Founder of left-wing party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias and his girlfriend and fellow MP Irene Montero, have offered to let their members and colleagues decide whether or not they should be replaced in light of the controversy surrounding the villa they have just bought together.
Spain’s third-largest political power started in a garage in Madrid by the then 35-year-old college lecturer Pablo, who lived in a rented flat with his dog and earned less than €1,000 a month, and its approach has always been staunchly anti-austerity, pro-people, and pushing for the rights and protection of society’s poorest and most vulnerable.
In the party’s early days, Pablo, now 39, famously ranted about the ‘political caste’ who ‘swanned around in their swanky villas and penthouse apartments’ while between a fifth and a quarter of the workforce was out of a job and the average wage fell far short of making ends meet.
Now, he and Irene, also from Podemos and who is pregnant with the couple’s twins, have bought a villa with a swimming pool in the Madrid commuter town of Galapagar with a mortgage of €540,000.
Spanish media sources have revived a tweet by Iglesias in which he includes a link to a story about the then economy minister Luis de Guindos’ buying an apartment for €600,000 ‘to avoid the IVA hike’, and asks the public whether they would trust a politician who spent this amount of money on a penthouse.
But the timing of the De Guindos story was critical: his own government, the right-wing PP, had elected to increase value-added tax from 18% to 21% from September 1 that year, and yet the economy minister apparently rushed to complete on his home purchase in August to avoid having to pay the additional IVA.
Still, the Iglesias-Montero family has been criticised for being hypocritical.
“You only have to look at house prices in Madrid to see that choosing a place to set up a home is not an easy task for the majority of Spanish people, and that’s why we decided to look for somewhere more in the countryside,” Iglesias explains.
The couple also says the location, and the choice of a detached villa rather than an apartment – given that an estimated 70% of residents in Spain live in apartments – would give them the chance to bring their children up ‘with a modicum of privacy’.
Many of their friends live in Galapagar, some 40 kilometres out of Madrid, and as Sra Montero says: “It’s hard for us not to be noticed the second we step out onto the street, but we want our children to be able to enjoy their childhood in the most normal manner possible.”
Pablo Iglesias recalls that in addition to his MP salary, he also presents two TV shows – Fort Apache and Otra Vuelta de Tuerka – which means he and Irene are able to pay a mortgage on their new property and have chosen the one they believe will be best to build a family environment in.
Their mortgage loan, of €540,000 over 30 years, comes in at around €1,600 or €1,700 a month, of which Irene and Pablo will each pay ‘just over €800 a month’, the couple explains.
Montero says on her Facebook page that within 48 hours of signing the mortgage contract, they went straight to Parliament to include the property within their asset declaration in accordance with their ‘transparency’ requirements.
“We know that many Spanish families, even with two full-time salaries, cannot afford a mortgage like this, and that’s why we consider it so important to fight for fair wages for everyone,” she says.
“The reality is that our salaries are public and are decided by Podemos’ People’s Assembly, and these salaries allow us to embark on this new project as a family, which we have spent a lot of time looking for a house in the country to be able to do so.”
The couple’s deposit on the villa and the renovations they intend to make will be paid for from their savings – around €600,000 between them, which includes a loan from Irene’s father.
“My dad has worked his entire life as a removal man and my mother is an infant school teacher,” Irene says.
“Pablo’s parents have earned more. His dad is a work inspector and his mum is an employment lawyer, both retired. They both had good wages, especially Pablo’s father, and will leave him an inheritance which will help us.”
In total, Pablo’s parents own property to the value of around €1 million.
As for the De Guindos tweet in 2012, Irene clarifies that whilst the economy minister bought the €600,000 penthouse flat for investment purposes only, she and Pablo have borrowed this amount for their main home between two of them.
She says she believes national and regional politicians should earn high salaries because of the responsibility on their shoulders, but that these need to be ‘realistic’, and that Podemos and its subscribers agreed that none of their politicians could earn more than three times the minimum wage.
Irene and Pablo have also called for some privacy, whilst agreeing that aspects of their lives that the general public would expect to be none of anyone else’s business are, inevitably, open to scrutiny.
Paparazzi pictures of them walking their dogs, of their home, and even of them attending gynaecology appointments, have been splashed about, they complain.