Visit to Brussels October 2005
This is a brief
recapitulation of our visit to Brussels from
October 9-13 mainly to prepare for and participate in the meeting of the
Parliament's Petitions Committee (PC) on October 11. (It is interim
pending comments from Sr. Crespo).
This was the third such visit, the first being in February 2004 and the
second in July, 2004 . The first meeting, convened in response to a
petition AUN submitted in May 2003 (in the end with some 15,000
signatures) decided on the sending of a fact finding mission to the region
to investigate complaints about the application of the Valencian land law,
especially the LRAU. The mission took place in May of that year, and the
report was discussed and adopted at the July 25
session of the Petitions Committee (14 in favour;3 against (Valencian PP
members); 3 abstentions (2 Valencians plus one other Socialist).
In the fall of 2004 it had been decided that the Parliament itself should
approve the sending of another fact finding mission, which took place in
late May, early June of this year. The Parliament also agreed that the
situation was sufficiently serious to warrant the appointment of a MEP, as
to this position was Mme. Janelly
Fourtou, Lib Dem -
France) who would be
responsible for keeping the Parliament aware of the problems facing many
thousands of European citizens and other residents of Valencia, who have
recently been complaining of "abuses" committed under the "land grab"
The October 11 meeting was to hear and discuss the provisional document
emerging from that second visit (available in several languages on the EU
Parliament's website Document 2004/ 2208(INI) of 21.9.2005).
The three person AUN "team" comprised myself, Jose Crespo, one of our
legal advisers and fellow petitioner, and Lisa . On Sunday, October 9, we
contacted some MEPs and the head of the Committee Secretariat to discuss
the forthcoming session of the PC.
Monday was spent making contacts with supportive MEPs and some media to
ensure a good presence at the next day's meeting of the PC. In addition a
previously scheduled meeting took place with three members of the Internal
Market unit of the European Commission. This was to brief them on the
current state of play as regards the matters under their purview, in
particular the widespread and systematic disregard for EU laws concerning
public contracts or procurement.
At the next day's PC meeting, and the head of the Internal Market unit,
Mattias Petschke made a very clear statement in which he outlined the
Commission's concerns that Spanish and Valencian laws and practices fall
far short of compliance with relevant EU laws. This was in line with the
media reports the previous day from the Internal Markets Commissioner,
Charlie McGreevy, who warned that unless these are corrected Spain and
Valencia could face serious sanctions or fines , once the matter has
passed through the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The Tuesday meeting of the PC was not as well attended as the previous
sessions in which I participated. This was not for lack of interest in the
main subject, but so I was told, because there were many conflicting
meeting of other committees going on at the same time which occupied many
PC members, to the detriment of the PC.
The Committee Chairman, Mr. Martin Libicki ( Poland), was flanked by
Michael Cashman ( first Vice Chairman who had headed the 2005 Fact Finding
Mission FFM) and David Lowe. Also at the front was Mme. Marie
Panayotopoulos--- second Vice Chairman and member of the FFM. The document
before the Committee at this session was the " Provisional
Report of the Rapporteur" on the FFM. At the
opening, participants were asked to keep their presentations to four
minutes! This after we had been promised that we would have 10!. So there
was some rapid pruning and the version of my statement appearing on the
website is the text as it was before cutting. (Jose Crespo's will be
The first speaker was the Valencian Ombudsman ( Sindic de Greuges) ,
Bernardo del Rosal. He evidently based his remarks on his most recent
reports on the problems with respect to the land laws, having received
more complaints on this subject than any other, by a considerable margin.
He repeated that all of his 13 recommendations, should be accommodated in
the new LUV. He could see no legal reason why not. In fact four of the key
ones had been rejected by the Valencian Gov't, on the pretext that they
were beyond the legal ambit of the region's lawmakers, and some others
only partly accommodated.
The second Speaker was Cristina Serrano, representing the Valencian Gov't
as Sr. Blasco's Autonomous Secretary (political deputy, although not a
member of the Cortes) . She basically used the occasion to slam the
unfortunate aspects of the "Socialist" LRAU, neglecting to take any blame
for exploiting that law for the past decade, without introducing any of
the controls envisaged at the time it was adopted, over the negative votes
of the PP. She pledged to consider any proposals for
amendments to the LUV until the new deadline- October 18th. (this had been
postponed three times in order to lure the PSOE into a compromise deal on
the text, a trap which had been refused a few days earlier). But in her
view the new law would correct any problems , especially those for
property owners. She also exploited the harsh words in the Rapporteur's
provisional document as a further critcism of the "Socialist" law. Since
there were no substantive proposals in the document, Serrano made no
promise to pay attention to anything emerging from the PC although she
welcomed the invitation to be present .
The Rapporteur was asked to take the floor, but declined until after the
others had spoken. So I was next. I noted at the outset that the many petitioners
were being represented by only myself and Sr. Crespo, in the belief that
the two FFMs and the Rapporteur had received more than enough direct
interventions to be convinced. I criticized the application of the law and
the sad fact that, as it reads, the draft LUV, despite being found not to
be any more in conformity with EU law than the LRAU, would not serve a a
legal basis to cure the problems that had been the subject of some 15,000
supports the proposals made by the Ombudsman, very similar to
we had submitted. I also commented on some of the more absurd aspects of
the economic monoculture of the Valencian Community, i.e.
construction, not least of all a massive number of Golf courses, in the
face of severe and chronic water shortages and the current drought. If the
Valencian Gov't wishes to further destroy the region's reputation as a
place to invest securely, it was on the right course. If however, it
wished to attract this vital form of investment, new laws, in conformity
with those of the EU would need to be put in place and enforced. I
criticized the Provisional document before the Committee as being too
tentative and lacking in any effective recommendations. If the Parliament
does not lend concrete support to the victims of the land laws, much of
the faith in this important institution would be lost.
Jose Crespo spoke both as a petitioner, and as one of our legal advisers,
concentrating on the legal aspects of the situation. The current and
proposed new land law were not in accordance with either the Spanish
Constitution or Spain's international and EU undertakings. Nor will the
LRAU disappear, for decades since development plans presented before the
LUV replaces the LRAU will remain under the old law. Why would the
Government not place a moratorium on the approval of new plans until the
LUV enters into force? All political parties in Valencia, except for the
ruling PP had supported this. His comments were effectively reinforced by
those of Mattias Petschke (see above) .
Eight MEP's took the floor, including the Rapporteur, Michael Cashman, and
Mme. Panayotopolous. David Hammerstein (Greens from Valencia) stressed the
environmental problems created by the rampant construction in the Coastal
areas, and while he had intended to present recommendations as regards the
Rapporteur's document, which he criticized for being devoid of substance,
was cut short by the Chairman, having exceeded his allotted time. Joan
Calabuig, a Socialist from Valencia, attacked the way the LRAU had been
managed and corrupted by the PP since it had taken over from his party in
1995. The reputation of the region had been ruined. His partizan comments
prompted sharp rejoinders from PP members Carlos Jose Iturgaiz ( Pais
Vasco) and Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo (Valencia). The first said he did
not share our vision of things, but did not tell us what his happens to
be. He is a member of the PC whereas, Garcia-Margallo, a close ally of Sr.
Blasco was present as a substitute. His remarks, in effect attacking the
complainants against the LRAU, received the applause of Serrano and her
colleagues. He challenged some of Jose Crespo's comments about the status
of the LRAU, wrongly claiming that it had been found to be
"constitutional" (in fact the sole case that made it that far (Alziras)
had been dismissed on a technicality, with the Constitutional Court court
stating that the law probably was not in accordance with the Constitution
on several grounds.)
Mme. Panayotopolos said that she had seen and heard of some terrible
situations in the Valencian Community. She suggested that with "good will"
a solution should be found. Michael Cashman expressed his serious
disappointment with the provisional document, insisting that it be made
much stronger by the addition of some form of preambular
report. He had prepared some comments on both the document and
suggestions to be sent to the Valencian Government by way of amendments.
Diane Wallis ( Lib Dem UK) proposed that the subject was sufficiently
serious that it should be referred to other Committees, such as the ones
dealing with internal markets, justice and human rights. Sir Robert Atkins
said he had no reason to disbelieve any of the horror stories he was aware
of , and hoped there would be scope to put some substance into the
The Rapporteur presented a not very convincing defence of her paper,
explaining why it had taken so long to present. She accepted that it could
be modified if that was the will of the PC.
Concluding the meeting , the Chairman thanked the participants and
welcomed the flexibility shown by the Rapporteur. He proposed , and the PC
agreed that amendments to the Provisional document would be received until
November 8. The PC will meet on the subject again on Nov. 23 to vote on
the final version and to refer the results to the Parliament. The
Parliament itself will discuss the matter on Dec 12/13 in Strasbourg.
As we had done on October 9, we again spoke with several MEP's on October
12, prior to returning to Spain.
Just as a footnote, AUN has sent
suggestions for amendments to the document and helping where possible with
proposed amendments to the LUV that may be sent to the Valencian