After her visit to Valencia early in 2009, Danish MEP Margarete Auken spoke out against the land laws that were (and still are) responsible for ruining the lives of many European citizens, both Spanish and otherwise. I have tried long and hard to find some more acceptable way of expressing the previous statement but, after much deliberation, I am forced to admit that there simply is no way of putting the Valencian government’s apparent disregard for human rights that would make it more acceptable.
This criticism has been given international support in the European Parliament by MEPs of various nationalities, who voted in favour of Margrete Auken's controversial report. Despite strong backing in Brussels, however, the recommendations in the report have so far been completely ignored by both central and regional governments in Spain – indeed, we could say that they have been deliberately and quite adeptly buried.
Nevertheless, the struggle to be heard – the struggle for justice – goes on. Pressure groups and associations such as Abusos Urbanísticos – No (AUN), spearheaded by Enrique Climent and Charles Svoboda, receive continued support from Spanish MEPs such as Raúl Romeva and Carlos Carnero, whilst campaigners of the likes of Michael Cashman, David Hammerstein and Roger Helmer fight to keep the issues at the forefront of British interest.
MEP Marta Andreasen attracted further international attention to the problem with her very public support for those affected by the laws in question and by her backing of the EU threat of sanctions against Spain if the problems are not dealt with satisfactorily, before the end of the Spanish presidency.
Many hoped, at the very least, that the European Parliament would ‘make some noise’, which might shame the Valencian authorities (amongst others) into drawing back from the worst excesses of their policies, and shame Spain into doing what she must, in the light of the proliferation of housing scandals now coming to light throughout the country. They are still hoping.
After years of painstaking preparation, AUN took the fight to the European Commission whose members offered some hope to the protesters that the European Court of Justice would take action. In a recent shock setback, however, Niilo Jääskinen, the Advocate General appointed by the Court, has made known his disagreement with the Commission’s stance, declaring that the EU’s laws are not applicable in this case. Jääskinen appears to suggest that Valencian land laws are 'proper and legal'.
What he fails to acknowledge is that they also happen to be unethical, immoral and an infringement upon basic human rights. And what those in Valencia fail to acknowledge, in their consummate glee, is that the Advocate General addressed only one limited aspect of the land grab laws - that relating to public contracts, not the broader legal, moral or ethical issues.
Those in the Valencian regional government have jumped, somewhat prematurely, on Mr Jääskinen’s report as justification for the property abuses which they have spent years denying. ‘It is time for those who collaborated in the campaigns of defamation against Valencia town planning to pay the price,' says Juan Cotino, Valencian Town Planning chief.
As for ‘campaigns of defamation’, the only ones responsible for bringing into disrepute the Valencian government are, sadly, the very members of said assemblage. To be honest, however, they have benefitted from ‘a little help from friends’ - that is, from the constructors who got the ball rolling to the notaries who helped them net the prize.
‘They should repair the damage they have done and say sorry,’ concludes Cotino. So where do we start? With the builders and agents who’ve been the game’s star players? With those in power who’ve enjoyed ringside seats? No, of course not, Cotino wants a 'sorry' from the losing team - those who've lost everything from their home to their life’s savings and their mental health. Yes, Mr. Cotino, I suppose we are indeed a sorry lot. Nevertheless, I have a feeling that the apology you seek will be a long time in coming.
‘We’re surprised and disappointed with the narrow approach taken by the AG and the conclusions he has reached,’ says AUN vice-president Charles Svoboda, ‘but it’s not the end of the story. The ones who should repent and apologize are the ones who caused the unnecessary grief for the victims of the land grabs and the arbitrary actions which had the predictable negative consequences for the Valencian economy, job losses and all.'
For some things, Mr. Cotino, ‘sorry’ doesn’t cut it – but it might just be a start.