“Burnt-out” Spanish police in Catalonia want bonus due to “social pressure”

Union says tense climate caused by region’s independence drive means officers should earn more

Óscar López-Fonseca

The Spanish National Police’s top union is asking government authorities for a bigger bonus for officers stationed in Catalonia. The Sindicato Profesional de Policía (SPP) says that the mood created by pro-independence activists in the northeastern region is increasingly similar to the atmosphere of tension that the police still feel in the Basque Country and Navarre, two traditional hot-spots of pro-sovereignty sentiment.

A national police officer in Barcelona.
A national police officer in Barcelona.Albert García

The union is demanding greater economic incentives to prevent an exodus of members of the National Police force suffering burnout in the face of “social pressure” from the Catalan pro-independence camp, currently ramping up plans to hold a referendum on the issue despite stiff opposition from Madrid.

An officer stationed in Catalonia lasts a year, two at the most, and then leaves

Union chief José Antonio Calleja

The union chief, José Antonio Calleja, conveyed the bonus request to Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido on May 24. Calleja has told EL PAÍS that the minister “was in complete agreement” and that he said he would issue “the relevant orders” to the state secretary for security, José Antonio Nieto, in order to draft a report.

Sources at the Interior Ministry confirmed that the request has been duly noted, but that “no decision has been made.”

The head of SPP says he asked the minister for officers in Catalonia to be treated “to some degree” like their colleagues in the Basque Country and Navarre. The latter have been earning an extra €600 a month for years because of the terrorist threat from ETA. It was a way to attract candidates to a region that was long considered dangerous to National Police officers [see sidebar].

Assaulted in Navarre

Javier Doria

In October of last year, a group of 50 people – all supporters of Basque independence – beat up two off-duty Civil Guard officers who were stationed in a Navarrese village, as well as their girlfriends. All four required hospital treatment, with one of the officers sustaining a fractured ankle.

The incident, which came just before the fifth anniversary of the announcement of a definitive ceasefire by Basque terror group ETA, illustrated the complexities of peaceful coexistence in municipalities with a strong presence of radical Basque nationalists, and of Navarre's place within the wider Basque homeland that these activists claim independence for.

A “territorial supplement” is also granted to officers in Catalonia, in major cities and in regions such as the Canary and Balearic Islands. But that supplement is considerably lower than in the Basque Country – around €50 a month in Barcelona, €170 in Madrid and €140 on the islands.

The police union says that these differences are no longer justified.

“In the Basque Country and Navarre, even though there are no more terrorist attacks, the social pressure remains,” says Calleja. “Let’s not forget that a significant portion of the population, several parties and some public agencies oppose our presence in these regions, and that has a psychological toll on our public officers, and sometimes that evolves into physical problems. That is why we defend the continuation of their supplement, and ask for greater supplements for the officers in other regions.”

In some cases, like that of the Balearic Isles, the raise is justified not by a tense environment, but by the cost of living. In Ibiza, for instance, “rents are higher than the salary you earn.”

Unfilled positions

The “social pressure” in Catalonia is such that it is now the region with “by far” the greater number of job vacancies, said Calleja. Of 3,800 available jobs in the region, only 2,900 positions have been filled, according to several union sources.

“Hardly a day goes by that newspaper headlines don’t talk about independence. All this creates pressure on the state police in Catalonia,” says Calleja.

“There are no longer any National Police officers who are Catalan. Those [Catalans] who want to work in the police join the Mossos d’Esquadra [the regional police force],” he adds. “This means that those officers who do go there are doing so almost out of obligation, knowing that their children will have to study in a language that is not Castilian Spanish, and with the added problem that in some places like Barcelona the cost of living is higher.”

As a result, there is a lot of rotation. “Officers stationed there last a year, two at the most, and then leave,” says Calleja. “This creates serious operating problems within the units.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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