British Ambasssador Assesses Life in Spain Today

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  • #55783
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    July 29th, 2010

    British Ambassador to SpainThe British Ambassador to Spain, Giles Paxman made a recent interview on BBC Radio 4, one of the national radio stations in the UK, commenting on many of the issues currently facing British people living in Spain today – while also being relevant to any foreigner currently living on the Spanish mainland or its islands.

    Winifred Robinson interviewed Giles, the younger brother to renowned BBC reporter Jeremy Paxman, who spoke candidly about the Spanish property crash, employment, corruption, taxes, tourism and integrating into Spanish society. The full transcript of the interview provides some clear insight into the current situations faced by many living in Spain as well as good advice from the diplomat, who had previously served in Mexico, France, Italy and Belgium:

    Giles Paxman (British Ambassador to Spain): There has been quite a serious property crash in Spain, there are said to be up to a million properties on the market now, people trying to sell. This has obviously created huge difficulties, it’s created huge unemployment in Spain and it’s meant that a lot of British property owners in Spain, some of whom have wanted to sell their properties, have found it difficult to do so, people who want to either trade up, move, come back to the UK. Certainly if you travel in some of the areas on the Costa del Sol or down the coast you will see large numbers of properties that have been built with for sale signs on them and no takers at the moment.

    Winifred Robinson: Some people are very critical aren’t they of the British abroad in that a lot of us when we go abroad we want to live in places that are like England but with sunshine. For example in the papers last week there was a story about people who’ve bought property in a place there that they call the Costa del Yorkshire which is a little place South of Alicante. They bought it for perhaps two hundred thousand Euros, if they want to sell it today they can only expect to get sixty thousand.

    Giles Paxman: Yes actually property prices in Spain haven’t come down as much as you might expect given the number of unsold properties on the market and that’s quite often because people don’t want to lower the price, but certainly people are finding it more difficult to sell their properties now. We know quite a lot of cases of people who have found that living in Spain has not been the experience that they perhaps expected it to be, who are getting older, perhaps one member of a couple dies the other member thinks that they’d actually like to come back to the UK, and it has been quite difficult for some of them to sell their properties and they have become caught in a bit of trap. There is not very much that, I’m afraid that we can do to help them with that. Basically the property will sell for whatever the market offers.

    Winifred Robinson: There’s been a great deal of publicity here about those people who have bought properties in Spain and then been told that they don’t own those properties any more and that they must quit them and there will not be compensation. The European Parliament reported on this back in 2006, was highly critical, talked about corruption in some regional authorities, said people must be compensated and that if this didn’t happen there might be financial penalties against Spain, that some European Union money would be withheld from them. Has anything happened?

    Giles Paxman: Well with over eight hundred thousand British people living in Spain we receive quite a number of complaints about different types of problems that people have had with their property. And those can range from people who’ve just been frankly rather foolish, who haven’t done their homework, to the cases of people who’ve been involved in administrative muddle, in differences of view between two authorities and people can get caught in the middle. Now we try to do what we can to help people who seem to be the victims of some sort of systemic problem, we do have a lot of contact with the authorities in Spain from ministerial level down through the regional authorities. What we can’t do, because we don’t have the resources and we don’t have the expertise, is take up individual cases because every case is different and there are hundreds, even thousands, of cases.

    And corruption, yes there has been corruption in certain cases but steering a course through all of this is really quite difficult and again my strong advice would be to anyone who was thinking of buying a property in Spain, do do your homework, do get independent advice, do find out from a lawyer who understands the planning system, understands property laws, what the situation of your particular property is before you put your money in.

    As regards the Spanish response to the European Parliament report then yes I’m aware of the report, I know that the Spanish are considering it, I don’t know what their response is going to be.

    Winifred Robinson: They’ve had four years to consider it.

    Giles Paxman: Well it’s, it’s a complicated issue.

    Winifred Robinson: How severe do you think the public spending cuts in Spain are going to be?

    Giles Paxman: Spain’s already embarked on really quite a major programme of fiscal adjustment, spending cuts, and also some tax rises. For example VAT has just gone up by two per cent in Spain, there are big cuts taking place in civil service pay, the cuts in some of the other services that are being offered by the Government.

    Winifred Robinson: How do you think that will affect people who’ve chosen to live there or to buy property there?

    Giles Paxman: Well it really depends on where their income is coming from. If they’re, for example, living on an income from the UK, if they’re living on a UK pension or if they’re living on funds that they’ve invested elsewhere, then that income shouldn’t be affected. I think the people who may be affected are British people who have gone out to work, possibly supporting the tourist industry running hotels, bars, restaurants or whatever, and obviously if there, if there is a decline in demand for their services then they will find their income affected.

    Winifred Robinson: How have the Spanish taken ongoing severe austerity cuts? Is it like Greece? Do you think there will be riots and that that will put tourists off?

    Giles Paxman: Well so far we’ve seen some demonstrations; we certainly haven’t seen any riots. There is a lot of concern and obviously when governments have to cut back then this hits people’s pockets, but we haven’t yet seen any violence.

    Winifred Robinson: And is tourism generally holding up then?

    Giles Paxman: Tourism has declined recently, it declined last year, some, there’s some anecdotal evidence that tourism has, has actually been increasing this year, but certainly it’s not at the peak levels that we were seeing three or four years ago.

    Winifred Robinson: So what would you say the overall decline has been? Any idea?

    Giles Paxman: I guess that the total amount would have been fourteen, fifteen million last year. The peak that we reached was seventeen million. What’s interesting from our point of view is that although there has been a decline in the volume of tourists to Spain we haven’t really seen a significant decline in the number of consular cases that we’re having to deal with and the amount of assistance that we’re having to provide. And I think there are number of reasons for that. People are travelling in different ways. Whereas in the past more people would tend to travel with a tour operator and therefore have the protection of their tour operator and their tour operator’s representatives, now what tends to happen is that people more and more will book on line, they’ll book a cheap flight on line, they’ll book a hotel on line, sometimes all in accommodation, and these people who are travelling without tour operators tend to be a little more exposed, a little bit more vulnerable. Travellers now tend to have a little bit less money than they had a couple of years ago and because of that they can find themselves getting in to difficulties more easily.

    What we would say to people is do, do please take out travel insurance before you travel, not just to Spain but to anywhere in the world. And it’s surprising that one in five people still don’t do that. And there was a recent study that showed that when people go to the airport they spend on average about twelve pounds buying newspapers and magazines for the flight, now that’s about double the cost of a single trip travel insurance. I know what I think would be the best value. If you don’t get travel insurance, if you find yourself in difficulty abroad, wherever it may be, you can find bills running up to tens of thousands of pounds, so please, please get travel insurance before you go.

    Winifred Robinson: You mentioned the consular cases , the number of problems that you’re having to deal with, and the latest Foreign Office report says that Spain tops the list; you had to deal with five thousand two hundred and eighty three cases last year. Could you tell me then what are the most common problems, is it just what you’ve been describing, lack of holiday insurance?

    Giles Paxman: We do have a big volume of cases, we do have the, the biggest volume in the world but that’s because we have such a high volume of visitors to Spain. If you think of it thirteen to fifteen million visitors is an awful lot of people and five thousand cases is not really a very huge proportion of that thirteen million. By far and away the biggest volume of cases that we have to deal with, and these are not included in the five thousand, are people who’ve had their passports lost or stolen, and we get about six thousand of those every year.

    Beyond that we get a huge number of problems that are related in one way or another to drink or to drugs and these can range from people who die because they’ve fallen out of hotel windows to people who get arrested. And then we get quite a lot of cases that are related in one way or another to road traffic accidents, people who go on holiday then hire a motorbike or a scooter or something, they’re not used to the vehicle, they’re not used to the traffic system in Spain, they’re probably not wearing the right sort of clothing, they’re going off in a bikini top and shorts, and if they fall off they can get some quite serious injuries.

    Winifred Robinson: You talked about drink and drugs. You know that some people feel that the British abroad are the worst behaved of any tourist. Do you think that’s fair?

    Giles Paxman: I don’t think that’s fair no, and I’m not sure that our figures show that, it’s very difficult to make a comparison. But we get something like sixty to sixty five million British visits overseas. That’s the equivalent of the total population of Britain travelling abroad. When you look at the number of cases they are relatively small and the vast, vast majority of British people who travel overseas are extremely well behaved, they respect local customs. So I don’t think that the majority of British people are badly behaved when they go abroad …

    Winifred Robinson: No but are we worse behaved …

    Giles Paxman: … some are foolish …

    Winifred Robinson: … than other, are we worse behaved than other, other nationals?

    Giles Paxman: I think it’s very difficult to make that sort of comparison.

    Winifred Robinson: You’re being tactful, diplomatic.
    How long have you been living in Spain and when you went to there what most surprised you about life there?

    Giles Paxman: Well I moved to Spain in October. Before that I’d been Ambassador in Mexico City. First of all there’s quite a lot of similarities between Spain and Mexico in the way in which the Government works and the way in which the legal system works. I’m still really discovering Spain and it is a wonderful destination for tourists; the countryside, the sun, the food, the beaches. What I have been really pleased to find is how welcoming the Spanish people have been and how they really do want to get to know you and to make friends with you and to show you their country and it’s some, that’s something I’m really looking forward to for the rest of my time there.

    Winifred Robinson: What do you think most surprises people who move out from the UK?

    Giles Paxman: Probably what surprises them is that living in Spain is not really like travelling to Spain on holiday. Quite a lot of people move to Spain with a rather rosy eyed view and they think wouldn’t it be nice to get away from the rain and to move out and live in the sun. Once you get there you can be living amongst a group of British people and finding it quite difficult to integrate with the local population. Some people have found that they’re having increasing financial problems because the pound has gone down quite a bit against the Euro and so people who are on fixed incomes in Spain, who are on a state pension in pounds for example, have found it more difficult to make ends meet which, again, is another reason for doing your homework and that you understand what the local customs and traditions are going to require of you while you’re there.

    Winifred Robinson: Have you got really great Spanish?

    Giles Paxman: My Spanish was Mexican Spanish, I’m now converting it to Spanish Spanish, but it’s pretty good yes, I mean I do, I do all my work in Spanish so, yes.

    Winifred Robinson: Why do you think that the British do find it so difficult to learn Spanish, to learn any language I suppose?

    Giles Paxman: I think one of the difficulties is that so many people speak English and one of the most frustrating things when you’re trying to learn a language is trying to speak to someone from another country in their language and they reply to you in, in fluent English.

    Winifred Robinson: How did you get over it?

    Giles Paxman: The thing to do is to, is to lose your inhibitions and plunge in and just remember that it’s not like being at school, it’s not like learning French at school, you won’t get rapped over the knuckles if you, if you get it wrong. Just plunge in and do it and people will be absolutely delighted if you make the effort to speak their language and, and they will respond in kind.

    And that concluded the interview!

    Transcript sourced from http://www.fco.gov.uk

  • #100148
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    Anonymous
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    What a pitty that he does not have the same bite as his brother.

  • #100154
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    Winifred Robinson: There’s been a great deal of publicity here about those people who have bought properties in Spain and then been told that they don’t own those properties any more and that they must quit them and there will not be compensation. The European Parliament reported on this back in 2006, was highly critical, talked about corruption in some regional authorities, said people must be compensated and that if this didn’t happen there might be financial penalties against Spain, that some European Union money would be withheld from them. Has anything happened?

    Giles Paxman: yes I’m aware of the report, I know that the Spanish are considering it, I don’t know what their response is going to be.

    Winifred Robinson: They’ve had four years to consider it.

    Giles Paxman: Well it’s, it’s a complicated issue.

    The diplomacy of the diplomat.

    And I love Giles Paxman’s euphanism for ‘corruption’.
    An “administrative muddle”.

  • #100158
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    @shakeel wrote:

    What a pitty that he does not have the same bite as his brother.

    Jeremy Paxman, the diplomat, interesting thought.. 😆

  • #100159
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    Charlie. This what I mean by the bite of his brother. Do you think Jeremay Paxman would have accepted those replies.

    Iano: Indeed a interesting thought. Its his brother who should be like him.

  • #100160
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    Anonymous
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    Charlie. This what I mean by the bite of his brother. Do you think Jeremay Paxman would have accepted those replies.

    Iano: Indeed a interesting thought. Its his brother who should be like him.

  • #100161
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    Anonymous
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    Now, perhaps we know how corruption in defened Britain. In other Countries it is on your face.

  • #100163
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    Anonymous
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    @shakeel wrote:

    Its his brother who should be like him.

    Are you kidding, Jeremy Paxman wouldn’t last five minutes as a diplomat. 😆
    In fact he’s (cleverly) built his reputation on being undiplomatic.

    Would love to know what these Ambassadors think in private, aside from their public spewing of absolute cr*p.

  • #100166
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    Anonymous
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    Charlie: I agree. I have two friends in thE FCO. I can tell you all they think of is their Pension, next posting, tax free purchase of cars, who to suck up to. Infact I am certain that one of my friend is working for Mossad.

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