Please note: This interview was conducted in 2012, when Mateo Isern was still mayor. He left the post in 2015.
Mateo Isern (Palma 1959) receives us in his office in Palma Town Hall. Deliberate and relaxed, this specialist in European Community Law and Bank Legislation became Mayor of Palma in spring 2011, in what is surely one of the toughest times ever to be involved in politics. He is hoping to make the most of his extensive managerial experience to solve the never-ending problems provoked by recent austerity measures and to turn Palma into a touristic city open for business 365 days a year, thus contributing to an economic recovery and to achieving Isern’s main objective, that of creating jobs.
How would you evaluate your first year as mayor?
The first thing to highlight is that we have been able to adapt and react to the current situation, which is much worse than what we had been warned about, with 600 million euros worth of debt, zero cash flow, a significant deficit and a lot of invoices pending payment. We needed to try to balance the budget to make the Town Hall viable. We started applying austerity measures by reducing the number of high-ranking positions by up to 50%. Our austerity efforts are reflected in the 2012 Budget which, when compared to 2010 (the last budget approved by the previous government) implies a saving of 120 million euros. We have introduced criteria such as profitability, efficiency, return on investment as well as being conscious of the financial costs involved in everything, a concept which I was surprised to find was hardly considered before (I am new to politics.)
How has the city changed?
A lot has been done during this first year. The most significant measures include the replacement of the bicycle lane in Avenidas, which has been moved, an improvement in cleaning services with street cleaners operating in every neighbourhood; the new Express service which can process paperwork within 72 hours…
We are trying to make it so that the Town Hall works for the citizens, and so that they do not need to overcome a series of difficulties every time they need to get something done, as had happened in the past. Security-wise we have intervened in the Playa de Palma area, to stop con-artists, prostitution and illegal street vendors. Now we are trying to get rid of the botellones, groups of youngsters drinking uncontrollably in the streets. Many of the agents who used to be inside an office are now out on the streets.
How is the summer season going?
It depends on who you ask; there are lots of different opinions. But I think it is going well, similar to last year’s and I would like to highlight the effort put into rebranding Palma as a tourism product. We have created the Fundación de Turismo Palma 365 días, the first public-private foundation to count 26 leading international companies amongst its participants (Meliá, Iberostar, Riu, Air Europa, Air Berlin…), who apart from their know-how contribute 100.000 euros a year to the project.
Palma will benefit from 2.6 million euros worth of funding plus the Town Hall’s contribution in order to promote tourism. This foundation aims to turn Palma into a tourism destination of the calibre of Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga, San Sebastián…cities which welcome tourists all year round as important city-break destinations during the winter. We have created the Palma de Mallorca brand, declared all of the old city an area of significant touristic affluence, given shops the option to open on Sundays and also created a new area for terraces on El Borne…
The Town Hall has also backed new entertainment options such as concerts, live acts, markets… to add to the daily street entertainment. We want Palma to be bustling all year round.
Will these measures also be effective in autumn?
That’s the idea. We have agreed to meet local business owners to evaluate the possibility and make a decision.
Is it possible for Palma to become a strategic port?
It is a strategic port. Palma is the third most important port after Barcelona and Civitavecchia (Italy). This summer numbers have gone down slightly but it looks like they are set to rise again next year. Cruises are an extremely important source of tourism for Palma as they do not take up space on land and have a great spending potential which really boosts businesses in the centre of the city.
What do you recommend tourists to see in Palma?
Palma boasts the largest and most important old city in Europe; it is absolutely extraordinary, and anyone who is minimally interested should take the time to walk around it. Then there is the Cathedral and Bellver Castle, unmissable for its fantastic views, and La Lonja.
What problems worry citizens the most?
Today’s all encompassing problem is unemployment, people are very worried about getting work or maintaining it if they already have a job. Apart from that, citizens always demand cleanliness, security, parks and gardens… things that affect them on a daily basis.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your daily routine? And what aspect do you dislike the most?
The worst part is any negative decision that needs to be taken which will have a direct effect on people, that’s awful. The most satisfying part is to be able to change the profile of politicians from those who work for a political ideal to politicians who work like managers, where the aim is to solve problems and not the furthering of political objectives.
What will the Palma you leave behind in 2015 be like?
Look, if I manage to clean up the Town Hall’s accounts and to turn Palma into a touristic city open 365 days a year, which means reactivating the economy and creating jobs, I will be the happiest man on the planet.