(This article was originally published in the Costa Almería News in December 2013 in response to a relatively minor spat over the survival of the Seville-Almería air route. But, surprise surprise, it’s still relevant more than six months later.)
By Richard Torné
It is perhaps telling that the issue most on the minds of Junta officials last week has not been the fallout over demolitions in the province but the scrapping of the Seville-Almería air route.
Ending the service will no doubt put a crimp in the plans of many a regional government politician from Seville, who will be forced to look for an alternative method of transport whenever they are on a shindig to Almería.
Unsurprisingly, to thousands of expats in the province whether or not they can fly to Seville is a relatively unimportant issue. Most would be far happier if they could board a plane to the UK without first having to drive all the way to Murcia because of the dearth of flights from Almería.
But to others, enjoying their retirement without having to worry about their home being bulldozed would be more than enough.
You would have thought that much has happened since two houses were bulldozed in a God-forsaken corner of Cantoria back in October.
But you’d be wrong.
There was a public rally, which called on the Junta to change planning rules. There were also quite a few opportunists present, including Pedro Llamas, Cantoria’s convicted former mayor whose fault it largely was that the houses were built in the first place and sold on to unsuspecting buyers. He seemed to be enjoying his day out and even asked – half-jokingly – if this reporter would care to sign a petition to have him pardoned. I politely declined, in case you ask.
Five years ago, there was a carbon-copy rally in Vera after the Priors had their home bulldozed. The mayor at the time, Félix López, who was also largely responsible for what happened to the couple, gushed that he would seek redress on their behalf. The Priors are still waiting.
In all this stands the highest authority in the region – the Junta de Andalucía. Assuming the role of unwilling bit player, it has defended demolitions as the inevitable consequence of having to follow the letter of the law.
The sobering fact is that bulldozing the homes of a few hundred Britons appears to be a containable problem for the Junta. The regional government seems to have calculated that it can survive the flak, even if it means getting the unwelcome attention of the international media.
This is because demolitions are not yet an electoral issue as EU citizens living in Spain cannot vote in regional elections. Officials also realise that no-one is about to interject on their behalf.
Except for the European Court of Human Rights, who are currently reviewing the case of an expat couple in Almería, the EU has admitted that it cannot do anything to stop demolitions as it’s a national issue that is governed by the country’s laws. The UK government has effectively said the same thing.
But it is important to note that the economy is now much worse than it was when the Priors lost their home in January 2008. At the time politicians in Almería could still afford to laugh off warnings of an economic collapse.
Not so now.
And whatever the Junta may say, laws – especially poorly drafted ones – can be modified or scrapped if they fail to achieve their objective or are shown to aggravate an existing problem.
If the economy fails to pick up substantially next year and there are more demolitions local politicians may start to panic.
A hint of what may happen was shown last week by members of the PSOE in Almería, who gave the distinct impression they are getting jittery.
Clearly, there is still time for the crisis to blow in the Junta’s face.