VA week ago the Spanish government pushed ahead. With its energy saving plan, the left-wing coalition wanted to set an example for Europe. But the initiative threatens to fizzle out in the intense summer heat. Critics accuse the government of harmful “energy botch”. Instead of reducing gas consumption by seven percent in a joint effort, there is confusion and argument about 27 degrees: the air conditioning systems are no longer allowed to cool to lower temperatures from Wednesday. Suddenly a haggling over a few degrees began.
The conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who has been pursuing a confrontational course against the left-wing central government since taking office, made the start. She announced that the capital region would not comply with the new rules. Ayuso was particularly outraged by the planned shutdown of outdoor lighting in public buildings and shop windows from 10 p.m.
The government left a communications mess
The conservative People’s Party (PP) soon swung to their line. It also didn’t help that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for “refraining from any selfish, lacking solidarity and one-sided behavior”. Criticism also comes from his socialist party. Sánchez and his government went on summer vacation, leaving behind a communicative mess.
Shop and restaurant owners in particular are outraged. The plan was rushed. “We want to save, but we don’t want to have to close down,” complained the Spanish association of young entrepreneurs, whose members are now feeling the effects of inflation after the pandemic. They, too, would reduce energy costs, which had recently exploded, out of their own interest. But they fear that because of the austerity package, customers and guests will stay away if it gets too warm in their rooms to eat in peace or try on clothes.
They warn that they will earn less if there are fewer visitors to the cities in the evenings, when it gets dark there at ten o’clock – at a time when many Spaniards only go to dinner. Well-cooled shops and restaurants are attracting many people, especially this summer, which is one of the hottest for decades.
Hoteliers, on the other hand, were relieved to see after looking at the legal gazette that the 27 degrees (and 19 degrees for heating in winter) do not apply to their guests’ rooms, but only to lobbies and other common areas as well as cultural institutions, train stations and airports.
One of the hottest summers in decades
According to Spanish law, 27 degrees is the temperature limit for rooms in which people mainly work while sitting, such as in offices. Waiters, cooks and fitness trainers were afraid that they would no longer be able to do their jobs with the new temperatures.
Environment Minister Teresa Ribera only spoke up after several days. In an interview, she promised to apply the austerity measures “flexibly”. “About 25 degrees” are also possible in bars, restaurants, kitchens and fitness studios. According to her, the energy decree had not overridden the corresponding provisions of labor law – when she presented the savings last Monday, the environment minister did not mention this in more detail.
According to the protection regulation, “the temperature in rooms where light work is carried out must be between 14 and 25 degrees”. With regard to night lighting, the government made it clear that the new regulation only applies to public buildings and shop windows, but not to monuments such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona or the Cibeles Fountain in Madrid.
Spain is following the demands of the EU, to which Madrid has committed itself to consuming seven percent less gas, and at the same time following the example of other EU countries, according to the office of the Spanish Prime Minister, who accuses the critics of “interpretations in their own interest”. The government is still trying to talk to them. On Sunday, she hastily invited to a video conference. Environment Minister Ribera and Trade Minister Reyes Maroto want to talk to regional and local governments this Monday before the austerity plan comes into force.
Because of the ongoing heat wave, it will initially have little effect. Spain has been experiencing one of the hottest summers in decades since June. The air conditioners are constantly running at full speed. Due to the persistent drought, the level of many reservoirs is too low to power the hydroelectric power plants. More gas is burned to generate electricity than usual at this time of year.