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Franco family ordered to return dictator’s summer palace to the people of Spain

A Spanish court has ordered Francisco Franco's family to hand over the keys to a mansion it says was illegally bought and then gifted to the late dictator decades ago.

Franco family ordered to return dictator's summer palace to the people of Spain
Photo: AFP

The Pazo de Meiras estate in the northwestern Galicia region, which was used by Franco as a summer residence, currently belongs to six of his grandchildren.

But a court in the Galician city of Coruna ordered them to turn it over to state ownership, upholding a Spanish government complaint filed last year claiming the 1941 sale of the property was “fraudulent”.

The family has always claimed the historic mansion, which was built between 1893 and 1907, was private property.

The estate was acquired by a Francoist organisation during the civil war (1936-1939) and later signed over to the victorious dictator.    

But the court took issue with the donation in 1938 and subsequent sale in 1941, ruling it “null and “void”, since it was transferred to “the head of state and not to Francisco Franco personally”.

It also found that the sale was little more than a “pretence” given that “Franco did not pay anything” for it.

As a result, it ordered Franco's family “to immediately hand over the property without being compensated for the expenses they claim to have incurred for its maintenance”.

“On accepting that the country estate belongs to the state, the judge also declared null and void the transfer of the property to Franco's heirs” following his death in 1975, a court statement said.

The family now has 20 days to appeal.    

Finance Minister Maria Jesus Montero, who is also the government's spokeswoman, welcomed the ruling.

“It is heritage which belongs to the Spanish people and which had to return to the Spanish people,” she told a news conference.   

The government “takes seriously the recovery of all assets which were illegally or fraudulently stolen from the Spanish government and are in private hands,” she added.

In 2018, Galicia's regional government declared the 19th-century mansion to be of “historic and cultural value”, ordering the family to open it up to the public.

But they fiercely opposed the move, arguing it was private property.    


An archive image of Gen Francisco Franco and King Juan Carlos before he came to the throne. Photo: AFP

Wednesday's ruling is a new setback for the Franco family who last year failed to stop the dictator's exhumation from a grandiose Catholic mausoleum near Madrid.

Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist from 1939 until his death in 1975 when he was buried inside the vast basilica at Valley of the Fallen, but last October his remains were transferred to a discreet family plot in El Pardo cemetery, on the outskirts of Madrid.

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HISTORY

Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner

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