House owners on the Spanish coast deprived of their property rights after Spain's 1988 Coastal Law took effect made their case to the MEPs of the European Union Petitions Committee on Monday and Tuesday.
MEPs questioned whether the law should have been applied retroactively and stressed that expropriated owners must be fairly compensated. They are now to seek further clarifications from the Spanish government and the European Commission.
Since the 1988 "Ley de Costas" coastal law took effect, forbidding the construction of private property within 100 metres of the sea, "96% of owners' appeals against expropriation have been totally or partially rejected" by the courts. For the first 20 years the Ley de Costas led a sleepy existence, until the present government led by Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero took office, that is. Cristina Narbona, his environmental minister, then made haste implementing the rules with illegal hotels being demolished and domestic plots expropriated.
Spain's General Director for Coast and Sea Sustainability, Alicia Paz Antolín told the Petitions Committee “The aim of the 1988 Ley de Costas coastal law was to regulate coastal public property, set limits on urban development, and regulate the power of public authorities to protect the coast.
Her statement followed hard hitting comments from British MEPS and others who are determined to change the law. Speaking to the Spanish Press Antolín called the Euro MP's ‘demagogues'. She said that the British Labour and Conservative MEPS had accused Spain of being a totalitarian state, and that they had used ‘inexact and biased' reports.
Whilst in theory many owners can now get a concession of use (a type of lease) for up to 60 years, in practise few concessions actually exist, and those that do cannot be bought or sold (though plans are afoot to change this). When concessions expire properties are then required to be demolished.
During the petition a key question was alleged to be the "unfair demarcation" by Spanish authorities when drawing the coastal law line. "The demarcation line has been drawn in a suspicious manner, as some huge complexes and hotels have been left untouched", noted Spanish MEP and Vice Chairman of the committee, Willy Meyer. "This law infringes the rights of individuals, but does not touch the rights of the owners of big hotels", added Greece's Nikolaos Salavrakos. "How can the demarcation line be applied in a zigzag?" asked Spain's Carlos Iturgáiz.
"We question the legality of the Law, said Dutch petitioner Jan Van Stuyvesant, stressing that it had left "many thousands of houses affected by unfair expropriation". Spanish petitioner, Tomás González Díaz said "it has to be clear that we are not against the Coastal Law, we are against how and where it is applied".
Gabriel Mato said that the Spanish Government must recognize that those affected must be fully compensated, underlining that "we are talking about people who have lived in their homes for many years and who lost their property rights without an explanation".
"There has been no legal redress and no compensation", added UK MEP Michael Cashman, stressing that the dubious application of the Coastal Law had "taken away confidence in Spain generally". "No-one thought that in an EU country we would be expropriated of our houses with no compensation", said German petitioner Nordhild Köhler.
"This is a property law matter, which is outside the EU's sphere of competence. I know this is disappointing, but we don't have legal grounds to intervene", said the European Commission representative, adding that that "I've not seen any case of expropriation where EU funds have been involved".
"But human rights are part of EU competences" insisted Margrete Auken from Denmark. "We are duty bound to deal with this matter. It is our remit that people can come to us, and we have a broad legal basis for action" she said. Miguel Ángel Martínez, also of Spain, replied that he was "surprised to hear that private property is a human right". "Will we have to revise the Human Rights Convention?" he said, adding that the 60 year concession, by way compensation, had been ruled fair in a constitutional court decision.
After the debate, the Petitions Committee decided to send two letters, one to the Spanish Government asking for further clarifications on the application of the Coastal Law and the other to the European Commission, asking it to try to shed more light on the legal basis of these cases. The committee will reopen the debate once it has the replies.Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/22480/
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