Saturday, March 16, 2013

This Week in Catalonia, 10-16 March 2013

European Court of Justice rules that Spain's mortgage law doesn't offer sufficient consumer protection

On Thursday, in the "El perquè de tot plegat" segment of the El món a RAC1 radio program, Jordi Basté interviewed Dionisio Moreno and his client Mohamed Aziz. It is a phenomenal story, deserving of much, much more attention than it's getting, and anyone who can understand Catalan should listen. But it is not just about Catalonia, it affects mortgage law in all of Spain and is a brilliant tale of the little guy doggedly turning over every stone until they bring the big guy to justice.

Moreno is the Catalan lawyer that just convinced the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that Spain's mortgage law—which dates from 1909—doesn't conform to EU consumer protections law. Once a mortgage begins foreclosure proceedings, the consumer loses immediate recourse, and there is nothing a judge can do to halt foreclosure or eviction. The consumer can sue after the fact, but by then they're already on the street. The ECJ ruling said that:

A system of levying execution, in reliance on notarial documents, on mortgaged or pledged property, in which the possible grounds of objection to enforcement are limited is incompatible with Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts where the consumer cannot obtain effective legal protection, either in the enforcement proceedings themselves or in separate judicial proceedings for the assertion of the rights conferred in Directive 93/13/EC, by the court being able to order the provisional suspension of enforcement.

This is a watershed for mortgage rights in Spain. It gives a judge the power to block an eviction even after foreclosure proceedings have begun.

I was struck also by the fact that Dionisio Moreno got involved with the case because Aziz was a friend of Moreno's father. Moreno has done all the legal work pro bono, and has stated that he paid for many of the expenses out of his own pocket, including the trip to Luxembourg to defend the case before the European Court of Justice. 

At one point, he describes meeting the bank lawyers at the trial in Barcelona, after his client had already been evicted. The Bank lawyer says "What are you doing here? Isn't your client already out?" The fact that Moreno continued working on the case even after the eviction is a key part of the puzzle. And the fact that the bank lawyers completely underestimated him is another. They just expected him to give up.

As Jordi Basté says, Dionisio Moreno is the Erin Brockovich of the Spanish mortgage crisis. Someone should make a movie. And meanwhile, someone should set up a legal fund for his expenses.

There are a fair number of good articles in La Vanguardia on the case (in Spanish):
European Justice system considers Spanish mortgage law abusive and illegal
I want everyone who's going through the eviction trauma to benefit
Dionisio Moreno: "I am broke, but I am rich with sentiment"
And here's a very interesting profile of the ECJ Adovcate General, Juliane Kokott, who is presiding the case

Spain uses “Mediterranean Corridor” name to get EU support for trains to and through Madrid

On March 11, the Spanish Minister of Public Works signed an agreement in Brussels to promote the “Mediterranean Corridor” railway. Spain has assiduously and inexplicably refused to fund or support the connection of Barcelona and Valencia with the rest of Europe, despite the fact that 1) it has built more highspeed rail lines in Spain than any other country in the world except China, and 2) Valencia and Barcelona are the two economic powerhouses on the Mediterranean.

When pushed by the European Parliament, Spain reluctantly agreed to build rail lines along the Mediterranean Corridor while at the same time insisting on a "Central Corridor" which would go straight under the Pyrenees Mountains and require huge infastructure investments as well as maintenance costs to climb and descend the differences in altitude.

So people were more than just a bit worried when the press release gave an itinerary of Almería-Valencia/Madrid-Zaragoza/Barcelona-Marsella-Lyon-Turín-Milán-Verona-Padua/Venecia-Trieste/Koper-Liubliana-Budapest-Zahony.

If you're any good at geography, you'll note right away that Between Valencia and Barcelona, if you pass through Madrid and Zaragoza, you've gone some 1000 km out of your way, and you won't be seeing views of the coastline along the trip.

The Public Works minister then sent out a "clarifying note" that said the itinerary was the same as always—not that of the "Mediterranean Corridor" railway, but instead of the "Corridor Number 6".

According to Germà Bel, expert in infrastructures and investments in Catalonia and Spain, it's all a name game, and even a call to political correctness. If Spain calls the branch that goes from Algeciras through Madrid part of the "Mediterranean Corridor" then they can get money from the EU to build it—which they're already doing. He says

This line (Algeciras-Bobadilla-Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona) has always been the priority. Right now it has four tracks (two conventional and two high speed) almost the entire way except for the piece they're finishing up between Algeciras and Bobadilla. And they may (??) make a new normal gauge track for cargo. Meanwhile, from Alacant to Tarragona there are two conventional tracks and they'll make a third for cargo... Three total for the most used land corridor in the south of Europe.
From Almeria to Valencia? All things come to those who wait. Perhaps in a few decades.
From Algecires to Almeria? It's not on the table and it won't be done.
This—in practice—is the agreement that was signed in October of 2010 (where they said that from Algecires to Almeria would be a good plan. There wouldn't be so much confusion if they called the Mediterranean Corridor by its true name, and what they're actually prioritizing: the Madridian Corridor.

In short, there's no telling what Spain's Public Works Ministry means by "Mediterranean Corridor", since it includes a huge chunk of track that goes through Madrid. Buyer beware.

Note also that no high speed connection is planned for linking Valencia and Barcelona, the two major Mediterranean ports. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Discrediting the Catalan police in order to call in the Spanish police

I'm not sure I can even begin to unravel the bizarre twists and turns of the spying scandal that's developing in Catalonia. It's important though, because it now seems to be being used to discredit the Catalan local police force (Mossos d'Esquadra) and bring in the Spanish Police (Policía Nacional).

A quick overview. 2.5 years ago (!) the head of the PP in Catalonia, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho had lunch with the ex-girlfriend of the son of the man who had been President of Catalonia for 23 years, Jordi Pujol. Supposedly the conversation (whose contents have now been protected by judicial order) included allegations from the ex that the son (Jordi Pujol Ferrusola) had smuggled suitcases of 500 euro notes to Andorra. Sánchez-Camacho did not begin any legal proceedings at the time.

I can't remember if the ex-girlfriend publicized her claims at the time, but it all came to light a few weeks ago when it was revealed that a detective agency—Método 3—had recorded the conversation, by putting a microphone in a vase of flowers on the table in the restaurant where they ate. There are some that say Sánchez-Camacho was in on the recording, since in Spain it's legal to record a conversation only if the conversation takes place in public and one of the conversants knows the recording is being made. To my knowledge she has denied it.

Over the weekend, the Barcelona-based conservative daily, La Vanguardia reported that the Spanish Police said that it had seen that the head of the Catalan Police, Manel Prat, (a political appointee from the CiU party) had parked his car in front of the residence of Francisco Marco, Director of Método 3 (detective agency) and picked up a woman there. Further, this was only a few hours before Marco was arrested.

Alícia Sánchez Camacho then held a press conference and said that because of this information, she no longer could depend on the police protection provided to her by the Mossos d'Esquadra and that she had asked the Spanish Police to step in. She further stated that she would only accept the protection of the Mossos in the future if their director, Manel Prat, resigned.

The woman who had met with Manel Prat turned out to be Mayka Navarro, a journalist with El Periódico (Barcelona newspaper). She denied that she had gotten into Prat's car in front of Marco's house, saying that she did meet with him that day but that they met 1.5 km away, on the way to grab a bite to eat.

Prat confirmed her story and added that Sánchez-Camacho had asked for the Spanish Police to step in three weeks ago, without telling the Mossos. There was even an incident where the two police forces were guarding her at the same time, which could have had disastrous consequences, given that both were armed.

Besides sounding like a soap opera, what's really going on here? I listened to a journalist on El Món a RAC1, Esperanza Garcia, saying "don't you think it's a little suspicious" that Navarro met with Marco just a few minutes before meeting with Prat, and just a few minutes before he was arrested." Well, I don't know, it sounds rather like what a news reporter should be doing. Even La Vanguardia's director, Pepe Antich, said as much.

It does seem like a concerted effort to make Prat look bad. Further, it looks like an excuse for Sánchez-Camacho to invite the Spanish Police to do a job that doesn't belong to them, and to make it look like Catalonia can't handle its own affairs, and that it needs the Spanish Police to solve things.

Swiss banks deny Spanish newspaper's report—published mid-electoral-campaign—that President Mas had money there

Meanwhile, the Spanish Minister of the Interior held a press conference today in which he said he didn't know who wrote the Police Report that was published right in the middle of Catalonia's elections in November, a report published by El Mundo newspaper which said that the candidate for the presidency had millions of euros squirreled away in Swiss bank accounts.

The Swiss banks in question have denied that President Mas, former President Pujol, or Pujol's son had any accounts, deposits, safety deposit boxes, etc. in their bank.

My goodness. It's just one week.

No comments:

Post a Comment