Radical mayors of Madrid and Barcelona take on tourism and luxury

As Syriza's anti-austerity programme spectacularly clashes with the EU agenda in Greece, Spain's major cities are gripped by a Left-wing, populist tide of their own. A month since taking charge in Spain's municipal elections, the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, endorsed by Left-wing party Podemos, have already begun shaking things up.

After sweeping to power in Barcelona in the May elections, anti-eviction activist Ada Colau became the city's first female mayor and pledged to return Spain's second biggest city to its residents.

In a move which Spanish tourism experts anticipate could be the first of many, Colau signed a moratorium on granting any new licences for hotels or tourism accommodation for the next year. This, the mayor hopes, will allow City Hall to prevent neighbourhoods in picturesque parts of town such as the centre and seaside from becoming the domain solely of tourists.

38 hotel projects have been halted in the city. Analysts have already warned that this first step could have a negative effect on job creation. Jordi Sanchís from Barcelona-based hotel consulting firm Hotel Solutions says that the nature of Colau's policies are "a threat" to Barcelona's tourism sector.

"The 38 hotels would have created 1,500 jobs once opened," Sanchís says. "This is not counting the thousands of jobs created directly or indirectly during the construction of the projects." Of the projects which have been reportedly halted are a Hyatt development in the iconic Torre Agbar landmark and a Four Seasons hotel. Neither company would comment on the reports.

Sanchís adds that should any large companies choose to pursue legal action against the city of Barcelona because of the moratorium, it could force the city council to pay billions in compensation, alongside losing potential revenue taxing the new hotels.

Colau has also prompted concern from sports fans after reiterating her desire to slash the €16m subsidy to the Catalan F1 racing circuit and instead potentially using the money to provide lunches for low-income school children. She has also pledged to reduce salaries of council officials and reduce expenses.

Meanwhile, Colau's Madrid counterpart, retired lawyer Manuela Carmena, whose Ahora Madrid party also ran with the backing of Podemos, has the Spanish capital's rich in her sights as the prospect of turning Spain's most exclusive country club, Club de Campo, into a farm has attracted popular support.

Part of her electoral platform focused on promising that the glitzy golf and country club, built on land owned by the city, ought to be opened to regular citizens. Ahora Madrid supporters have discussed the possibility of turning the club into a public park or farm on the party's official online forum. Both Ahora Madrid and Colau's Barcelona en Comú parties consider themselves "citizen platforms", drawing ideas from publicly consulting their supporters.

For the first time in 24 years Madrid is not ruled by a conservative PP politician and Carmena now has the right to block attempts to privatise city services and run audits on state contracts in the capital. Carmena's council is also reportedly readying a bid to rename the city's Plaza de Margaret Thatcher and accompanying statue - the city's tribute to the deceased British prime minister.

The big question, however, is whether the country's national politics will go the way of its two main cities in the general election, due later this year. With the new Left-wing Podemos and centre-Right Cuidadanos parties playing all the right populist cards, the election looks set to push Spain's traditionally two-party political system into new territory.

Radical mayors of Madrid and Barcelona take on tourism and luxury | Politics