The risk of the “collapse” of the Balearic Islands


There is a horrible word that Spanish politicians and “expert” thinkers are inclined to use. The word is “transverse”, which translates into English as … transversal. Term resulting from geometry, it indicates a line which crosses two other lines. There is an extension, which is “transversalidad” – transversality, an even uglier word.

Transversality and transversality, it seems to me, are often found in the articles prepared by the European Commission. These are words of European jargon that litter policy documents, and as Europe uses them they have become common jargon for Spanish decision-makers and therefore politicians in Mallorca.

The Council of Mallorca is particularly fond of the transversal, it has created its own little world of jargon. When transversality is faithfully reported, the reader or listener must undoubtedly be impressed, even if they have no idea. what this means.

The crossing of the lines is the key, because what they are talking about is a policy that crosses different areas of responsibility and therefore different departments or ministries.

Working together for a common goal, you might say, but then you will know that institutions can struggle to achieve this. They have their departments and domains that act as natural barriers to what is supposed to be a integrated approach to solve a problem.

The demographic challenge is also a stain of jargon. The challenge is about people – where they live, how they live, what they need to live. It’s a challenge that comes in many forms, and that’s why The “transversality” is so important. People are affected by everything, and the Spanish government has identified 130 measures aimed at solving the problems of a “structural nature” that people face.

During the government reshuffle in 2018, the demographic challenge was combined with the ecological transition to make a ministry. Energy, the environment and climate change have been placed alongside the population, thus forming a kind of transversality of their own.

But the population is affected by much more: health, education, employment, social services, housing, transport. And of course tourism, because tourism affects the lives of so many people. People are on policy transversality.

The secretary general of the democratic challenge, Francesc Boya, spoke about these 130 measures. They are contained in the National Strategy for Demographic challenge. These cover all kinds of aspects related to ecological transition, such as sustainable energy and forest and waste management, but also, for example, tourism, equal opportunities and public services.

It’s a huge challenge because it covers so much, and Boya is of the opinion that if not addressed in Mallorca and the Balearic Islands, there will be a risk of “territorial collapse” within thirty years. This is due to a fundamental problem of resources, be it housing or water (to name just two).

For Boya, the democratic challenge requires a transversality that transcends political areas and at the same time integrates them into look for solutions to two opposing situations – subpopulation and overpopulation.

The Balearics fall into the latter category, with human pressure on the islands increasing year by year for decades as a result of the largest percentage increase in the resident population in Spain and the apparent inexorable increase in tourism. The floating population doesn’t quite mean a doubling of the peak-hour population in summer, but it’s not far – from 1.2 million to over two million.

This pressure of overpopulation has been understood for years, but when we say “understood”, I have always felt that there is a element of intuition. It may be impossible to model an optimal population level for the islands (as I don’t know of any research that has done so), but the population debate would certainly win if there was some sort of rough figure.

I have no doubts for a moment that the resources of the islands can be and will increasingly be called upon. Policymakers have no doubts about it either, but for their (cross-cutting) policies to be meaningful, there needs to be an appreciation of where the tipping point exists (if it hasn’t already. been reached); a point of not only with regard to, for example, water supply, but also the impact on what is inherently fragile territory by the very fact of being islands in a Mediterranean that is said to be particularly exposed to the threats posed by climate change.

The specific debate on the productive and economic model of the islands is the key to the larger one concerning the population. This must be due to floating demographic pressures. So if all the jargon means something, transversality for the Balearics must conclude and lead to tough decision making – and tourism is one of those decision making areas.

Boya is convinced of the risks. Territorial collapse in thirty years. Something must give.


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