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12/09/2010 - Land grab laws go to European Court of Justice



Source Round Town News: Written By Jack Troughton

VALENCIA’S notorious ‘land grab’ laws have pushed Spain into an embarrassing court case and a direct confrontation with the European Union next week.
The European Commission is prosecuting “defendant” the Kingdom of Spain over the controversial LRAU legislation and its replacement, the LUV.
And as a result the matter is listed for hearing before a judge in the European Court of Justice at 09.30 on Thursday 16th September. It could result in Spain facing hefty fines.

The matter has come to a head after a complaint by the Costa Blanca based group Abusos Urbanisticos No, the high profile campaign group fighting to protect the rights of property owners and the environment.
And while the AUN – formed as a protest against the abuses of the LRAU and LUV - began legal proceedings more than five years ago, it had convinced the Commission to take on the case as a clear breach of EU law and the human rights of citizens.

SPAIN
Spain is called on to answer the charges because the state rather than the Valencian Community is a member of the EU and committed to its laws.
However, it will be argued that Madrid failed to keep “its children” in regional government in line over law making – Valencia’s laws heavily flawed in the eyes of protesters and MEPs dealing with thousands of complaints.
Under the land grab laws, property owners are forced to give up land and pay for infrastructure – or both – for large scale urbanisation passed by local authorities and Valencia.
Repeatedly condemned in the European Parliament, the laws were said be a breach of human rights and turning the Spanish dream into a “nightmare.”
The case centres on the processes used for the award of lucrative public work, supply and service contracts linked to massive development projects – and the Commission will also call for Madrid to pay costs.

FAILURE
The Commission argues the Kingdom of Spain “failed to fulfil its obligations” under EU directives concerning the procedures for the award of public works contracts.
It argues in awarding urban development contracts the Valencian land laws, whether the LRAU, LUV or both, failed to award Integrated Action Programmes – urban development contracts – in accordance with community law regarding the tender process.
A case statement reads: “In other words, the Commission affirms that the IAP are public works contracts awarded by local bodies which include the carrying out of public infrastructure works by urban developers chosen by the local authorities.”
Further, it believes the LUV law “infringes” on directives in relation to the “privileged position” of the first bidder, the experience of bidders in similar contracts, alternative proposals to the first bidder ‘in open envelope’, the regulation of variations and the criteria for awarding contracts.
And it attacks “the possibility of amending the contract after it has been awarded (for example, the possibility of increasing development fees) and the regulation of cases of incomplete execution of the contract by the bidder.

PREDATOR
Charles Svoboda, Vice-president of the AUN, said he hoped the court case would trim the claws of the more predatory aspects of the land grab laws.
“This marks an important – almost final – step in a long process that we hope and trust will seriously erode some of the more predatory aspects of the land laws in this region,” he said.
He said the AUN had yet to see the Advocate General’s opinion – but it was felt the case would not have reached the court if it was “without merit”.
“We understand from our contacts in the Commission that, if his counsel is followed the Spanish government, and through it the Valencia region, will be compelled to modify the application of the land laws so they respect EU laws, notably with regard to public contracts,” said Charles.
“Failing that, the court could impose heavy fines against Spain for non-compliance.”
He said the case had already had positive affects with the Superior Tribunal in Valencia “looking over its shoulder” and insisting both EU and national law be respected.
“That means developers and town halls are going to face some complex obstacles if they try to carry on with their cosy, mutually back-scratching property deals as before,” he added.
“One result is small property owners should be much safer from the property sharks hovering over any area they think would attract new buyers....we should be entering a more positive era for those who wish to feel secure in their home.”