I have recently been putting the finishing touches to my latest book for expats. Whilst reading it through for one last time before it is sent to the publishers, I realized that it was not written in quite the same buoyant tones as my earlier publications. It was written during a year of relative turmoil in the Canary Islands and Spain, as well as across the world. Increased concerns about unemployment levels of around one third of the working population in the islands for much of the year, the increasing impact of the banking crisis upon ordinary people, bankruptcies and home repossessions have all led to increasing uncertainty for both the local and expat population of the islands and much of Europe.
The political situation has not been good either, with political uncertainties, scandals and ‘in-fighting’ within the ruling Partido Popular (Conservative) party, affecting the popularity and possible tenure of the Spanish Prime Minister. Even the once highly popular Spanish Royal family has come in for considerable criticism for unwise financial dealings from the usually acquiescent and respectful Spanish media.
As I write this, the old chestnut surrounding the status of Gibraltarhas raised its ugly head once again. Most observers agree that this is a regular ploy by both the Spanish and UK Governments during periods of internal discontent and unrest to focus the attention of the media and general population upon issues other than the economy, unemployment and unpopularity of the government. However, such issues are unsettling for both businesses and expats alike, and can cause needless concern and anxiety for all.
Building sites that were once identified as areas for smart new development for expat homes, shopping centers and offices remain silent, sale boards of both completed, as well as incomplete, properties abound. Many Spanish people have left the country for work elsewhere in Europe and beyond. In most towns and cities, there is an abundance of empty shops, bars, offices and homes, and the once bustling Costas are no longer the bustling areas that they once were.
Looking back, it should not have come as such a surprise. Spain’s economy, as well as that in many other countries, grew far too quickly to sustain, and the people behind the system grew both greedy and complacent. The bubble had to burst eventually, together with its disastrous consequences.
The unpopular truth for political and economic commentators is that, despite support from the European Union, Spain is nowhere near a lost cause. In the last two years, Spanish manufacturers that traditionally focused upon home consumption have turned their attention to the global market. As a result, exports have reached a record high. Even the most jingoistic of commentators are beginning to realize that Spain has the capacity, ability and wherewithal to rectify its economic problems, and is not another Greece or Portugal as was popular opinion a short time ago.
The European Union is not a popular concept in the UK. I doubt it ever will be, and there is a possibility that the UK may leave it in the future, or be part of some other formation that will accommodate its unique and distorted perspective of the continent, and ease it finally and painfully from the days of Empire to a modern state working within and being a true part of a united Europe. However, as it currently stands, the EU has been a true blessing, for it has provided the opportunity for anyone to live and work in any other EU country, without visas and work permits, which was unimaginable forty years ago.
So where does this leave the expat in Europe? Well, it is true that there is now greater uncertainty about the future than I have known for many years. However, I am and always have been an optimist and I have little time for the cynical “my glass is half empty” brigade that appears to be the most damaging part of the modern current psyche.
People will always have dreams and passions, for that is the true essence of the human condition. For some, this may mean a larger home, a new car, or climbing a mountain. For many others, like myself, it is the dream of a new life, new experiences, new cultures, the opportunity to experience, taste and smell the excitement in a place that is of our own choosing and not merely based upon an accident of birth.
For many, the dreams will be of a less stressful life, an opportunity to be challenged by new experiences, new and exciting work opportunities, a place where there is a high quality of life in which a young family may grow. For others, it may be the dream of a carefree, long, happy and healthy retirement, but for all it is an ‘Escape to the Sun’.