As you will know, there is a protest march organised by such AVEP, AULAN, AUAN, AUN, LSOS, Cuidadanos Europeos and others, in Almeria on the 9th of Jan through Almeria city to try to bring media attention back to the Priors case and urban abuse in general. (See programme info at Spanish Shilling or other good websites).
While not wishing to aspirations on the much lauded attempt to bring media attention back to the Priors, I am forced to wonder just how much good a march like this will do, and, indeed, if it is contraproductive in the short to medium term.
This is a march that is designed only to bring EU attention to the case, following on from the recent EU draft parlimentary resolution on Urban Abuse in Spain (blog entry here) and hopefully UK & German press attention.
But from a local perspective, and in my opinion after reading quite a bit about it in local (Spanish) press this is not going to sit well with regional politicians, who, as expats can’t vote in regional or national elections in Spain, don’t give two hoots what they think about anything. But they do care what local Spaniards and national press say. Since the economic downturn has just about killed off the expat property market, the politicians don’t need to worry about bad press back in the UK – promoters are too busy trying to stay afloat to bring any real pressure on the politicians and nobody really thinks that Brits back in the UK are going to be scared off because of a protest march (as they aren’t going anywhere until the pound pops back up).
So we’re in a situation where Brits are marching in the streets of Almeria, and the politicians are only worried about the locals. So, how are the politicians going to try to control the situation and come out smelling of roses?
First of all, and we’re seeing this now, they are trying to turn this into a Expat vs Locals situation. Once the (Spanish) press believe that it is only Expats that are affected, then they’ll stop trying to see the (mainly expat) property owners point of view. And they’re doing this by pointing out that in many cases proper legal protocol wasn’t carried out “in order to save the purchasers money – didn’t trust / didn’t have the money to pay proper lawyers, gestors, notaries that we Spanish do! So why is it our fault they were conned?”
Then they say that “the Brits were fully aware of the situation, but just thought that since they were rich immigrants they could get away with it and stuff the locals, we poor people who pay tax and live legally, so it’s their problem to sort it out”.
And so we end up in a situation where the (Spanish) press, while sympathetic, believe that it’s the purchasers fault for trying to save money on their homes in Spain, avoid the tax they should pay and brought illegal homes without carrying out proper checks because they thought they were invincible.
And don’t start on about rigorous journalistic reports in the impartial media, because that doesn’t exist. Rare is the Spanish newspaper that does not tow the party political line. Editors are easily replaceable if the proprietor doesn’t agree with his papers opinions.
And the politicians can point out, to the rare voice that asks what’s being done, to the commission being setup to survey and regulate illegal homes in the area. “Yes”, they’ll say, smugly, “the Brits are complaining, but it’s because they can’t be bothered to learn Spanish or integrate with our community – we’re sorting the problem out but they can’t even be bothered to ask what we’re doing!”
Why, I’ve even seen comments in the press that suggest that with the collapse of the pound property owners are trying to get their homes ruled illegal so that they can get out of paying the mortgage!
And so we Brits appear, marching through the streets, in a well intentioned, well organised, multi lingual protest – a lovely image that will be quickly swung around in the public mind to “whinging immigrants who tried to con local Spaniards by ignoring rules and refused to pay the same taxes I have to pay!”
And that’s why I feel the march is counterproductive for the local market (ignoring the international media attention it may -or may not- generate, which will help with the EU). But even if the EU brings pressure onto Spain, it will just increase the local sentiment of “Bloody Brits, welcomed them into my country and they’re worse than the bloody Moros“.If we’re not careful.