Spanish MEPs close ranks in response to EU criticism

Monovar, Valencia, under threat from a "land grab" housing development
Monovar, Valencia, under threat from a “land grab” planning scheme

Normally implacable foes, Spanish MEPs from the Socialist Party and the right-of-centre Popular Party closed ranks yesterday in the face of heavy EU criticism of Spain’s abuse of property rights and the environment.

The criticism came in the form of a draft report by Margrete Auken, a Danish MEP from the Greens, who has been commissioned by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament to report on property and environmental abuse in Spain.

This is the third time the Petitions Committee has ordered a report into town planning, public tender, property rights, and environmental problems in Spain, all in some way related to Spain’s unfettered building boom of the last decade.

Hard-hitting condemnation

Auken’s draft report is a hard-hitting condemnation of Spain’s urban planning practices, weak property rights, and unresponsive legal system. The report points out that this is the third time that the Petitions Committee has investigated “serious abuses of the legitimate rights of European citizens to property legally purchased in Spain.”

The Valencian Community, in particular, is in the dock for its so-called “land grab” planning laws that enable developers to promote private housing schemes on other people’s land, and force owners to help finance those schemes. It is also accused of allowing housing schemes without sufficient water resources, and ignoring EU directives on environmental protection.

The Petitions Committee of the European Parliament has received 186 petitions signed by 15,000 people denouncing urban planning abuses in Spain. The Greens claim there are 250 residential housing schemes that have no guaranteed access to sufficient water.

Most of the urban plans denounced to the Petitions Committee involved the reclassification of rural land that lead to “considerable economic gains for to the urbaniser and developer,” says the report.

Auken also argues that the unfettered urban development has wreaked massive destruction on the Spanish Mediterranean over the last decade, “and all for the greed and speculation of some local authorities and members of the construction sector.”

Auken’s report proposes a moratorium on approving new housing projects that do not meet EU norms, and a threat to deny EU cohesion funds if Spain fails to comply.

Socialist U-turn

A highly critical report from Auken was expected, but what has come as a surprise was the u-turn by Spanish Socialist MEPs, who have joined forces with the Popular Party MEPs to try and water down the report with amendments to remove references to a moratorium, and sections criticising the Spanish judicial system. MEPs have until 27 January to submit their amendments.

“The Valencian PP appear to have persuaded their Socialist colleagues to turn this into an issue of patriotism, that being the last refuge of the scoundrel,” says Charles Svoboda of the AUN citizens group fighting Valencia’s “land grab” laws.

Commentators in the Spanish press suggest that, with the construction sector in a deep recession, and with European elections just around the corner, the Socialists don’t want to be seen attacking a sector that has already shed hundreds of thousands of jobs, nor supporting moves denying Spain EU structural funds.

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