“It is in the street where you see the profile of the mayors and mayors, and in how people treat and treat them.” With these words, Carlos Daniel Casares, Secretary General of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), summarizes the spirit of municipalism. And remember: “The political color of the town hall does not matter.”
For three years, Casares has been the visible head of an institution that has played a fundamental role in coordinating municipalities during the pandemic. Because, as he assures, “the local world is the administration of proximity to the people.”
But his ties with the FEMP began much earlier: one of its promoters, Tomás Rodríguez Bolaños, mayor of Valladolidad between 1979 and 1995, was his political father. And Casares has nothing but words of gratitude to him.
The FEMP is part of the Interterritorial Health Council.
Many guidelines must be passed on to city councils. For example, most of the vaccination spaces that have been used – and continue to be done – are municipal: sports centers, conference centers, cultural houses … All of them are municipally owned.
If the FEMP had not existed, it would have to have been invented in this pandemic
Apart from that, where do people live? In the cities, in the towns, and there we have had to give many guidelines directly to the mayors and to the teams that deal with local security.
What is your role now that we begin, timidly, to return to normality?
Now, for example, that we are already beginning to emerge from the pandemic, of the 8,131 municipalities here in Spain, we have quantified more than 250,000 local festivals, employers’ associations, etc. held every year, organized by town councils. From the largest of Madrid to the smallest towns, everyone has their party.
And these days we are seeing how they are organizing them with guarantees, security, control … and all that is done by the municipalities. What is our role? Give guidelines, insist with information, convey messages on how to do things … Therefore, if the FEMP had not existed, it would have to have been invented in this pandemic. In the end, we are a municipal network, we represent the entire municipal fabric.
How have small municipalities experienced the management of the pandemic?
The mayors and mayors, the councilmen and the councilors have been there from minute zero, leaning their shoulders. And in the street. And responding to the neighbors. Where the task has been most difficult is in the small municipalities, because they are the ones with the least resources, the least means. The big ones have more structure and human team.
87% of all Spanish city councils have less than 5,000 inhabitants. And of these, 5,000 municipalities have less than 1,000 inhabitants. That is depopulated Spain.
In small municipalities, managing the pandemic has been more difficult because they have fewer resources, fewer means
There are 1,340 municipalities that have less than one hundred inhabitants. And only Castilla y León has almost 30% of all the town councils in Spain; most of them with less than a thousand inhabitants.
How is the pandemic combined with the 2030 Agenda and its search for a sustainable future for the planet and our cities?
Fighting the pandemic across the globe is a fundamental Sustainable Development Goal. Because the motto of the 2030 Agenda is to leave no one behind. Neither to any place, nor to any city council regardless of its size.
Specifically, in this pandemic, what is being tried to do is that the most vulnerable people – the elderly, people with chronic diseases, the child population – are the first to be cared for. And it is a task that has been done well.
Our country is one of those that has vaccinated the most. We have been clear from the first moment that the elderly had to be the best cared for because they are the ones who have suffered the most from this disease. For this reason, one of the last decisions we have made in the health council is to vaccinate those over 80 years of age. Because we are talking about 2,600,000 people.
The digital divide between the old and the young has been evident during the last year and a half. How can local corporations reduce it?
It is a challenge. The digital divide exists: in Madrid there has been no problem for any office to start up during confinement thanks to the internet connections that perfectly implemented teleworking. But there are still many corners where there is no coverage.
Brañosera, the oldest town in Spain, in the province of Palencia, with 365 inhabitants and six population centers, has several points throughout the town designated to call by phone. If you are eating in the restaurant you will not receive any calls, but 25 meters away there is a mound where people congregate to use their mobile phones.
Of the one billion euros earmarked to combat the digital divide, four hundred will go to city councils
That, in depopulated Spain, still happens in many municipalities. Optical fiber is impossible to implement, but everything that has to do with the future of 5G, which will mainly go through satellite, is going to improve the situation.
Right now, we are in the debate and in the realization of European funds, and everything related to digitization is very important. It has already been determined, and there the FEMP has intervened in the negotiation, that there will be one billion euros destined to combat the digital divide. Six hundred million euros will go to the autonomous communities and four hundred million to the municipalities.
It is a fundamental task that is carried out little by little.
Will digitization change the future of the rural world?
In rural areas there are many opportunities for teleworking, and there are many tasks that can be done from home. The towns can, perfectly, give many opportunities to many people and also promote certain companies.
But, although in the rural world it is easy to produce, to sell what you produce you need telematics, which allows you to develop business guidelines. And that’s where digitization comes in as well. In that, for example, the Post Office is doing very well.
5G is the future, but how to accelerate the process to be able to fix population or repopulate that emptied Spain before it is too late?
Isaura Leal was the first commissioner of the Demographic Challenge and Depopulation Commission – made up of many mayors, experts and rural development associations – that promoted a strategic plan to combat depopulation. Their conclusions are the basis of the project that we present in Moncloa three and a half months ago.
From the FEMP we do not speak of emptied Spain, but of the Spain of opportunities. The rural world offers many opportunities. Together with the Ministry of Inclusion, we were receiving families who arrived from Afghanistan and we saw how depopulated Spain can be very interesting for them. Because highly trained people come, but also others who are used to working in the fields and with cattle as shepherds.
From the FEMP we do not speak of emptied Spain, but of the Spain of opportunities
The rural world could use very well the migrants and refugees to help repopulate it. And we are working on this with many families from Afghanistan, but also from other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
All of them can achieve a future in rural areas. A huge effort can be made so that many people come to live and lend their shoulders so that this country can also have a better future. In the end, the citizens of the country are all of us who are here, whether or not we were born here.
Digitization and technology lead us to smart and sustainable cities.
Much progress is being made there. Another challenge we have on our hands -and we will organize a conference of smart city in Valencia in November – it is precisely that. Of course, it is a labor that requires a lot of time.
But the foundations are already being laid, there are plans and resources. We will see the results in four years, when we take stock and see if the European money – which is equivalent to almost four times the GDP – has been invested well or not.
The new Executive of Sánchez has several mayors at the head of ministries. How is this transfer of local politics going to affect Spain?
I think it’s very good. We are delighted, because the new ministers have not only been mayors until recently, but have also had responsibilities in the FEMP. Raquel Sánchez has been the vice president of the Network of cities for climate, which is the most important in this country. And he was doing very well.
The Prime Minister, when he elected them, already knew their trajectory and how well they were doing. Raquel had been mayor of Gavá for many years, with many responsibilities in this house and with tremendous good practices in terms of the urban agenda. And she is a minister of that.
There are mayors who emerge quickly, they are leaders in their city and have an important advantage: they know how to do proximity politics
And if we talk about Diana Morant, our mayor of Gandía, the same.
I really like the theater, and there are times when you see a play and you notice actors who maybe play a very secondary role at that moment but you can see that they know how to handle themselves. And the same thing happens in politics. There are mayors who emerge quickly, they are leaders in their city and, above all, they have an important advantage: they know how to do proximity politics, with the people.
The minister in charge of managing the pandemic, Salvador Illa, was also mayor in his day.
There have been many people who have been in the Government who have passed through municipalities. Ábalos, for example, was a councilor in Valencia. In fact, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda is that of the cities. Most of the European projects of that ministry that have to do with mobility, transport, the urban agenda, housing, the rehabilitation of buildings, etc. They are managed directly by the municipalities.
Is it important, then, to go through a mayor’s office before entering national politics?
Those of us who are municipalists say it many times: it would be fundamental, in politics, before assuming certain responsibilities, to have first gone through the experience of the mayor of your city or town. That gives an impression and generates a certain empathy.
When I meet people who are in the General State Administration, in three minutes of conversation I know if they have passed through a city hall or not. It is immediately captured by the way you see things, I don’t care what political party it is.
And what can national and regional politics learn from municipalism?
To take into account the rural world more. It must be constantly taken into account. The municipalities are also the State. And not because we say so, but because the Constitution says so. All actions and projects go through the local area.
Therefore, it is essential that they have more sensitivity to take more into account the local world as a whole when launching programs and performances. And that is what we miss especially in the autonomous sphere.
It would be essential, in politics, before assuming certain responsibilities, to have first gone through the experience of the mayor of your city or town
In the regional more than in the national?
At the moment we observe much more sensitivity towards the local on the part of the Government than on the part of the autonomous communities, and that is a pending issue. As is the second decentralization.
Here, during a very important stage, decentralized Spain was promoted, of the autonomies, with the aim that many projects and programs were managed from the proximity. Because for many services to have quality they need to be managed closely.
Now, the second decentralization is pending, which has to take place from the regional to the local level. Only with the second decentralization will the city councils have more empowerment, more financial resources and it will be possible to expand the competence framework. But many autonomous communities are not for the work.