “but not in Merkel and Sarkozy’s Europe”.

But the road is long and winding. The political scenario after the vote is extremely fragmented and the collapse of the two main parties, the “austerity-makers” Nea Dimocratia and Pasok, might lead to new elections, unless an unforeseen turn of events takes place.


France 2012: Hollande president

  • 7 May 2012

PARIS, MAY 7 – Francois Hollande is France’s new president, 17 years after the previous socialist president Francois Mitterrand. Between these two: Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and many humiliating defeats for the French ‘gauche’.

The new president immediately addressed Europe, promising ”a new start”, and was called by Angela Merkel, who invited him to Berlin, Mario Monti who proposed closer collaboration and U.S.

President Barack Obama.

With celebrations still in progress, Hollande is already focusing on his tasks. The euro opened down today in Asia, with Hollande’s electoral promises influencing the markets. Last night the new president celebrated under the rain in Tulle, where Hollande was mayor for years and where everybody knows him personally. Later he got on a jet and after one hour he and his partner Valerie Trierweiler arrived at the Bastille, where the new president said he represents ”the young people of France” and announced that this is the start ”of a new European movement”, adding that the time has come to say ”farewell to austerity.” The first phone call Hollande received as president, before Merkel’s call, was made by his opponent Nicolas Sarkozy: “I have wished him good luck,” said the ousted president, who has fought to the last moment to turn his defeat around. ”I have made mistakes, but I accept the responsibility for this defeat”, said a bitter Sarkozy, who is the second president not to be re-elected after Giscard d’Estaing. Sarkozy’s speech was serious and in the end he showed signs of emotion, drained by a very hard and cruel election campaign in which he was abandoned by some important members of his own party. The first thing he said was that he will no longer be leader of the party, leaving the upcoming parliamentary elections in June (looking very bad for his party in the polls) to others, the Fillon-Copé-Juppé triad, which will now take over the leadership of UMP. “Another battle begins,” said the leaders of the defeated right-wing parties, while Marine Le Pen – who had announced to vote blank, that way indirectly helping Hollande – did not care about this defeat: the operation Blue-Marine focuses on emptying the UMP and replace the party, now more than ever. But according to Sarkozy, who did not announce leaving politics, the battle ends here.

France has closed the chapter Sarkozy, the man who has irritated the left and who promised to modernise the country, irritating many in his own party as well. He has carried out half of the reforms he has promised. But the real reasons he lost the vote were his methods and his often arrogant approach, which have done no good for his image. Any concerns Europe may have had about losing Sarkozy, one of the cornerstones of the French-German couple over the past years, seemed to have vanished in the first reactions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Hollande to congratulate him and invited him to come to Berlin, where so far she has refused to receive him. Monti said he hopes the two countries will ”work together closely, particularly in European context, forming an increasingly effective union focusing on growth.” Obama welcomed Hollande on the international stage, starting at the Camp David G8 summit.


Tunisia: unemployed protest against work selection criteria

  • 6 May 2012

TUNIS, MAY 3 – The mining area of Gafsa, the most important in Tunisia for the extraction and treatment of phosphates, one of the key contributing factors to the country’s economy, is paralysed by a series of protests, which are mainly targeting the Gafsa phosphates company (CPG), which enjoys a monopoly in the sector.

CPG activity has been blocked for days by protests by hundreds of people without jobs, who dispute the selection criteria for the hiring of around a thousand members of staff (out of 2,700 candidates), which is claimed to have been significantly conditioned and altered, the young people say. The protests, particularly sit-ins, which have blocked access for workers at the company, have targeted the CPG’s main offices (including the company headquarters) and the research centre.

The Ministry of Professional Training and Employment has called for a return to order, saying that the results of the selection process, and the subsequent list of possible employees, can always be contested with the presentation of appeals that will be closely examined.