Does Spanish Law Reflect Expatriates Needs?


Reflections of Life in Spain.

I AM not an investigative journalist, although if you looked at my email inbox you would be forgiven for thinking that I was. Recently I have received emails from MEPs, concerned property owners, and desperate individuals who are struggling to pay their bills. Reading through them there is one overwhelming emotion that strikes me: frustration!

Most people accept and understand that businesses fail, that systems have their faults, and that individuals can be tempted to ‘bend’ the rules, but what seems to frustrate people more than anything is the Spanish Legal System.


Take the Illegal Properties issue that still surrounds a number of properties in Spain, and leaves the future plans and aspirations of many an expatriate on the brink of ruin. As I write this column the organisation “Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora – No” have confirmed that another two demolition orders affecting British homeowners in Albox have been set aside bringing the total now set aside to five. Great news and they are not alone in fighting on behalf of those effected.

MEP’s such as Nigel Farage and Vicky Ford are pressing for a full debate in the EU parliament on the role of censures and blocking of funds to Spain, and make the interesting point that if the UK were to act independently to the EU, it could take rapid and effective action against Spain.

With respect I hazard a guess they are barking up the wrong tree somewhat. The UK will never have the guts to stand up to anybody on its own! Who really cares about EU laws? It seems to me it is only ever the English Government that worries about implementing them. That said, I would urge everyone that can, to contact their local MEP to add some weight to the current efforts to pressure Spain into stopping the demolitions.

No, I suspect the answer lies with the Spanish themselves, and in particular an adoption of the ‘Spirit of the Law’ as opposed to the ‘Letter of the Law’. There are 500,000 retired people living in Spain, spending an average of 10,000€ a year, a total of 5,000 m€, the equivalent of Spain‘s exports to the USA.

Add to that the revenues generated by visiting friends and family and you have a significant  market at risk. Being pragmatic isn’t in the nature of Spain‘s judicial system though. I am reminded of a conversation I had with my friend David that deep down the main issue with Spanish Law is that it is built upon the Napoleonic Code where in effect “everything is prohibited except that which is permitted”, the opposite to the UK.

In Spain‘s defence, I suspect that their laws are only just catching up with the ‘modern world’. Post Franco Era Spain is relatively young and their laws are based very much on how things were, rather than how things are. I suspect the complex mix of local and government laws that has served them well enough just aren’t up to the job required by today’s fast moving, multi cultural societies.

As a result, expatriates are becoming the victim of a system that should be protecting them. For many that have been made redundant, but received no pay, there is a legal process in place, but it is expensive and takes for ever so many just don’t bother, can’t afford to bother, or have to return to the UK to earn a living.

There is some hope though! A friend recently won a very long drawn out court case for unpaid rent on a business they rent out. The court accepted a phased payment of the debt, with the proviso that if the second phase wasn’t paid to my friend by the due date, the court themselves would pay him and they would chase the debtor for the money. Pragmatic, sensible and helpful …… not words traditionally associated with the Spanish Legal System.

By Chris Marshall


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