Wednesday, January 19

Where does the AVE come from and where does it take us?

This week we have witnessed an almost forgotten ritual: the inauguration of a new section of AVE. With pomp and fanfare, Núñez Feijóo and the Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Raquel Sánchez, have concluded the more than a decade of works on the high-speed train to the northwest.

Thus concludes the radial plan for Spanish railway communications. It is a plan that, contrary to what one might think, is not rooted in economic needs or in the natural demands for the structuring of areas of Spain linked by cultural and historical ties. Indeed, if this had been the case, Galicia would be being connected at high speed with Oporto or Oviedo, places with which commercial and human ties are far superior to those that link the Galicians with Madrid. However, while the Madrid-Galicia AVE is inaugurated, the route between Ferrol and Oviedo continues to be the slowest in Spain, traveling the 263 km that separate these two cities at an average speed of 37 kilometers per hour. So no, the AVE does not respond to an economic need, but is, on the contrary, a plan with a clear and purely political-ideological foundation: the concentration of resources in Madrid.

This plan is almost 250 years old and was designed by the Bourbon centralist monarchy, then in the hands of Carlos III. Having just arrived in Spain, this dynasty set about a single task: to turn Spain into France, to mold it in its image and likeness and in particular to achieve a concentration of power – in its hands – like the one that its cousins ​​made reside in the Bourbon capital, Paris. . Felipe V for his part, the first Bourbon and father of Carlos III, had undertaken the most difficult task: to end confederal Spain. Thus, his Nueva Planta decrees destroyed the autonomy of the former Crown of Aragon, giving rise to a sub-natured territorial model and a territorial conflict that still divides the Catalans and the Spaniards today.

His son, Carlos III, knew that power is power only if it is exercised and to exercise it he had to be able to make it reach every corner of the country. It will cost what it costs. This is how the first radial road network with its epicenter in the Court, in Madrid, the prelude to the railway radial network, was designed and began to be implemented.

And although Carlos III is now remembered as the “mayor of Madrid”, telling the story of the winner, the truth is that the Bourbon ruled against the then Spaniards who rose up against him on successive occasions. The enlightened despot would go so far as to say that the Spaniards were “a people anchored in childish clumsiness” and that “my vassals are like children: they cry when they are washed …”

But let’s go back to the AVE. Already in the 20th and 21st centuries, as Carlos III did then, the centralist elites wanted to complete their political project of accumulation of power and thus, instead of developing an economically rational railway network connecting the main ports of the country —through the Mediterranean corridor. and the Atlantic corridor— they set out to execute the radial network that connects each provincial capital with Madrid. At the dawn of 2022 this network is practically finished while the transversal axes are far from being executed.

The south axis —Sevilla— in 1992, the east axis —Valencia— in 2003, the northeast —Barcelona— in 2008. In 2021 the execution of the northwest branch —Galicia— was completed and in 2022 the west branch —Extremadura— will be completed. Regarding the north branch, the last of the radio network, the Basque rulers have nevertheless prioritized ending the so-called Basque Y, the communication between the Basque capitals, before the connection with Madrid, why will it be?

Perhaps because the arrival of the AVE, despite what the politicians who are photographed at the inaugurations air and proclaim, does not bring wealth, but quite the opposite.

We are facing a studied phenomenon. On the one hand, the suction effect. When two demographic and economic poles are connected with a serious asymmetry, such as the one that Madrid has with respect to the rest of the peninsular capitals, there is a natural tendency to relocate business headquarters in the strongest node. Furthermore, the local supply of services is immediately threatened by competition from economic agents of much greater size and strength, agents that until then had a barrier — distance — to access.

In Seville, the first capital connected to Madrid with the AVE, we know this very well. With the arrival of the high-speed train, the local headquarters of the main companies and national media migrated from Seville to Madrid. These no longer needed to have delegations in Andalusia, it was enough to mount a worker on the AVE from Madrid.

In Córdoba they experienced a similar effect. Now they receive more visits from Madrid but they no longer spend the night in the city, which is halfway between two major poles of attraction, Madrid and Seville.

Finally the tunnel effect. The cities and municipalities between the two main demographic poles connected become paradoxically isolated. First because the AVE has many fewer stops than the conventional train and secondly because with shorter communication times the stops become less necessary. Intermediate municipalities, crossroads, become ghost towns.

The numbers support this reading on the negative economic effect of the AVE. In Valencia for example, in 2004, a year after the arrival of the AVE, the Autonomous Community grew 0.4% more than the city of Turia. The same happened to Barcelona in 2009, a year after the arrival of the AVE. Catalonia grew 0.2% more than its connected capital. When the recession hit in 2010, Barcelona also fell by 0.3% more than the rest of the Community.

In the case of intermediate-sized cities in which the asymmetry with Madrid is even greater, the effect is even more severe. The AVE, for example, arrived in Zamora in 2015. In 2016 the GDP per capita of Zamora grew only 1.4% while that of Castilla y León grew 2.9%. The following year, 2017, the economy of Zamora sank 6%. No explanation? while his Community continued to grow at 2.3%.

Something similar had happened to Segovia. The year after the arrival of the AVE to the city (2008) its economy, again. No explanation? it fell by 1.1% while the rest of the Community grew by 2.1%, 3 points difference. In 2009, already in the middle of the recession, Segovia – the city connected by the AVE and to which prosperity was predicted – saw its economy fall by 4.8% while the rest of the Community resisted better, falling 1.5% less.

Hopefully I’m wrong and the Galician business delegations do not migrate now that companies can send a delegate to spend the day from Madrid. Hopefully visitors do not make the round trip to Santiago de Compostela now that they can “save” a night there. Hopefully the almighty Madrid consulting and engineering firms do not crush the Galician women with their unfair competition. I wish. However, the figures suggest that it would be better for them to soak their beards.