For years, MEPs across the country, including myself, have received heart-rending complaints from British expatriates who have invested their life savings in a dream bungalow for their retirement in Spain, overlooking the sea, only to be notified that they have fallen foul of local zoning laws and that their property will be repossessed, and often destroyed. Sometimes to add insult to injury they will also receive a massive bill for providing new utility services to the site. Then their property and others nearby will be turned over to a local developer, who will make a fortune from high-rise flats. There are persistent and worrying reports of unduly close relations between developers and Spanish local councils.
These complaints have been taken many times to the Petitions Committee of the European parliament, upon which I sit, which has pressed the Commission to take action against Spain. Meanwhile the Spanish government blames the regions, while the regions blame the government.
Now the Petitions Committee is considering a new and robust report from Mrs Auken, a Danish Green MEP. Yesterday we heard representations from petitioners who have lost their homes, from the Commission, from the Valencia Regional government – though not from the Spanish government, which declined to attend – and I myself was moved to talk on the victims’ behalf, delivering the speech below.
I do think that at last the anger and frustration of our constituents, and our anger and frustration on their behalf, is getting through to the Commission and to the Spanish authorities. We will not let up on this one.
My speech to the Committee:
“May I congratulate Mrs Auken (the rapporteur) on her excellent and robust report. However our debate has been bogged down in legalistic, bureaucratic and environmental jargon. This is not about Town and General Planning. It is not about Water Resources. It is not about Public Tendering. It is about thousands of European citizens having their property confiscated and their homes destroyed. Those homes were probably their biggest financial assets.
“We talk about freedom and democracy and the rule of law, but we cannot have freedom without property rights, legal certainty and enforceable contracts. These are being denied in Valencia.
“The Regional Ombudsman talks about “the democratic legitimacy of urban planning”. But there is no democratic legitimacy in property confiscation. It is just plain theft. I am shocked at the outrageous contribution from the Representative of the Valencia Regional government. She speaks of the Land Use Laws, and “sharing the benefits of land ownership”. Mr. Chairman, this is the Robert Mugabe school of land re-distribution.
“I would like to join with my colleague Sir Robert Atkins MEP who spoke of the anger and frustration of the people we represent over this issue. They are expecting this Petitions Committee, and the European parliament, and the other European institutions to stop talking and to do something to end this scandal”