I have come into possession of a draft EU Parliament Resolution which unifies the various petitions and tabled questions, and seems to be calling for sanctions against Spain for the [taken from Resolution Point 8] “[..]endemic form of corruption where, once again, the European citizen is the primary victim[..]”; legalisation of illegal houses brought in good faith; compensation for victims and prosecution of guilty parties, etc etc.
But first, some background. Skip ahead if you want to.
Spanish building practices (as in planning violations, although some of these flats on the Playa seem a bit dodgy) have not been, let us be frank, quite up to first world standards over the last few years. We all know the horror of the Almanzora Valley (over 6000 illegal homes built without permission) and that’s just in one small area – in Andalucía alone, it is estimated that there could hundreds of thousands of illegal homes and buildings. Which now have to be found and either legalized or demolished.
The whole situation started off in the ‘80s and ‘90s when local builders would simply ask for permission from the local mayor and the neighbors; wham up a building and after 7 years if nobody complained (and they never did, because they never asked for permission to modify / build their own homes) it would be deemed “legal”. Call it a shortcut.
Two problems with this cosy little arrangement – vast numbers of “guiris” flooding the area with wads of cash, snapping up properties and increasing demand for housing and changes in the law. In fact, it was a system so wide open to abuse that you could drive a large bus through the loophole.
But because nobody in the townhalls bothered to enforce these laws (whether it be from ignorance, incompetence, outright corruption, you choose depending on the town hall and the political party you support) such buildings continued. And since the Junta de Andalucía was just happy to have lots of employment around, they did f-all to control the situation. After all, the Junta didn’t get any taxes from the individual construction of houses (that went to the local town halls), but it did benefit from greater population (larger handouts from central government) and greater employment.
And so, earlier in this decade, we got to a situation where somebody in the EU started asking questions to Madrid about these huge numbers of dodgy houses all along the south coast (not just Andalucía, I hasten to add, although Andalucía, by virtue of being the biggest Comunidad, has the greatest proportion of illegal constructs). Madrid was embarrassed that they didn’t know what was going on, and shouted down the phone to the Junta. The Junta, shocked out of its cosy little lifestyle by a hostile central government (Andalucía’s been run by the same chap since Democracy!) went ballistic and pretended that they didn’t know what was going on.
End result? They knocked down the Priors house in Vera, just to make a point. A complete overreaction, but the theory was that they had to show they were being firm.
Of course, this gross overreaction simply infuriated everybody. The negative press did nobody any favours, and Madrid quickly stepped in – as demonstrated that the judicial order for the demolition of the Priors house actually had 6 other names on it, but the political will to finish executing the sentence had evaporated. Sñr “Damn the EU and knock ’em all down” Caparros got a promotion, which was nice (for him).
So we’re now in a situation where nobody is quite sure what to do – and, by hook or by crook, the Junta is (very cautiously) testing the waters by legalizing the illegal homes in the Almanzora Valley (no doubt after asking for vast amounts of money from the poor homeowners for connection to services and various fines).
Ignoring the crooked developers, builders, lawyers and even notary publics that conspired in unethical if not outright illegal practices to fool purchasers into believing that their homes were legal. Sure, some people may have ignored due diligence, but many purchasers have been missold or lied to by supposedly “independent” legal experts. We all know the stories, and I know of a few true stories!
Yes, it’s a bit of an simplification, but the bones of the story is there. Leave me a comment if you want to discuss any bits of it. I have a stinking cold and don’t feel very analytical today.
Leaving aside the history of the situation, we all know of the sterling work done by associations such as “Abusos Urbanisticos No”, among others. Petitions have been raised by affected property owners, and several Euro MPs have tabled questions and petitions within the EU Parliament (both British, German and Spanish Euro MPs, the latter mainly being the I.U. chap as I understand it).
This has lead to the drafting of a Report, entitled “Impact of extensive urbanization in Spain on individual rights of European citizens, on the environment and on the application of EU law, based upon petitions received.”, which calls for a European Parliament Resolution. I have been passed a draft copy of this report (I have friends everywhere, and somebody thought I’d be interested in it – Thank you, Article 11! 🙂 ), which was supposed to have gone to committee yesterday (1st December 2008) for approval before being tabled for a vote.
You can read the whole thing here -> Impact of extensive urbanization in Spain on individual rights of European citizens, on the environment and on the application of EU law, based upon petitions received. Pdf format, so you need Adobe Acrobat to read it. 134Kb.
It’s strong stuff in places. In resolution, it calls for (following text taken from the document, emphasis mine):
1. Calls upon the Government of Spain and of the Regions concerned to thoroughly review and revise all legislation affecting the rights of individual property owners in order to bring an end to the abuse of rights and obligations contained in the EC Treaty, in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in the European Convention of Human Rights and in the relevant EU Directives as well as in other conventions to which the EU is a party;
2. Calls upon the competent regional authorities to declare a moratorium on all new urbanisation plans which do not respect the strict criteria of environmental sustainability and social responsibility and which do not guarantee the respect for the rightful ownership of legitimately acquired property; and to halt and cancel all existing developments where criteria contained in EU law, notably as regards the award of urbanisation contracts and respect for water and environmental provisions, have not been respected or applied;
3. 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 means of redress and of compensation for the victims of urbanisation abuse for citizens and residents who have suffered under the provisions of existing legislation such as the LRAU/LUV;
4. Requests the competent financial and commercial bodies concerned with the construction and urbanisation industry to actively participate with the political authorities in the search for solutions to the existing problems, resulting from massive and unsustainable urbanisation, which have affected hundreds of thousands of European citizens who have chosen to take advantage of the provisions of the EU Treaty and who have taken up their rights of establishment under Article 44, in an EU member state which is not their country of origin;
5. Calls upon the EU institutions to provide advice and support, if requested by the Spanish authorities, in order to provide them with the means to properly overcome the disastrous impact of massive urbanisation on citizens’ lives within a duly short yet reasonable time-frame,;
6. Calls upon the Commission, at the same time, to ensure the strict respect for the application Community law and of the objectives contained in the Directives covered by this report and to be more exigent with the Spanish authorities when it appears that many local authorities are not fulfilling their obligations to EU citizens;
7. Expresses its concern and dismay that the legal and judicial authorities in Spain have shown themselves to be largely ill-prepared and inadequate in dealing with the impact of massive urbanisation on peoples’ lives, as is witnessed by the thousands or representations received by the European Parliament and its responsible committee on this issue;
8. Believes, nevertheless, that lack of clarity, precision and certainty relating to individual property rights in existing legislation, and the lack of the proper and consistent application of environmental law is the root cause of many problems related to urbanisation and that this, related to a laxity in the judicial process, has not only compounded the problem but has also generated an endemic form of corruption where, once again, the European citizen is the primary victim, but where the Spanish state has also lost considerably;
9. Pays tribute to, and fully supports, the activities the regional ombudsman – ‘sindic de greuges’ – and their staff, as well as to more assiduous investigating magistrates – ‘fiscal’ – who have done an enormous amount in the recent period to restore the integrity of some of the institutions affected by this issue;
10. Praises also, the activity of the petitioners, their associations and the local community associations, involving tens of thousands of Spanish and non-Spanish citizens, who have brought these issues to the attention of the European Parliament and who have been instrumental in safeguarding the fundamental rights of their neighbours and of all those affected by this enormous and complex problem;
11. Recalls that under the terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment Directive there is an obligation to consult the public concerned at a stage when plans are being established and drawn up, not as so often has happened in cases brought to the Committee, after the plans have been de facto agreed by the local authority; recalls, in the same context, that any substantial modification to existing plans must also respect this procedure; contents of plans must also be current and not statistically inaccurate or out-of-date;
12. Recalls also that Article 91 of Regulation 1083/2006 empowers the European Commission, to interrupt the payment of structural funding, and Article 92 to suspend such funding to a member state or region concerned, and to establish corrections in relation to projects in receipt of funding which subsequently may be deemed not to have fully respected the application of relevant EU legislative acts;
13. Recalls also that 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 in order to persuade a member state to end serious breaches of the rules and principles which it obliged to respect either under the Treaty or as a result of the application of EU law, until such times as the problem is resolved;
14. Reiterates its conclusions of past resolutions by calling into question the methods of designation of urbanising agents, and the frequently excessive powers often given to town planners and property developers by certain local authorities at the expense of communities and the citizens who have their homes in he area;
15. Urges once again, local authorities to consult their citizens and involve them in urban development projects in order to encourage more acceptable and sustainable urban development where this is necessary, in the interest of local communities and not in the sole interest of property developers, estate agents and other vested interests;
16. Strongly condemns the illicit practice of certain property developers undermine by subterfuge the legitimate ownership of property by European citizens by interfering with land registration and cadastre notifications, and calls upon local authorities to establish proper legal safeguards against this practice;
17. Reaffirms that, where compensation is required for loss of property, it should be awarded at a suitable rate and in conformity with the case law of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights;
18. Reiterates its call on the Commission to initiate an information campaign directed at European citizens buying real estate in a Member State other than their own;
19. Calls upon the President to forward this resolution to the Commission and Council, to the Government and Parliament of the Kingdom of Spain and the Autonomous Regional Assemblies, to the National and Regional Ombudsmen of Spain and to the petitioners.
It’s a valiant attempt to unify past and future problems – it contemplates the current ownership crisis, compensation, prosecution and also attempts to force Spain to take steps to ensure that it does not happen again.
The best thing? If it passes, with the lack of sustanaible resources in this area (ie water, transport, electric) it should slow downthat blasted financial and social black hole of a Llano Central. Coupled with the financial crisis, it may even kill it off!