News Articles

04/04/2009 - Valencia still in denial over development abuses

Danish MEP Margarete Auken blamed badly drafted laws and political corruption for the problems which have befallen thousands of expat and Spanish home owners.

She upheld the testimonies of victims who have had land and even houses taken without compensation in order to make way for vast new urbanisations.

She also sided with those who have been hoodwinked into buying illegally-built properties on protected land and those who live on half-finished housing estates which builders have no intention of completing.

However despite its clarity – and the fact that the report was drawn up on the back of three visits from MEPs to Spain over a period of four years – politicians in

Valencia still appear to be determined to bury their heads in the sand and ignore its findings. In recent times the Valencia government has turned up a number scapegoats in an effort to avoid putting their house in order. They have propagated the notion that urban development is ‘exemplary' and that there is, in fact, no problem – instead blaming ecologists, the British press, estate agents who want to divert tourism to Turkey and Croatia, and others for spreading the ‘lie' that property abuses are rife in the region.

It seems that Valencia government policy is not going to change anytime soon.  Following last Thursday's landslide vote in Brussels – in which 349 MEPs voted in favour of Auken and 110 against – the regional councillor for land and housing José Ramon García Antón branded her report ‘totally intolerable' and ‘politicised'.

According to Sr García Antón, Ms Auken has no understanding of how town planning functions in conjunction with Spanish law.

He also affirms that the ‘right to property' is enshrined in the Spanish constitution.

And, in a nod to previous allegations, he suggests that the report is designed to ‘create confusion' amongst the general public in the lead up to the European elections in May.  Sr García Anton's final statement – that the report is not binding on any institution in Spain – is a hammer blow for those who hoped the Valencia government may have a change of heart over their development and housing strategies in the face of such fierce criticism from Europe.

It appears that the EU may have to go the distance – and turn off the EU funding tap before real change is implemented.

One of the much-publicised resolutions of the Auken report was the option to withdraw funding if national and regional governments were not prepared to take decisive action to stop the abuses.

"The European Parliament, as the budgetary authority, may also decide to place funding set aside for Cohesion Policies in the reserve chapter if it considers this necessary," the report states.  However, in the wake of Thursday's vote, the Partido Popular (PP) and the Socialist party (PSOE) both insisted that cash from the EU was not in danger.  MEP from the PP José García-Margallo stated that the suspension of funding is ‘absolutely impossible'.

And Socialist MEP Inés Ayala said that in the past whenever the EU has tried to freeze funding for a member state then the budgetary commission has always refused to carry through with the threat.  However a press release published by the European Parliament this week clears up any doubts over whether Spain can be hit in the pocket.  "The Commission is empowered to interrupt the payment of structural funds, to suspend such funding to a member state or region, and to establish corrections in relation to projects in receipt of funding," it states.

The European Parliament president will now send a copy of the resolutions contained in the Auken report to national and regional governments and ask for them to be implemented. If they are not then MEPs will have to make a decision over funding for Spain.

Article 1 calls on the government of Spain and the regions to carry out a ‘thorough review and to revise all legislation affecting the rights of individual property owners as a result of massive urbanisation in order to bring an end to the abuse of rights'.

Article 2 calls on the Spanish authorities to abolish all legal forms that encourage speculation such as urbanisation agents.

Article 3 considers that regional authorities ‘should suspend and review all new urbanisation plans which do not respect the strict criteria of environmental sustainability and social responsibility and which do not guarantee respect for the rightful ownership of legitimately acquired property, and to halt and cancel all existing developments where criteria laid down in EU law, notably as regards the award of urbanisation contracts and compliance with provisions relating to water and the environment, have not been respected or applied'.

Article 4 requests the Spanish authorities to ensure that no citizen should be obliged to cede ‘legitimately acquired private property'.

Article 7 urges the competent national and regional authorities to establish functioning judicial and administrative mechanisms, involving the regional ombudsmen, which are given the authority to provide ways of speeding up redress and compensation for victims of urbanisation abuse who have suffered as a result of the application of the provisions of existing legislation.

Article 8 requests the construction industry to work together with politicians to seek ‘solutions to the problems resulting from large-scale urbanisation which has affected numerous EU citizens' living in Spain.

Article 9 urges the authorities to ‘guarantee a fair settlement for the many ongoing cases of EU citizens affected by non-completion of their houses as a result of the poor planning and coordination between institutions and construction companies'.