Albares meets Campo mayors and hints at agreement on Gib-EU flights

13th May 2024
In bidding farewell to Campo mayors after a meeting in Madrid on Monday morning, Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Albares, hoped the next time they met in the Spanish capital, they would travel up on a flight from Gibraltar.

Without offering any details on what he said was an ongoing and complex negotiation, Mr Albares briefed the mayors on the high-level meeting last April 12 with his UK counterpart Lord Cameron, European Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, at which “general political lines” on the airport, goods and mobility were agreed.

This was Mr Albares’ third meeting with the Campo representatives, whose demands he said had “guided” him during the negotiation for a treaty which, if agreed, would be “historic and very beneficial for thousands and thousands of workers and their Andalusian families”.

“I have also provided them with information on matters of interest such as the removal of the fence, the use of the airport, the free movement of people and goods, the rights of Campo workers, which, of course, we are going to safeguard and for which this government is responsible, and Spain's sovereignty position, which remains intact and safeguarded,” Mr Albares told reporters at a short press conference after the meeting.

“This agreement for a shared prosperity zone will, once we reach it, usher in a new stage of coexistence between the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar after so many years.”

“It aims for those close economic, commercial and personal relationships, which are already a de facto norm in the region, to also become legally recognised.”

“Additionally, it aims to prevent unjustified situations of mistrust, incidents, and inequality."

In the run-up to the meeting, Mr Albares was interviewed by Campo newspaper Europa Sur and reportedly said negotiators had agreed there would be “joint use” of the airport to unlock flights between Gibraltar and EU airports.

That phrase, joint use, rankles with the UK and Gibraltar negotiating teams, who prefer the term “enhanced use”.

But the UK and Gibraltar also made clear months ago they were ready to explore “practical and technical options” to facilitate flights between Gibraltar and the EU, and that now seems a goal shared with Spain.

After the meeting with the Campo mayors, Mr Albares’ focus was on “use of the airport” – there was no reference to “joint use”, even in the official communique from his ministry – and the practical and economic benefits of opening up Gibraltar to EU flights.

“I believe that the use of the airport, the fact that there could be, as has happened on other occasions… flights coming from Spain from different Spanish cities or from different European cities - there were flights from Barcelona and Madrid between 2006 and 2011 - is something that can only stimulate and help the development of the Campo de Gibraltar, both in the tourism sector and the economy,” Mr Albares told reporters.

“In fact, today I bade farewell to the mayors hoping that the next meeting could be with a flight from that airport to Madrid and not with the complexities that exist at the moment.”

He was asked too about the movement of military personnel to and from Gibraltar and said this was one of the issues under discussion that “will certainly be addressed”.

“Any agreement will allow for the free movement that we want for Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar, and any aspect related to that [military dimension] will be perfectly controlled and defined,” he said.

The UK and Gibraltar position on the runway and the Rock’s military role is well documented and was set out again clearly last week by Foreign Office minister David Rutley in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons.

“The airport and the airfield are run and managed by the Ministry of Defence, which will not change,” Mr Rutley said.

“But we can look at practical and technical options to facilitate flights to Gibraltar in the EU.”

“But the key point here, which I think the committee wants to know, is that nothing changes in terms of the airport and the airfield, in terms of the way it's run and managed by the MoD.”

Both Mr Rutley and Mr Albares acknowledged that defence issues were being discussed and that the aim was to ensure the UK and Spain worked as allies and minimised any potential for friction arising from longstanding positions on Gibraltar and its sovereignty.

"Yes, we are talking with the United Kingdom to achieve cooperation and avoid incidents that are not worthy of two allies within NATO, especially at a time when our collaboration and our closeness in values and positions in the war in Ukraine are evident,” Mr Albares told Europa Sur.

Mr Albares would not be drawn on the date of the next formal negotiating round and, much as the Chief Minister has done here, said negotiators were effectively “in a permanent meeting” as they sought to iron out remaining differences.

The European Commission will on Thursday host the third meeting of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement Partnership Council, which was set up to oversee implementation, application and interpretation of the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Gibraltar is not covered by that agreement and it was not clear yesterday whether the negotiating parties would use Thursday’s meeting to try and progress the Gibraltar negotiation too.

“There is no deadline and neither can we say when an agreement might be closed,” Mr Albares said on Monday, adding that everything involving Brexit, not just in relation to Gibraltar, had always taken longer than expected.

“We have to bear in mind that what we’re talking about, literally, is creating a totally new relationship starting from zero, something that was unthinkable before Brexit.”

But he insisted there was continued goodwill on all sides to reach an agreement.