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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 May 2007, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Expats a political force in Spain
Independent political parties dominated by expatriates - many of them British - are campaigning for the first time in Spain's local elections.

Mick Blake with fellow members of AIM
Mick Blake (left) is vice-president of one of the expat-dominated parties
The BBC's Danny Wood examines this new phenomenon in San Fulgencio, in the southeastern province of Alicante.

Never before have European expats taken to the Spanish political arena like this.

They are the backbone of new political parties that have more expats on their lists of candidates than locally-born Spaniards.

Since the 1960s, the beaches, sun and affordable fiesta lifestyle have drawn millions of Europeans to Spain for holidays.

And not just holidays - there are now about 1.5 million expats resident in Spain, mainly British and Germans, many concentrated on the Costa Blanca around Valencia and Alicante, on the Costa del Sol and in the Balearic Islands.

For more than a decade, European Union residents have had the right to vote and stand as candidates in local elections, but until recently they have been keeping relatively quiet.

Now expats who live in Spain are entering the choppy waters of local politics en masse.

In the run-up to the 27 May elections, a number of local parties are dominated by expats and more than 300,000 European residents in Spain have registered to cast their ballots.

This could be the beginning of something of an expat political revolution.

Property scandals

British national Tony Cabban is already a councillor in the municipality Javea. He was one of the first expats to get involved in local politics and form an independent political group.

Manuel Barrera and Mick Blake
AIM was launched in January 2007 by Spanish national Manuel Barrera
Mr Cabban, now running with the independent party Nueva Javea, says the mushrooming of expat-dominated political parties is a result of a lot of issues coming to a head: "There's a lot of dissatisfaction with the way towns are run."

One of the biggest issues is corruption in urban planning.

Property scandals and a failure by local councils to abide by planning laws have had a very direct impact on many expats living in Spain.

Marbella's entire town council was recently sacked over alleged involvement in the biggest property scandal in Spain's history.

Spain has progressed wonderfully well over the last 30 years but local politicians haven't
Mick Blake
Vice president of AIM

Thousands of people who own houses, many recently constructed along the coast, are in danger of losing their homes to bulldozers because they were built illegally.

Under the controversial "Land Grab" law in Valencia, dozens of expats - after buying their homes - have been forced to pay thousands of euros in fees to local developers for improvements in local infrastructure.

Swathes of coastline around Alicante and Marbella are dominated by ugly, half-built developments. And there seems to be no end to this building.

Locals say the unfinished development at La Marina in the province of Alicante is the biggest in Europe. Expats and Spaniards are fed up.

Fernando Gadea is a Spanish former policeman who leads another new party: Progress and Order.

Spain map
On his list of candidates, he says 11 out of 16 are non-Spanish nationals. "People want security and they don't have it," he says.

"There are so many unfinished houses around here. Others are illegally built on protected land. Things have got out of control."

As its name might suggest, Progress and Order says it has the answer to terrorism, delinquency and - without a hint or irony - what it labels "massive, uncontrolled immigration". That does not refer to more than one million British and Germans who are already in the country. The immigration that Progress and Order is worried about is generally non-European.

Crime, like house robberies that target the often relatively wealthy expat communities, is a concern driving some of the expat politicians.

There are basic issues too, like a demand for more health centres and better public transport for the expat-dominated developments.

But above all, a lot of non-Spaniards think, rightly or wrongly, that they are ignored by Spain's established political parties.

Bilingual schools

Many also feel that, despite investing a lot of money in the local community through house purchases and paying taxes, their economic weight is not reflected in their political representation.

It is a bit like the slogan used by American colonists back in the 18th Century to sum up their main grievance with their then British government: "No taxation without representation".

Another factor is the composition of the expat population. There are now more younger expats, many with children.

Expats voting in Spain
Expats voted to launch AIM - one of several expat parties
More than the British and Germans who settled here in decades past, they see getting involved in politics as a normal part of living in their adopted home

Mick Blake is vice-president of AIM (Partido Paradiso Agrupacion Independiente Mediterraneo). Eleven of AIM's 13 political candidates are non-Spanish Europeans, mainly British.

"Spain has progressed wonderfully well over the last 30 years but local politicians haven't," he says. "They“re stuck in a time-warp and they're not listening to the fact people now are saying it's time for a change, we need to advance."

For AIM that means sustainable development and bilingual Spanish-English schools.

The municipality of San Fulgencio, south of the city of Alicante, is where AIM, Progress and Order, Nueva Javea, as well as other parties with expats on their lists like GRIP (Grupo Independiente de Rojales) and the PSD (Socalist Democratic Party), are competing for seats.

The resident population here is about 11,000, more than half are British, followed by Spaniards and then Germans.

Everyone has the right to express their ideas
Jose Manuel
Spaniard in San Fulgencio
If old national sympathies mean anything and convert into votes you would think local Spanish mayor Mariano Marti Sanchez would be running scared. He is not.

The mayor says he is accustomed to having a large population of non-Spaniards and does not see anything remarkable about the rise of expat-dominated political parties.

"It's a positive thing that everyone in San Fulgencio participates actively in our political life. It's a good thing that the Europeans here are involving themselves in political parties, it will be good for the whole society."

He says he is doing what he can for non-Spaniards and rejects the concerns about urban planning or bilingual schools that local expat parties blame partly on his administration.

As I leave the council I notice that the council's monthly bulletin is in Spanish, English and German.

Spaniards have seen lots of political changes over the last three decades. A transition from dictatorship to democracy, and membership of the European Union.

Many are taking this latest political development in their stride.

In the town square in San Fulgencio, Jose Manuel says he has no problem with the local expats getting involved in politics. "I think everyone has the right to express their ideas, whether their political party is foreign, English, it doesn't matter, it's a wonderful thing."

The local butcher Eusebio agrees, but looks a bit concerned when he considers the Spanish language skills of some expats: "Of course it's a good thing having them involved in the local politics, but an English mayor who can't speak Spanish? That would be awful!"






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