An excellent climate, good public and private infrastructure and a wide range of luxury services. Spain can deservedly be proud of all these assets, but they are not sufficient when it comes to maintaining and boosting the foreign residential tourism market. That is the argument put forward by the president of the Foreign Residents Association of Andalucía, Jolanta Jarczewska. Jolanta, who is originally from Belgium and has lived in Marbella for many years, explains that the association wants tax pressure on foreign residents to be eased. “Most people aren't convinced that the weather is a good enough reason to be here,” she says.
I see you have a report on the foreign population of Marbella. Have you had a chance to see how the figures have changed in recent years?
The number of British and Russian residents has dropped quite a bit. We are analysing that, not just in Marbella but also in other municipalities to get a bigger picture, but it is obvious that something is going on and I don't think it's because of Brexit. If more people aren't registering, it's because of taxes.
Is it true that many people are no longer registering at their town halls because of Law 7/2012 and the tax pressures it entails?
That is certainly the case and I think the laws are causing the problem. There shouldn't be contradictions between laws, because that discourages people and creates confusion. We want the authorities to take that into account. We are pleased that as a result of social pressure inheritance tax has practically been eradicated in Andalucía now. That is something which concerns foreigners, and we see this as a positive step, but we want more.
The next step should be the capital gains tax which local councils charge when a property is sold and, above all, this Law 7/2012 which obliges foreign residents to declare all their worldwide assets here. That's why so many people aren't registering as living here, and why so many who used to be registered aren't any longer. Some people don't want to be on the register because they don't want to declare the assets they have in their own country. In my opinion, this is quite a serious situation. If everyone is registered there is more money for the council to spend on services. That's good for everybody. Some people don't register because they spend part of their time here and the rest in their own country; there is a legal explanation for that, but in general this is a very important situation and the authorities need to do something about it.
Do you think there is less investment as a result of this?
Definitely. I think the tax situation for foreign residents should be relaxed, because it is discouraging investment. More investment, in Spain in general and in Andalucía in particular, would be a very positive thing. We have to make the most of what we have. We have a good climate, yes, but we also have a tsunami of taxes and that harms the region. They need to offer people something more than just the quality of life.
You have begun contacting different administrations to make them aware of your concerns. You started with Marbella council, and are now contacting the Junta de Andalucía.
The first thing we did after the change of council in Marbella was write to them about what we would like to see, and they are considering that. Our association is preparing a series of conferences about taxes, in different languages, for foreign residents all over the region. I would like somebody in authority at the Junta, or a representative, to attend and give us an explanation about the things that concern us, so we have asked for a meeting.
What would you discuss at this meeting, if it happens?
The priorities would be tax declarations in Andalucía, capital gains tax... we are happy to sit down with whover, to give them our point of view. We are holding out our hand to the administrations. We are apolitical and it doesn't matter to us who is in charge, because political parties come and go, and any collaboration you have today won't be stable. What we are asking for is a permanent collaboration with the institution, rather than the party which happens to be running it. It means talking about Andalucía, not about a left-wing or right-wing party.
Many foreign residents live in Spain but aren't interested in politics here.
There are some who aren't bothered and don't want to know anything about it, but the vast majority do, because they are completely integrated. Helping people to integrate in Andalucía, fighting for the rights of foreigners, those are some of the aims of our association, which is non-profit-making and has been in existence for many years.
You have first-hand knowledge of the property sector on the Costa del Sol. What effect do you think the annulling of the 2010 PGOU for Marbella is having on investment?
That is a very worrying situation. Things need to be clarified. Do we have a PGOU (urban development plan), or not? What is legal, and what isn't? There are always doubts, and there shouldn't be. They should explain to people, especially foreigners, what is legal and what isn't. We don't understand why, if a building is illegal, it is still standing, half-built, but there are plenty of them all over Andalucía, including in Marbella. There are bare structures of buildings which began 20 years ago, and those give a very bad image to investors. They look ugly, aesthetically, but they also send a negative message about the system here.
What is your opinion of the present crisis in Catalonia?
We at The Foreign Residents' Association of Andalucía are concerned about the situation of general uncertainty. We would like there to be civilised dialogue, which should be automatic in a democracy like Europe, about the rights of European citizens including, obviously, the people of Catalonia. We are concerned about the force that was exerted by the security forces and the unprecedented numbers of police officers; it was a reminder of dark periods in the past and it doesn't help the image people elsewhere have of Spain or Europe.