The PP held a rally for foreign voters this week in Palma. | M.A Cañellas
The local elections are looming on May 28 and some of the political parties have started to target the foreign vote, something which has largely been ignored for the past eight years. However, this week both the centre-right opposition Partido Popular and left-wing party Més held their first rallies for foreign voters and both are at loggerheads over restricting non-residents from purchasing properties in the Balearics.
The two parties stressed the need for foreign residents to use their right to vote and encouraged people to use their vote. However, the Partido Popular, looking to return to power, has been the most vocal.
At a meeting in Palma, the president of the PP in the Balearics, Marga Prohens, took the Balearic government to task over plans to limit or restrict the purchase of properties by non-residents while also promising to reduce and eventually scrap wealth tax - similar to what the PP has done in Andalusia.
The PP government in Andalusia has ditched its wealth tax for residents and second homeowners in the region.
Spanish nationals and foreigners within the Andalusian region will no longer pay tax on their worldwide assets of over €700,000 (£612,260).
As Prohens told the Bulletin, such a move can and has been overruled by the socialist-led central government, but loopholes and alternative solutions have been found, although ideally the PP needs to win next year’s general election to be able to smoothly lift the wealth tax, which she said is the highest in Europe.
One thing Prohens was extremely clear about is that everyone is welcome in the Balearics and that all foreign residents are considered ‘Mallorcan’ by the PP.
“For decades, foreigners have chosen to invest in Mallorca, to come and either live here part time or permanently, set up businesses, create jobs, help boost the local economy and establish their family homes here. Foreign residents have played an important role in helping to transform and improve Mallorca.
“They have served to enrich society and make the island more cosmopolitan and therefore we have no issue at all with foreigners moving to the island.
“Eight years ago, Palma was considered one of the best cities in the world to live. Now it is not, and we, with the help of the foreign community, want to restore Palma to the top spot,” she told a gathering of foreign residents of various nationalities.
She firmly rejected the proposal of the Balearic government parties to prohibit the purchase of homes by non-residents, warning that “not only does it go against European regulations, it would not solve the problem of housing in the region,” she said.
“The left criminalises foreigners with a house on the island due to the failure of its housing policies and as they watch them fail, they consider prohibition as the solution.
“And over the past few months, the message being transmitted by the government is that foreigners are to blame for Mallorca’s problems, be these the price of properties, the lack of accessible housing or water shortages, for example. It is bordering on racism,” she said.
“The PP understands that all residents are part of our islands and must be able to participate when deciding the future of our municipalities,” Prohens said.
She said that the government’s housing policies have clearly failed, highlighting that there are “twice as many people on the waiting lists of the Balearic Housing Institute (Ibavi) as eight years ago”.
“Prohibiting the purchase of a home by citizens of the European Union not only goes against the European regulatory framework, it would not solve the problem of access to housing either, because we are talking about different markets. And looking at the global picture, what kind of message does this send out to potential foreign property investors in general, be they from within the EU or not?
“We are already seeing how the ‘fear factor’ is slowing the foreign property market down but prices continue to rise in the Balearics”, she said.
“So it clearly would not make any difference,” she added.
“But despite any such prohibition of property sales being illegal in the European Union and would never get approved by Brussels, the conversation is extremely negative.
“The PP not only wants foreigners to come and live in Mallorca, we want those who are already here to stay and we also want to make life easier for foreign residents. We are open to suggestions, we are listening, we would like to know how we could help improve the system for foreigners moving to the islands. We want to know what we can do to make your lives easier,” she told the meeting.
“We are proud of the fact you have chosen to make Mallorca your home,” she added.
Another matter which foreigners are concerned about is the wealth tax and Prohens said that it would “be scrapped”, if she wins the next elections.
“It will be one of the first steps that we would take. We will lower the wealth tax at the beginning of the legislature and end up eliminating it,” promised Prohens, who criticised the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, for “squeezing as much money as possible out of the general public”.
“It is not fair that if we remove a tax in the Balearics, we then have a state one slapped on us by Madrid,” she said.
“The socialists are obsessed with attacking the wealthy. There are very few European countries which have a wealth tax. So why does Spain? It’s time to get rid of it.
“This is a land of opportunities and we want everyone to be able to take advantage of that, which requires a revolution of the local administrations, not only the governments, and the Partido Popular is ready to deliver that revolution,” she said.
“As a party, we’re not looking for culprits, we’re more interested in finding solutions to the problems and that is where the current government has made a big mistake by pointing the finger at foreigners for all of the region’s problems. That has to stop because the government is cheating the general public, they are neither telling the general public the truth nor providing any sensible and fair solutions. All they are doing is sending out a highly negative and damaging message,” Prohens said.
“This is your house, your home and together we are going to build a better island,” she stated.
“We are all Mallorcans and we share the same rights and therefore we need to have an inclusive housing policy which benefits everyone. For example, why are there 80,000 empty properties in Mallorca which are neither for sale nor for rent? Owners can obviously not be forced to sell or rent their properties, but the PP is proposing to introduce a set of incentives which helps both the owner and the potential buyer or rental tenant. We are talking about tax incentives for owners and financial help for young people who cannot get on the property ladder because they have yet to have had time to have saved up the 20 percent deposit or have family money to fall back, which is often the case. If the banks are not prepared to help, then a PP government will, by providing that financial aid to solvent young people who are in work and will be in a financial position to pay back any government aid.
“For owners worried about renting out properties because of the potential damage which may be caused to the property, we will also provide financial guarantees, packages to help in the event of properties being damaged or squatters moving in or refusing to pay. We will make the process easier with sound and sensible solutions.
“Plus, we will introduce incentives for developers to build more financially accessible housing on public land.
“There is plenty of public land in the centre of Palma and on the outskirts for new housing to be built, but we will make it clear that any new housing will have to be accessible to all markets. Included in our housing programme will also be a scheme to help renovate some of the large properties on the island which have either been abandoned or are hardly used because families have got smaller and no longer need large rambling properties.
“There are numerous positive solutions to the housing problem and it is not by simply blaming and punishing foreigners,” Prohens said.
But Més, which is also trying to woo the foreign vote, does not agree with Prohens and supports controls on the foreign property market.
The general coordinator and candidate of Més per Mallorca for the Balearic presidency, Lluís Apesteguia, said that he regrets that the PP continues to “facilitate property speculation for wealthy foreigners”.
Apesteguia said it is a shame that “the new PP of Marga Prohens is reminiscent of the PP of old, as it prefers to facilitate property speculation for wealthy foreigners rather than guarantee and facilitate access to housing for residents on the island”.
He said that Més’s “main objective is to favour access to housing for residents of the island, regardless of their nationality or place of birth”. Apesteguia added that the other parties in the coalition government, namely PSOE and Unidas Podemos, view the proposal put forward by Més per Mallorca “favourably”, and that “it has begun to be discussed in government in recent weeks”. Més has called on the parties to “put pressure” on their colleagues in government to champion measures to limit the sale of homes to non-residents.
In the meantime, however, Més has been holding a number of local meetings around the island to encourage foreign residents to vote, with flyers and posters being distributed in English and German.
Més per Palma, for example, has said that “all residents of Palma should be able to vote and decide their government” and regretted that the Spanish government “only has an agreement with the states of the European Union and 13 other countries”.
“Voting is a right,” proclaimed the head of the Més list for the elections in Palma, Neus Truyol.
“The future of Palma must be decided by all the people who live here”, she insisted.
And yes, the issue of restricting non-residents from purchaasing properties was discussed by the government this week. President Francina Armengol said that limiting the purchase of property to non-residents “is an issue that depends exclusively on the European Union”, although she acknowledged that housing “is one of the most important challenges facing society”.
“It is a complex issue and needs a lot of help”, she said and highlighted the fact that “measures to address the issue being taken by the government are very well under way, such as the Housing Law or the policy of subsidised housing”.
She also described the state housing law, which is currently under negotiation, as a “great opportunity”.
“We hope that it will be quick and that it will give us more tools to have a greater impact as an autonomous community on housing policies,” the president said.