Kate Mentink isn’t up for election this year (May 22nd), but she is immersed in Partido Popular president José Ramón Bauzá’s campaign, and still responsible for Calvià’s multilingual department for foreign residents (almost 40 per cent of the population), which works with local ‘comunidades’ or associations, and organises events such as Europe Day, Semana Intercultural (involving the international schools), and the Christmas Fayre in Puerto Portals.
How has the foreign resident population changed?
People used to come here seeking Little England (or Germany) in the sunshine, but the registered foreign residents’ profile has changed dramatically. Calvià municipality now has 106 different nationalities! Twelve years ago, in the Balearics generally and Calvià in particular, the average age was 60+; now it’s 36-38, with most aged 18-44. People still retire here, but today there are professionals and families with children – here for quality of life and everything that the Balearics and Spain are about. We now have the second generation of them – true Europeans, with a different outlook on life. They’re the future of these islands, without doubt.
So it’s important they exercise their democratic right to vote . . .
Exactly. Registered European residents who have completed the relevant form can vote in the municipal elections. I think we’ll see roughly 24-25 per cent of them on the electoral roll – and I hope they vote. In Spain, under 60 per cent is considered low, but it’s double what we had in 2007, which was double what we had in 2003. So the message is getting through; hopefully in 2015, we’ll double it again.
Why can resident Europeans vote only in the municipal elections?
Voting is by agreement at European and national levels and any change to voting entitlement in the national elections would be done in Brussels. Within the Constitution of Spain, it was agreed that once Spain was in the EU, Europeans would be able to vote in the municipal elections, but not the island council (‘Consell de Mallorca’) or the Balearic (‘Govern Balear’) regional elections. A lot of European residents wish to vote in these and it’s something that I, through ‘Europeos por España’, have been arguing for, but it requires Constitution modification in the Spanish Parliament.
I’d like to add one thing: Under Brussels law of 2002, if you can vote in municipal elections here, you can also vote in municipal elections in your own country, if you qualify. If you have a house in Sussex or Halifax, Düsseldorf or Frankfurt, for instance, you can vote there as well as here.
Why are you not up for election this time?
The process here is proportional representation: the party in each town or village elects their candidate and, usually, the outgoing mayor or leader of the party and the potential incoming mayor make a list – the famous ‘listas’ – of their team of councillors, if they win. In Calvià the PP has elected Manu Onieva as their candidate. Like several other councillors here, I’ve done eight years (elected in 2003 and 2007) and the mayor said that eight years is enough for anyone (including himself) to be a councillor in one town hall, and it’s time for us to move on.
Now you’re asking me something I haven’t a clue about. I’ve been working with Sr José Ramón Bauzá for just over a year now and he’s asked me to be the co-ordinator of various commissions – one, for example, related to nautical tourism. But the main emphasis has been on the 120,000 European residents of the Balearics (22 per cent of the population). I’m the co-ordinator of the PP campaign for these and also their Balearics-Madrid link. I could imagine that if he wants me to do anything at all, it could be in that respect, but right now I don’t know and I don’t know if he does either! We have to wait and see.
When did your passion for politics begin?
The women in our family have always been very interested in politics and I studied it in Glasgow for two years at the end of my university career. My family were all blue Tory and, like every rebel student, I thought this was a load of rubbish. My training – the only one you could have in Glasgow then – was by offshoots of the Socialist Party, so I saw both sides.
After that, I travelled around the world with my work and didn’t have the opportunity to vote, let alone be voted for. When Spain entered the EU in ’86, I was living here and became really interested in politics again, and we created ‘Ciudadanos Europeos’ in the early ’90s. Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez said we were all Europeans but couldn’t vote, so myself and others campaigned with placards outside the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid . . . to no effect in 1995, but in 1999 we got the vote! You do not have a democracy if it’s not one man, one vote. If you live in a country you should have a right to participate in its voting process.
It must be disappointing that so many people don’t vote . . .
Yes. Part of it is probably that a lot of European residents think that the municipal elections don’t matter, and that the local mayor or mayoress is a protocol position without a lot of power. But this isn’t the case. After the dictatorship, when the new Constitution of Spain was being created, central government immediately gave power to regional government and they, in turn, gave real power to the town halls. Your mayor or mayoress has an enormous amount of say-so, affecting what happens in your street, your area, cleanliness, number of police, and a million other things that town halls are responsible for, and I think that message – possibly my fault, and others’ as well – hasn’t quite got through yet. When you come into politics as I did, you always want to do more . . .