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European Award for Helping Victims of the Spanish Mortgage Crisis

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where otherwise indicated.]

The European Parliament announced the winners of this year's European Citizen's prize. One of the awards went to the Mortgage Victims’ Platform (PAH in Spanish), a grassroots organization dedicated to alleviating the suffering of people in Spain who have been affected by the subprime crisis and evicted from their homes. According to the European Parliament's website [en], this award is given to individuals and organizations that

personas u organizaciones excepcionales que luchen por los valores europeos, promuevan la integración entre ciudadanos y los Estados miembros o faciliten la cooperación transnacional en el seno de la Unión, y a los que día a día tratan de promover los valores de la Carta de Derechos Fundamentales de la UE.

either facilitate cross-border cooperation within the EU or promote better mutual understanding and closer integration between citizens and member states. It can also be awarded for day-to-day activities reflecting the values enshrined in the EU's charter of fundamental rights.

Recogida de firmas para la ILP en Berriozar (Navarra). Imagen de la web de la PAH en Navarra

Collecting signatures for the ILP petition in Berriozar (Navarra). Photo from the PAH network in Navarra

One of PAH's important undertakings was the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP in Spanish), a petition that seeks to modify the current mortgage law to allow homeowners to transfer the title of their residence to their financial institution and thereby write off their debt, even in cases where the property is worth less than the loan.  According to polls, it has the support of close to 90% of Spaniards. Although the petition obtained almost 1.5 million signatures and was accepted for consideration by the Parliament, PAH decided to withdraw it when it was discovered that the Government intended to approve a law that elicited the following comment from PAH spokesperson Ada Colau:

nos parece inaceptable que el Gobierno pretenda utilizar su mayoría para aprobar una ley que nada tiene que ver con nuestra propuesta. No queremos que lo haga en nuestro nombre. Nosotros la seguiremos defendiendo a través de nuestras campañas de desobediencia, sin renunciar a seguir presionando al Gobierno

we consider it unacceptable that the government should use its majority status to pass a law that has nothing to do with our proposal.  We do not want them to do it in our name. We will continue to defend it through our campaign of civil disobedience, without relinquishing pressure on the government.

PAH has favoured controversial campaigns such as the escraches [en] [a form of targeted public demonstrations] against political figures in order to garner their support for the petition, which resulted in the Partido Popular leadership branding PAH activists “Nazis” and accusing them of supporting pro-ETA groups.

Críticas de internautas a las reacciones del PP. Imagen subida a Twitter por el usuario munozporque

Criticism by netizens of the PP's reaction. Image uploaded to  Twitter by user Rafael Muñoz

Politicians from the governing Partido Popular (PP) have reacted angrily to the awarding of the prize, announced on 6 June 2013. Spanish MEP Carlos Iturgaiz declared:

hoy ha sido Ada Colau, mañana nos pueden traer a Arnaldo Otegi y con el voto de la izquierda salir adelante y dar un premio a Otegi.

Today it was Ada Colau, tomorrow they can bring us Arnaldo Otegi and with the leftist vote go further and get a prize for Otegi.

[Arnaldo Otegi [en] is the historical leader of Herri Batasuna, the political arm of ETA].

Many netizens, criticized the MEP's comment. Cavendish and Tony S.A.G. replied on Twitter:

@lowcost12: -Quién ha dicho que después de Colau vendrá Otegui? -Iturgáiz -No, me refiero a si lo ha dicho alguien con cerebro

@lowcost12: – Who said that after Colau there would be Otegi? – Iturgáiz – I'm not asking whether it was said by someone with half a brain

@Tony_SaGPP”hoy ha sido Ada Colau,mañana nos pueden traer a Arnaldo Otegui” hoy es el PP, mañana nos pueden traer la vuelta del Generalisimo.

@Tony_SaG: PP “today it was Ada Colau, tomorrow they can bring us Arnaldo Otegui” today it's the PP, tomorrow they might bring back the Generalisimo.

Bosco Martín Algarra, on his blog treinta y muchos says:

Ningún político en su sano juicio, salvo Iturgáiz y algunos compañeros de su partido se atreve a comparar a la PAH con ETA y a Ada Colau con Otegi. Resulta tan desproporcionado que hasta muchos simpatizantes del PP evitan criticar en público a la PAH para no ser identificados con opiniones tan absurdas como las de Iturgáiz. Y lo peor de todo: es Iturgáiz, precisamente alguien que ha padecido el acoso etarra como él, quien utilice de manera tan irresponsable argumentos tan superficiales.

No politician in his right mind, except for Iturgáiz and a few of his fellow party members would dare to compare the PAH to ETA and Ada Colau to Otegi. It is such a disproportionate reaction that many PP sympathizers avoid publicly criticizing PAH so as not to be identified with opinions as absurd as those of Iturgáiz. And worst of all is the fact that someone like Iturgáiz, who has actually suffered harassment by ETA, is using such superficial arguments so irresponsibly.

The Partido Popular's MEPs have indicated they will request the prize be revoked although the European People's Party, to which they belong, supported the prize being awarded to PAH. The Socialist

Captura de pantalla de Le Monde. Tuit de Carmela Ríos

“In Spain, the prize awarded to anti-eviction militants infuriates the right.” Screen shot of the French daily Le Monde. Tweet by Carmela Ríos

Enrique Barón, former president of the European Parliament and the only Spaniard on the jury commented in an interview with Eldiario.es:

Se aprobó todo por unanimidad y en el caso del premio a la PAH no hubo ningún tipo de debate. Los populares europeos estaban de acuerdo.

Everything was unanimously approved, and in the case of the PAH prize there was no debate of any kind. The European People's Party agreed.

Meanwhile Rafael Hernando, a PP legislator, tweeted:

@Rafa_Hernando Baron PSOE hace trampas para quitarle el Premio del Parlamento Europeo a una discapacitada medallista olímpica y darselo a Colau vaya jeta!

@Rafa_Hernando Baron PSOE is conniving to revoke the European Parliament prize given to a Paralympic medallist and award it to Colau some nerve!

Hernando is referring to Teresa Perales [en], a Spanish Paralympic swimmer and winner of 22 medals—as many as Michael Phelps—who was also nominated. The jury justified its decision arguing that

Los deportistas no reúnen los requisitos de este galardón porque ya tienen su propio reconocimiento en su actividad.

Athletes do not meet the criteria for this prize as they have already received recognition for their endeavours.

The sports spokesperson for the PP , Miriam Blasco, expressed her opinion:

Se quiere castigar al Gobierno pero se le da una patada al deporte paralímpico

They want to punish the Government but Paralympic sports is taking the hit.

To which netizen JAVI responded:

Ya está el PP en pleno en el papel de víctima (el que más les gusta despues del de embusteros) y manipulando a los minusválidos para intentar crear en la opinión pública la sensación de injusticia. Se puede caer más bajo?

The PP is already playing the role of victim (their second favourite after liar) and manipulating the disabled in order to foster a sense of public injustice. Can you get any lower?

Spain's Minister of External Affairs, José Manuel García Margallo, has said he considers that it was an “error on the part of Parliament” to award the prize to PAH alleging that “it has encouraged so-called escraches.”

Imagen de la PAH de Sant Boi en Facebook

Image on Facebook from the PAH webpage in the Sant Boi municipality

Although the ruling party is concentrating on the escraches organized by PAH as part of its campaign in favour of the ILP, their platform is above all that of an interest group trying to defend a constitutional right to housing and alleviate the tragedy of foreclosure and eviction—which in 2012 alone left more than 30 000 families homeless (data from the Colegio de Registradores)—by offering legal aid and psychological support to the victims of the housing crisis. Even the European Central Bank, in a report published on May 26 recommended the following to the Spanish government:

«debería adoptarse un conjunto de medidas más amplio que aborde las causas subyacentes de las dificultades relacionadas con las hipotecas y que trate de evitar, en la medida de lo posible, las ejecuciones hipotecarias»

a series of broader measures should be adopted to address the underlying causes of the problems related to mortgages and that try, insofar as possible, to avoid foreclosure.”

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