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Residents of Empuriabrava affected by the Ley de Costas in Spain (April 2011)

We recently received over 70 emails from residents of the town of Empuriabrava in Spain. This town on the Catalan coast, líke many other stretches of coastal territory in Spain, may soon be affected by the Spanish Coastal Law (Ley de Costas). Residents have emailed Members of the European Parliament asking for their assistance.


"Buenos dias!

We own a house in Empuriabrava in Spain and am directly affected by the retro-active application of the Spanish coastal law (Ley de Costas) of 1988, on the base of which the Spanish government has resorted to expropriation.

Empuriabrava is a CIUDAD NAVEGABLE, a navigable city. This city, with its 35 km of artificial canals allowing pleasure crafts to come in from the Mediterranean, was built in the Sixties. It is the Venice of Spain. The distance of the settlement and its houses ranges from 500 to 3500 meters from the sea-side. They were NOT built along the coast. No one ever even considered being affected by a coastal law. No one!

The property was legally acquired, through legal notary scriptures, and each acquisition and subsequent acquisitions were entered into the official land registry by the appropriate government administration. Building permits were requested and approved by local authorities under the auspice of the national or regional government authority.

… Until the year 2010

Never before did the state of Spain, or Catalonia, signify any disagreement, or even cancel a property related transaction, formally or informally. The state of Spain, of Catalonia and local authorities, based on the land registry office information has consistently levied property, income, capital, and capital gains taxes as well as taxes on heritages, thereby legalizing our deed of property.

On the 24th of January this year the BOE (The state bulletin) published the coastal line law and trajectory for the area. To our great unbelief, this trajectory enters from the coast into the city along the 35 Km's along each canal wall!

In Empuriabrava 9213 properties are directly affected by expropriation, or a camouflaged simulation with the same effect.

Many people lose all of their property, others a significant part.

I am member of the APE, the defense association of Empuriabrava's many owners. We have tried many avenues in all government circles both legally and politically to have the Spanish government retract this retro-active bill. To make the government realize the senselessness, the arbitrary and brutal impact this law imposes on so many people, who have so much to lose. But they turn a deaf ear, they don't want to know, they don't want to even consider,… against all odds, against the Auken report, against the vote of the Spanish Senate.

Spain ratified the Lisbon treaty.

We demand that the State of Spain respects our fundamental rights to private property as defined by the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights.

We don't ask anything exceptional. We just want protection of what we have all legally acquired.

Recently four MEPS' have made a written declaration. Click on link below (see link below)


We kindly, but with the strong insistence the situation requires, request you to support this just cause and to sign this declaration.

With the thanks of all the inhabitants of Empuriabrava, the world's largest navigable city"

My reply

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you very much for your email regarding the Ley de Costas issue and the situation regarding residents in Empuriabrava.

The Ley de Costas issue has a long history here in the European Parliament, and as you have rightly pointed out, the Auken Report of 2009 took up the issue in relation to the rights of citizens within the European Union.

The 1988 law, an update and reinterpretation of previous Spanish laws regarding coastal land, has created enormous problems for residents on the coasts of Spain. Firstly, the law has been applied retroactively, meaning that some homes which were once perfectly legal, have since been declared illegal. Secondly, the law is still being implemented in some areas, meaning that some residents have paid taxes on their property, thus expecting it to be perfectly legal, only to find a new interpretation of the coastal area has deemed their property to be illegal. Thirdly, the law is at times applied completely arbitrarily, with the coastal line affecting some regions and not others, seemingly at random. One of the areas that the Ley de Costas is meant to cover is land that meets or has met the sea. This, presumably is why the Empuriabrava area is included within the coastal line. However, in some areas this is not the case, and the Environment Ministry's priorities when applying the law appear to differ in some areas.

The problems of arbitrary application, retroactivity and the poor administrative practices of some Spanish authorities make this a problem that myself and many others are desperate to sort out.

You mentioned in your email, the Written Declaration on protection of property on the Costa Brava, under threat from the Ley de Costas. I have signed this Written Declaration, and it is an issue which I have taken up in a number of different ways.

I am a member of the Petitions Committee in the European Parliament, where the Ley de Costas problems have often been discussed, and from which the Auken report emerged. The Auken report presses for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, including the Article on the right to enjoyment of property, to be applied across the EU. However it is right to say that there are problems with this interpretation. The opinion of the Legal Affairs Committee, and of the Commission, is that the Charter of Fundamental Rights only applies in terms of the powers of the EU to enforce or intervene in relation to the application of EU law only, not domestic laws such as the Ley de Costas.

However, of relevance to domestic law in Spain is the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Spanish government, as a member of the Council of Europe signed up to independently. A number of the Convention's Articles could prove relevant in Ley de Costas cases, such as the right to property, and right to be free from retrospective punishment for crimes. When enacting and enforcing its own laws; where Spain has been shown to have been in breach of the Convention, action can be taken in the Strasbourg Court. Unfortunately such a course of action takes many years and adequate financial resources, such cases as have gone all the way to date have been either inconclusive or actually found in favour of the Spanish government. There is at least one in the pipeline which I am aware of which should be successful and may have wider implications, but again this will take time. This conclusion is clearly unsatisfactory for those who are having their homes placed under threat in countries such as Spain. I would like to press for new developments in the area of citizens' rights, to ensure that gross violations such as those happening under the Ley de Costas, are no longer an occurrence within the European Union.

Another action the Liberal Democrats have pushed for in the past, and may support again in the future, is an amendment to the EU budget, making Regional Development funds in Spain, dependant on the Spanish authorities recognising the fundamental rights of Spanish residents. Last time we tabled such an amendment it was voted down in plenary. This may be a move we campaign for again.

I understand that a number of other residents in Empuriabrava are campaigning on this issue with you, and I would like to stay in touch to do what I can to support your campaign here in Parliament.

Kind regards

Diana Wallis