1684010082 Choice x ray Extremadura between the dream of technological revolution

Choice x-ray | Extremadura, between the dream of technological revolution and the nightmare of trains

Extremadura on May 28 is torn between the ambition to be a leader in the energy transition revolution and the weariness of poor infrastructure. On the one hand, the transformation into a technology hub that would make it the only region in Europe where all the necessary components for electric vehicles are manufactured: from lithium batteries to supercapacitors and superconductors. On the other hand, there are persistent failures in the medium-distance rail links and other examples of the isolation it suffers, such as the still unresolved 20-meter-diameter sinkhole caused by Storm Efraín on the N -523 caused. A highway that, in the absence of the highway so often claimed by Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra in 2006, connects the cities of Cáceres and Badajoz.

“We will go from a country of emigrants to a country of immigrants. Never in our lives have we had the opportunity we will have now! We have to go out and eat the world because we can eat it, but we have to believe in it,” affirms regional president Guillermo Fernández Vara (PSOE) as a mantra at every rally in front of an audience, the oldest, incredulous . The migration of more than 600,000 Extremadurans to other parts of Spain between the 1960s and 1980s in search of work is still very present. History weighs heavily, but the socialist baron is convinced he can transform Extremadura into an international industry standard in record time. A radical change of mindset for the third Autonomous Community with the lowest GDP per capita in 2021 – until then it was the last – with 19,072 euros per inhabitant, ahead only of Andalusia (18,906) and the Canary Islands (18,990). the INE. The national average is 25,498 euros.

Faced with the implementation of industrial projects, the PP, which in more than 40 years of democracy has ruled the community for only one legislature (2011-2015), has made the promises broken by the central executive one of its leitmotifs against Fernández Vara. Even if Mariano Rajoy didn’t comply: “I will take the AVE to Extremadura. “Don’t have the slightest doubt,” he even said at a rally in 2008 when he was still in opposition. Not only has the AVE not arrived – neither at the PP nor at the PSOE – but the conventional rail network suffers from structural problems that often make journeys between the municipality and the rest of Spain a nightmare of breakdowns and delays. In addition, the popular motorway projects such as the Levante (A-43) to connect Merida to Valencia via the A-3 radial road, or the motorway that was supposed to connect Badajoz to Granada (A-81) are denounced. ) or the demolition of the Valdecaballeros dam is planned, although this last project has just been parked by the central government following protests from the junta.

The strategy of PP candidate María Guardiola in these elections is clear: link Fernández Vara, the only regional president belonging to the PSOE federal leadership, to Pedro Sánchez. The regional director responds to this discourse by recalling that around 400,000 Extremadurans – out of a population of one million inhabitants – have benefited from the Spanish government’s social measures: 236,000 pensioners through the pension reform, almost 100,000 due to the increase in the minimum wage and 53,000 for the minimum income.

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According to the polls, the Junta de Extremadura is not among the left regional leaders at risk, but PSOE leadership sources acknowledge the possibility that Vara will not reconfirm the absolute majority. This was possible in 2019 because Vox, with support of 4.7%, did not enter parliament by a few thousand votes. The Socialists’ goal now is to get more seats than the right to govern alone and not be dependent on United We Can.

While the opposition bases its strategy on wearing down Fernández Vara by focusing on the junta’s rapprochement with La Moncloa, the PSOE promotes the attractiveness of leading industries. Fernández Vara insists at his rallies that “the two previous industrial revolutions in Extremadura have passed”, but assures that over the next four years the region will need 35,000 workers, 20,000 of which will be skilled jobs requiring vocational training – so the board has approved an FP plan endowed with 811 million – or university degrees. The unemployment rate was 19.5% in the first quarter of the year, six percentage points higher than the Spanish rate (13.26%). The number of unemployed stood at 80,500 people in April, compared with 94,000 in the May 2019 election and 115,000 at the worst of the pandemic. Youth unemployment was 47% in the first three months of 2023, well above the national average (30%).

The numbers surrounding the “industrial revolution” that Fernández Vara claims are overwhelming. Extremadura has set aside six million square meters of industrial land to house businesses and plans to allocate another five million in the next legislature. The total value of future industrial projects is 20,000 million euros – similar to the regional GDP – including the battery gigafactory in Navalmoral de la Mata, the synthetic diamond factory in Trujillo or the cell factory in Badajoz, the cathode industry in Cañaveral and the mining operations of Cañaveral and Aguablanca . “The foundation was laid for businesses to come to the region, but we demand that they not only come to create wealth, but also to have an impact on people’s working conditions,” says Encarna Chacón, Secretary General of CC OO in Extremadura. The board has approved an edict that requires that every gram of lithium mined in the region’s mines must first be converted there to create jobs and wealth.

Sign of the global project of the South West European Logistic Platform in Badajoz.Sign of the global project of the Southwest Europe logistics platform in Badajoz.Roberto Palomo

However, this technological bet has its downside: “We are concerned about the possible contamination of some aquifers by lithium mines.” We do not trust the mining companies: they end up abandoning the mud deposits, that’s their modus operandi around the world,” warns Julio César Pintos of Ecologistas en Acción. The Board of Directors responds by demonstrating its commitment to renewable energy, noting that the municipality is a leader in the production of photovoltaic energy, accounting for 27% of the energy produced throughout Spain.

Employers are doing well in these four years. “Having an absolute majority has given political stability. We’re bipartisan, but Extremadura were lucky. In addition, Fernández Vara believed in and chose social dialogue. During the pandemic, I have met every week with the entire Governing Council and that must be taken into account,” stresses Francisco Javier Peinado, Secretary General of the Extremadura Regional Business Confederation. However, the representative of entrepreneurs calls for more profound changes at a time of transformation of the production model. In 2020, industry represented 13.3% of Extremadura’s GDP (among the country’s 16%) and agriculture (7.2%) doubled the Spanish average.

Rural unrest over the Sanchez government’s Animal Welfare Act has been one of the biggest threats Fernández Vara has faced in some time. Various executive branch and PSOE sources agree that he was the one behind the scenes to get hunting and livestock dogs exempted from this rule. “If that hadn’t been the case, the PSOE would have automatically lost the Junta de Extremadura and other communities like Castile-La Mancha and Aragon,” say sources from the party’s federal leadership.

“The hunting sector in Extremadura will not decide on its vote for hunting. The hunt will not harm Fernández Vara’s government. On the contrary, it can contribute,” explains José María Gallardo, President of the Regional Hunters Association, which has between 70,000 and 80,000 members and more than 100,000 registered members. That’s 10% of Extremadura, a huge and highly mobilized voter pool. Gallardo distinguishes the central government’s “animal law” from the “very positive” policy in Extremadura. A year ago, the Board of Directors declared the Monterías and Rehalas Assets of Cultural Interest (BIC) with the category “Intangible Cultural Heritage” in recognition of a tradition that represents an “identity value” in the region. It wasn’t the only wink. The Gallardo-led company has been awarded the Extremadura Medal, the region’s highest distinction.

Mass demonstration for a quality train in Extremadura in Madrid, late 2017.Mass demonstration for a quality train in Extremadura in Madrid, late 2017. Roberto Palomo

The great Achilles’ heel of the socialists is the train. The Ministry of Transport argues that investments in Extremadura’s railway network have doubled since 2018, reaching almost 200 million between 2019 and 2021. In the case of the conventional network, they have increased tenfold. And they point out that in four years the PP government invested nine million, while Sanchez invested 71 million. In the coming weeks, the Extremadura high-speed line will be fully electrified, in which 1,700 million has been invested in recent years to build 150 kilometers of line. However, there is no date in sight for the connection with Madrid: the 200 kilometers between the capital and Oropesa, on the border between Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura, are in the informative study phase.

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