When Pedro Sánchez took charge of the Spanish government, the vote of no confidence in Mariano Rajoy having successfully evicted Rajoy from the Moncloa Palace, he performed a fancy manoeuvre at the finance ministry. This involved a swapping of vowels. Out went an ‘o’ and in came an ‘e’. Montoro trailed Mariano in exiting the government and coming in the opposite direction was Montero. Bye, bye, Cristóbal. Hello, Maria Jesús.
Cristóbal Montoro was not looked upon with great favour by Francina Armengol and her Balearic government chums. This was hardly surprising; he was the Partido Popular after all. But more than this, there was the interminable wrangling over financing for the Balearics. Cristóbal’s neglect of the islands was symptomatic of a PP government ignorance of the archipelago’s needs.
This lack of knowledge extended as far as names of the islands. On one occasion when Mariano was in Mallorca, he managed to refer to the island of Palma.
With Sánchez now promising progressive politics of a Balearic style, the Armengol administration looked forward to great progress being made on financing. PSOE sister and brother in arms, Francina was expectant of Pedro lavishing pots of gold on the Balearics. However, that change of vowel didn’t signify the type of progress that was hoped for. Maria Jesús Montero was as parsimonious as Cristóbal had been. And that was because Maria Jesús was from Andalusia. So it was reckoned.
No region of Spain benefits more from the regional financing system than Andalusia. This owes much to its size - the second largest region - and to its population (more than any other region). There is also the fact that despite all its great wealth of history and having obscene amounts of wealth on display in parts of the Costa del Sol, Andalusia is not as well off as many other regions (comparatively speaking).
The Balearic Islands, on the other hand, are a net contributor to the financing system. The Armengol administration has been pressing for reform of this system, the specifications for which expired seven years ago and still show little sign of being updated. As Maria Jesús is from Andalusia, it has been felt that she is disinclined to rush into any reform that might be prejudicial to her region of birth.
In fact, she had no sooner passed Montoro on the long entrance-exit corridor of the finance ministry than she was intimating that she wasn’t especially partial to showing any particular favour to the Balearics. The pots to be showered upon Mallorca and the other islands were full of fool’s gold.
The Balearics are penalised, so it is believed, because Madrid (and Andalusia) perceive the islands in the sun to be occupied solely by the filthy rich lounging around on superyachts and residing in gated mansions that make the King’s palatial summer residence look like a council house. A bit like Marbella, you might say. But not to Maria Jesús.
The minister, who may be labouring under a misapprehension, is to be confronted by the realities of the islands when she arrives in Palma today for a meeting of something called the Bilateral Mixed Commission for the REB - the Balearic special economic regime. The express purpose of this gathering is to negotiate the inclusion of the “insularity factor” of the REB in the state budget. The expectation is that Maria Jesús, regardless of a reluctance to cough up such compensation, will offer an annual amount to compensate for the negative effects of being islands. The question is - how much?
One of the parties of government, Més, who want to sue the Spanish government over a failure to live up to REB promises, have made it clear that they are not going to withdraw this claim and are also not prepared to put up with some sort of discounted insularity factor annual lump sum. Més are seeking anything between 100 million and 400 million euros. To put this into some context, and we are after all talking about a regional government’s finance and spending here, 100 million euros is what Juventus paid to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in 2018. It’s also what Madrid paid for Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard.
Financial fair play. This is what the Balearic government seeks, and its case is a strong one. Insularity does bring its disadvantages. At the same time, it has its advantages - the way of life that attracts so many. Too many, it might be argued, and overpopulation is just one reason why a better deal is being sought.
One hundred million is a minimum amount being sought, and if Maria Jesús Montero fails to offer this, the opposition PP will be swift to remind Francina Armengol that Cristóbal Montoro once tabled ninety million. That was a few years ago now. The transfer fee value has since increased.