Charles Svoboda comments on the Conference in Albir/Alfaz on September 26, 2009

The main conference on Saturday in Albir/Alfaz organised by the local Vecinos Association was very well attended, with perhaps over 400 in the audience.

The presentations by Mrs. Auken, Professor Jorge Olcina and Carmen del Amo of the Coastal Law Victims' Association, were solid and there was a lively Q&A session afterwards.

(Perhaps the organizer of the conference, Marco Perotti, arranged for notes on the meeting to be taken and distributed, although some media was present and beyond what we've seen in the Spanish press already there may be more later this week.)

Thus far, the Spanish media has picked up more on the prospect of EU subventions being withheld as a result of a current proposal by the Greens in Brussels than anything else. José Ortega, the lawyer representing many of those affected by the Ley de Costas has issued his own appeal to the EU Parliament along similar lines). The European Parliament's Budget Control committee is to vote on this in the next few days. If it passes at that level it will go to the full plenary in October. Given the fact that Spain still receives the second highest "stability" pact funding within the EU, a positive vote over what will no doubt be a fierce counter campaign by the Spanish PP and PSOE MEPs would be quite significant, given Spain's current and no doubt long lasting economic crisis.

I believe Margrete Auken will have gone back to Brussels and the Petitions Committee, based on what she heard both at the conference on Saturday and her contacts with many more affected people in the Jalon valley on Sunday, with a re-energized view of the problems and difficulties here so well covered in her report. It was evident, she said, that these have not gone away, and there is no visible evidence the authorities are paying any attention, let alone heeding the contents of that report and the tough resolution adopted by the full EU Parliament on March 26.What points?

The following , in no order of priority, represents my personal perspective following the visit - bleak, I admit.

As I see it:

-The Auken report, just as the EU Parliament's resolution of June 2007 and the earlier Fortou report taken together were milestones in that context. No other EU member state has been called on the Parliament's carpet in such a manner before, concerning the systematic property rights and environmental abuses reported. The reports were based not just on complaints by those affected but on inspections carried out, in situ, by EU parliamentarians and their advisors representing different parties and EU member countries;

- The authorities at national and regional level have consistently seen fit to ignore the presence of the EU investigations , most recently the Auken team or to invent protocol reasons for not agreeing to meet them. On an earlier visit the Valencian government deliberately insulted the inspection team and gave the floor mainly to developers and promoters;

- The national government as well as the regional ones singled out for criticism in the Auken report have ignored the recommendations of the overwhelming EU Parliament's vote - and tried to bury these. Not for the first time. None of the recommendations made have been implemented, or it seems even seriously considered. The only response was to criticize the report, as in past as ill-informed, biased, exaggerated and influenced by "occult" interests. The Valencian government has led this process, doing its utmost to ensure no mention of the report appears in the media over which it wields considerable influence;

- The two major Valencian political parties, the PP and PSPV/PSOE uncharacteristically formed ranks to oppose the Auken report at all levels, including at the votes in Brussels and Strasbourg in February and March this year. The PSOE subsequently took steps to ensure that any of its then sitting MEPs who sympathized with the purport of the Auken report were dropped from its candidate list for the May 2009 EU Parliamentary elections (alternate parties fared poorly - corruption and a failing economy did not encourage anyone who voted to disregard party loyalty or others to show up at the polls) ;

- The Valencian government put a veteran and senior PP politician in the position of "Sindic de Greuges" or regional Ombudsman, thus placing one of the official channels to complain against government excesses at the behest of the government itself;- Following the death in August 2009 of a largely ineffective, incompetent, but relatively inoffensive "Conseller" or regional minister (whose conflicted portfolio includes both "Urbanismo" and the protection of the environment) the Valencian government appointed a replacement closely connected, by family at least, to the construction and other property rackets that have flourished in this region;

- The "Generalitat" in Valencia has recently proposed a repackaging of its various land development laws, the ones that supposedly replaced the infamous LRAU in early 2006. Those laws, the LUV, LOTPP, LSNU, plus the rules that governed their application while similar in approach to the LRAU were seen as too complex and demanding by developers. These laws, which did not vary from the principles of the LRAU as to the transcendent powers of the authorities and developers, were of course justly criticized by the EU parliament as well as the Commission, and are the subject of current review by the EU Court of Justice as regards evident breaches of EU Directives (eg. Public Contracts, Environment) . But the new laws, rather than pay heed to EU norms to which Spain has acceded or the guarantees of the Spanish Constitution as was promised , appear more to be designed to facilitate the financial success of promoters and developers;

- Further, the proposed new laws leave in place "transitional" provisions meaning that there are almost 200 major development projects in Valencia that will still be subject to the "zombie" LRAU until they are completed - a prospect of two decades. Those affected once the development schemes are approved, will lose the value of their properties that will then become unmarketable. They may also be forced to cede land and pay infrastructure costs for schemes that may never be completed or accepted as legal, completed ones by town halls;

-Apart from the Auken report, there are several others - and recent ones - to which attention should be drawn: Greenpeace and Ecologistas en Accion, whose reports state how badly this region is suffering as a result of the result of overdevelopment, notably in the coastal areas; Transparency International as regards corruption closely linked with property rackets; those of the Valencian Ombudsman before the office was "co-opted" by the regional government ; the UN's Special advisor on housing, etc.;

- The media is currently replete with reports of corruption in high places within the Valencian and, to a lesser degree, other regions mainly in regard to kick backs, influence peddling, huge publicity events and the construction and related property rackets that have funded cash strapped town halls and politicians for many years;

- There are particular and current situations that could be highlighted, eg. Castellon - Mundo de Ilusión,etc, Alicante- Rabasa, Valencia city, Parcent, Alfaz, Lliber, La Nucia,etc. as well as terrible situations down in Andalucia, where tens of thousands, perhaps some 200,000, dwellings have been declared illegal and possibly subject to demolition orders. The recent and well reported assurances/nostrums given in Madrid to the visiting British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Christopher Bryant MP, that demolitions would be avoided ring hollow when they were stated by the new Minister for Territorial Politics, Vice President Manuel Chavez, until a few months ago the head of the very Andalucian "junta" which has issued many demolition orders;

- The muddle over the application of the national "Ley de Costas" is symptomatic of the broader legal and "juridical" insecurity prevailing here. This complex and obscure law, passed in 1988 had been largely forgotten andignored until recently. Now it is being applied arbitrarily and retroactively , leaving many small property owners defenseless and with homes that suddenly have become worthless;

- Meanwhile the dire state of the economy is showing the results of the above and the bad reputation this country has given itself. No confidence in the property market here, indecision as to tax hikes, falling prices, stagflation, governments at a loss or lacking political will to decide on policies that could remedy years of reliance on easy money, black markets and under the table financing - or to comply with Spain's commitments to international and thus EU laws. The bottom has fallen out, and it will be a long process to recuperate from the damage done by a sorry reputation, unfocussed public policy and bad management of the economy, legal system and ultimately this complex and confused country. (I haven't jumped out the window yet. But see and then others might consider their options.)

Where is the clear thinking that could lead more of those affected and perhaps serve as a guide to policy makers in this country as to the sorts of problems that must be addressed if investor and property owner confidence is to be restored? I don't see it coming from the main players in Madrid, or the regions for that matter.

As I see it, this will be a long and difficult process, some progress to date notwithstanding. Meanwhile, just as the environment continues to suffer, the vastly oversupplied property market in Spain-housing and business both - appears destined to remain in the doldrums for up to a decade.

For us, like minded associations and in particular the new national federation (FAUN), there remains much to be done and part of that will be to ensure to the maximum extent we still have the active support of the EU Parliament and through it the cooperation of the EU Commission and Court of Justice.

Comments are welcome. I am posting this on our website and it will form the basis of how I would reply to any media questions. I hope to get a copy of Margaret's statement as delivered and will post that as well.


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