SPAIN’S leading banks have agreed to suspend evictions of the most financially vulnerable home owners, in a move designed to take the heat out of an increasingly inflammatory issue that has affected thousands and shocked the nation after a dramatic suicide last week.
Banks have repossessed nearly 400,000 homes in Spain since the property bubble burst in 2008 and the country subsequently sank into recession, throwing millions out of work and leaving them unable to keep up mortgage payments.
However, the suicide of Amaia Egana has inflamed a public already angered by what they see as a lack of compassion among the banks, many of which have benefited from taxpayer-funded bailouts organised by the political elite.
Ms Egana, 53, a former Socialist councillor in northern Spain, jumped to her death from her fourth-floor flat on Friday as bailiffs were trying to evict her under foreclosure laws.
Fans at a Primera Liga football match on Saturday protested about the fate of Ms Egana, who killed herself in the Basque town of Barakaldo, and countless others who are losing their homes.
“They’re not suicides. They’re murders. The banks and politicians are accomplices. Stop the evictions!” read a banner held up by supporters of Rayo Vallecano, who play in a working-class district of Madrid.
Yesterday, protesters gathered outside the ruling People’s Party headquarters in the centre of Madrid before walking to the parliament.
“We are due to be evicted on the 20th of this month, and we have nowhere to go but the street,” said Angel Moran, a 59-year-old painter.
He said he had been out of work for four years and had a young daughter to support, and that the two other people living in his home to share costs were now also without work.
The Spanish Banking Association said it had decided to suspend some evictions after talks with government officials. It added that it wanted “to help alleviate the situation of helplessness that many people are suffering owing to the economic crisis”.
The evictions of at least two couples in Madrid and one in Valencia were called off. As in other cases, crowds of protesters had gathered outside their apartments to try to stop police and court officials entering.
Protesters said the banks’ move did not go far enough, given that thousands will face difficulties in coming months.
Public pressure prompted prime minister Mariano Rajoy to call for officials from his People’s Party and the opposition Socialists to speed up talks on reforming the eviction laws when they met yesterday.
Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary, a police union and opposition parties have all demanded new legislation to end the widespread evictions.
As property prices have tumbled by about 30 per cent, hundreds of thousands of people who took on huge mortgages during the boom years now owe more than their home is worth.
Under Spanish law, even when borrowers turn over their homes to the banks, they still owe the entire amount of the mortgage.
Last week, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, Juliane Kokott, said Spain’s rules regarding evictions were at odds with European Union customer protection requirements.