Manuela Carmena, The Retiree Who Wound Up "Protest" Mayor Of Madrid

Urged by her friends out of retirement, the 71-year-old retired judge surprised all by winning the mayor's race on the wave of Spain's rising protest movement. What will she do with her newfound power?

Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena in the Spanish capital on June 13
Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena in the Spanish capital on June 13
Alejandro Marinelli

BUENOS AIRES â€" Few reach the peak of their careers after retirement. But that is just what happened to Manuela Carmena, 71, a retired judge with a communist past who was elected mayor of Madrid last May in local and regional elections that shook Spain's political establishment.

Elected with the votes of the young and disaffected, not to mention all those angry with corruption, relentless austerity and the perceived arrogance of Spain's two main parties, Carmena's victory put an end to two decades of unbroken conservative rule in the Spanish capital.

An independent candidate, she received decisive backing from Podemos, Spain's leading protest party trying to break the country's two-party mold. Now, the capital's residents are waiting to see the fruits of her promises to "change the ways of traditional politics." Carmena spoke to Clarín on a recent trip to Argentina.

CLARIN: Describe your sudden "un-retirement?"

MANUELA CARMENA: To tell you the truth, I wasn't in any political party and had no interest in holding public office. When they suggested I become a candidate, for two-and-a-half months I said no. I really was unbelievably happy doing my own thing. I kept saying: no, no. But in February, we were chatting among friends on the prospects of the conservative Popular Party candidate Esperanza Aguirre winning again, which would bring back those classic political figures closely tied to corruption. I thought I had a duty to help. So I accepted for a specific period: four years in the mayor's office, doing the best I could and that's it.

How was the transition from one administration to the other?

I found a city government where absolutely everything was privatized. Everything has been outsourced â€" it doesn't make sense. The tourist agencies, for example, have been contracted out. It is such an important economic engine and provides a lot of work. So the companies determine the focus of tourism, not the municipality.

Manuela Carmena cycling in Madrid in May â€" Photo: Elvira Megias/Ahora Madrid

Which policies did you immediately begin to enact?

The policy on evictions, which was a crucial item in our campaign. There were a whole lot of evictions because of the recession, and this has caused deep wounds and had tremendous effects. We sat down with all the banks, which are the lenders of mortgages people couldn't pay, and agreed they would not throw people out of their homes without our prior mediation, and without seeking solutions, social renting options, etc. We also stopped the sales of 1,200 homes that had been sold to North American investment funds.

Why do you think the PP (conservatives) didn't do the same and sit and talk to the banks?

It is curious. One of Spain's important banks told us, "If the last mayor had asked us, we would have done the same." If you want my personal opinion, it was because they were not sensitive to the issue. I think you need to be highly sensitive to the problem to sit and think a thousand times what you could do. It is so obvious something could have been done that even the banks are saying it. Some political parties, even while claiming to govern for everyone, are too committed to the interests of the wealthiest sectors, and that is like a fog preventing them from clearly seeing the situation of less privileged people.

Do you think Spain is mature enough to break with the traditional parties?

I think we need new avenues of representation that will not just repeat the conduct of the traditional political parties. One of my great concerns is to not repeat those models, but for sure, we are writing on a blank pad without lines, so we have to draw them out ourselves. It is interesting because direct representation cannot be based on a model of permanent assembly. You can't resolve management problems through assemblies.

What is the alternative?

I think we should seek other types of civic associations more closely tied to solid projects pertaining to specific subjects. Rather than big party ideologies that can very often be highly rigid.

What you think being of the Left means today?

It means increasing equality. I think equality is the Left's standard today. It means that every human being has the right to have a life with the things that make life worth living. That is the starting point. Always bettering the level of equality. How far? Well as far as you can. You can do this through non-profit associations with social goals. That means you can look for new ways of running things without creating a picture of turning everything over to the state, but with the same objective â€" equality, not money profits.

What do you think of the Catalan independence movement?

Honestly I am not a political expert and don't really want to state political opinions beyond my position. I have great affection for Catalonia and would say that events there show how clumsy the Spanish state has been in ignoring the need to consider different federal arrangements. I think these were crucial to Spain's structure. And I think Spanish nationalism is responsible for this lack of awareness of the need to move toward a federal system years ago.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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