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.
Good points raised! It’s true that we need to engage the Spaniards – the Northern Europeans bring in lots of money which support the local pueblos of the coast and interior (bars, shops and restaurants… jobs and so on). Also, as we attack the Junta de Andalucía, we could receive support from the opposition parties (and their media). Mainly though, I think that a protest by people in bowler hats in a major Spanish city has never been seen before and that in itself will generate news… and TV and live radio interviews!
With enough SUPPORT, we can actually achieve something!!
I think if I was in Spain I would probably join the march. It seems so drastic a step to bulldoze a property without going through due process. As Lenox says there is a need to develop a pan-European dialogue as there can be little doubt that coastal/inland Spain is a big loser in the current economic situation and in danger of a really deep and sustained depression.
I also feel that this protest is counterproductive.
It could, I think, be construed as the start of a “them and us” situation.
Unfortunately, it seems that publicly this may well be seen by the local Spanish as a protest by Expat Brits who seem to believe that they can come over here to be in “little Britain with sunshine” and basically occupy the place but do not want to integrate or accept the way things are normally done in Spain. The Spanish will see us ExPats as people who want to live in our English Castles, do whatever we want without regard whatsoever for the locals in general, or our immediate Spanish neighbours in particular.
Never mind the PP/PSOE political battles, any resentment from local Spanish residents to this invasion of basically non-integrating and also possibly, non-conforming Brits, is hardly surprising.
The following was written by a 71-year-old Spanish member of AULAN(asked me to post it here):
We have organized this march to protest against the urban abuses in Almeria province. The 9th of January is the first anniversary of the demolition of the Prior’s house in Vera. For those of you who don’t know, this retired British couple built their house with all the necessary licenses granted by the Vera Town Hall in 2002. Nevertheless, the Junta de Andalucia considered their house to be illegal and, in the end, it was bulldozed. To date, the Priors are living in their garage and there is no sign of any solution or compensation of any kind from the Spanish authorities. Every day there are more and more cases of abuse of this type. The confusion of the Spanish legal system and its arbitrary application affect all of us.
I am here to emphasise that this situation does not only affect the British. I was a farmacist and have lived in Garrucha since my retirement. Earlier this year I joined AULAN, an association for the defence of victims of urban abuse, even though I did not have any personal problems at the time. I thought that the Priors’ rights had been violated and it seemed to me that more cases of this kind could happen to anyone.
To my surprise, two months later, I learned that a new “highway” was going to be built right in front of my house. I have lived in a complex of 92 units, all occupied by Spanish, for 30 years. The town hall intends to expropriate our gardens and parking space and each household is expected to contribute 3000 euros so that the road can be built. This agreement was signed six years ago without any of us being notified. So we are yet another case of what the international press calls “land grab”. Your land is taken without compensation and what’s worse, you must pay for your share of the infrastructure costs and you have no say in the matter, as incredible as it may seem.
AULAN is an information and pressure group, one of many citizens’ groups which are mushrooming everywhere in Spain. In September, we organized a peaceful march in Cantoria for the regularisation of some 5000 homes which are currently considered to be illegal – although, once again, all permissions were given. So far it appears that the authorities are taking us seriously. But we must keep the pressure on and for this to happen, we need the collaboration of everybody.
You all know that the global economy is collapsing. The property market here in Spain is dead. Foreign residents are fleeing in mass. The international press writes about the lack of legal transparency in our property market. The European Parliament has already come three times to Spain to investigate our cases of urban abuse. The foreigners will not be coming back until they feel secure about their rights and their property. We have killed the golden goose.
It is time for ordinary citizens to take responsibility for our lives and to begin fighting back against ineffective politicians – from every party – who have brought us to this situation. The non-Spanish who are coming on this march are those who don’t want to leave Spain, who consider Spain to be their home. That is why I urge all Spanish to help us convince them not to leave, to show them that Spain is not a lawless country. But most of all, I ask that we Spanish get involved and learn to protect our rights and our property. Only then will we have true democracy.