Member of the European Parliament, Clara Aguilera García, visited the Costa del Sol last week to participate in a conference concerning the UK's troubled withdrawal agreement from the EU. The conference was held at the Palacio de Congresos in Torremolinos and was chaired by the town's mayor, José Ortiz. The talk focused on the possible effect Brexit could have on the town's tourism and hotel industry, and its large British expat community.
The meeting, which was attended by travel agencies, hotel representatives, local traders and residents' associations, highlighted topics like the recognition of the rights of British citizens residing in EU member countries and the thousands of Europeans living and working in the UK. However, as Aguilera pointed out, the full effects of Brexit will not be known until the UK and the EU agree on the conditions under which that exit will occur; the deadline of which is 31 December 2018.
"So far there has been a flow of countries wanting to enter this club, but this is the first time someone has left, which makes it difficult to manage because it is a new experience. However, the European Parliament's first priority is to guarantee the rights of the expat populations of both Spain and the UK," Aguilera explained.
Highlighting the current problems the British government is facing with regards to its withdrawal policy, she went on to say that there were "difficult and dangerous" times ahead.
Mayor Ortiz shared the concerns expressed by the tourism sector, with fears that the UK becoming a third country (non-European) would result in British citizens needing to obtain visas to enter Spain and the other member countries of the EU.
"Torremolinos has a strong connection with the UK and we are committed to continuing these links, while strengthening ties and dialogue with the foreign residents. We face the challenge of addressing the possible common, or specific, problems that they may arise. Given the uncertainty of Brexit, aspects related to passports, taxes, employment, pensions or legal procedures are impossible to judge," Ortiz stressed.
The mayor referred to the demographics of Torremolinos, where 12 per cent of the population is British. "Torremolinos received 185,000 British tourists in 2017, which is nearly 20 per cent of the one million tourists who chose to visit our town last year. There has been a continual rise in visitors from the UK and we want to make sure this continues after Brexit. Both tourism and the expat community are very important for the town's commerce," he said.
Clara Aguilera concluded by saying: "We still don't know the full effect Brexit will have, but we know that it will not be easy. At the moment the situation is very complicated and the ambience is not very good. We can only hope that both parties can reach an agreeable solution to the current deadlock, because the outcome could have repercussions in all of Europe."