Albares slams Schinas’ ‘very unfortunate’ comments on Gibraltar treaty talks

Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Albares, on Thursday slammed as “very unfortunate and incomprehensible” comments by European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, who had earlier voiced pessimism about prospects for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar, quipping “Gibraltar español’ as he did so.

In an unprecedented step, Mr Albares and Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission Vice President at the helm of the Gibraltar negotiation, issued a joint statement distancing themselves from the comments by Mr Schinas.

“The negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom regarding Gibraltar are progressing as planned,” the joint statement said.

“We are entering a sensitive stage of the negotiations.”

“On the EU side, the negotiations are being driven by the European Commission, under the political responsibility of its Executive Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, who speaks on behalf of the European Commission on this matter.”

Speaking on Thursday morning during a breakfast briefing in Seville organised by Grupo Joly, the publisher of regional newspapers including the Campo de Gibraltar daily Europa Sur, Mr Schinas said the negotiation had lasted “longer than expected”.

“I don't believe there will indeed be a result before the European elections, and I think some involved in the negotiation wanted to project a certain optimism that is not reflected in reality,” Mr Schinas said.

Mr Schinas, who was introduced at the gathering by the Partido Popular president of the Junta de Andalucia, Juanma Moreno, prompted much mirth when he was asked about the negotiation, and left little doubt as to his views on Brexit and the UK.

“Gibraltar?” he was asked by José Antonio Carrizosa, editorial advisor at the Grupo Joly.

“Español,” came the reply, to applause and laughter.

And speaking in fluent Spanish, Mr Schinas added: “I can more comfortably say Gibraltar español after Brexit.”

Mr Carrizosa replied: “Now, Mr Vice President, since Brexit has occurred, you can say it without a problem. It was more complicated before."

“And it's not just the only area where things are better after Brexit. I was also talking earlier about our proposal to create a European diploma," Mr Schinas went on.

“This would have been unthinkable with the United Kingdom within the European Union.”

“They would never accept any European diploma because it would affect their Anglo-Saxon market.”

But speaking on state broadcaster RTVE on Thursday night, Mr Albares was unequivocal in his criticism of Mr Schinas.

“I have spoken with Commissioner Schinas regarding those statements he made, which seem very unfortunate and incomprehensible to me because Commissioner Schinas is not at all involved in the dossier of the withdrawal agreement concerning Gibraltar,” Mr Albares said.

“It is Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, with whom I have also had a conversation about it, and we both, both the commissioner who knows and handles that negotiation, and myself, agree that the negotiations are progressing at a good pace.”

“And I have also conveyed to Commissioner Schinas that, besides his statements being unfortunate, I hope that in the future only the commissioner in charge of that negotiation, which is Maroš Šefčovič, will be the one to comment on it.”

Asked for Mr Schinas’ reaction, Mr Albares said he had received an apology.

“He told me that it was not his intention, that he regretted it, that, well, he did not have all the information and, basically, he apologised for it,” Mr Albares said.

“The important thing: we are negotiating, both with the UK, and of course, the Commission with the UK, on the aspects that correspond to the EU, well; we are making progress, and certainly all parties, the Commission, Spain, UK, want that agreement to conclude as soon as possible.”

Mr Albares also played down the delay in reaching a conclusion to the negotiation.

“The deadlines regarding the withdrawal agreement of the UK have never been met, neither in the case of the agreement for Gibraltar nor in the general withdrawal agreement,” he said.

“Therefore, it is nothing new. It is a new situation, produced in a somewhat sudden, legitimate way, of course, due to the UK's withdrawal referendum, Brexit, but with many aspects to be addressed.”

“Therefore, it does not seem surprising to me. Everything related to Brexit always happens with delay.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to clarify the exchange between Mr Schinas and Mr Carrizosa. An earlier version left some doubt in the attribution of the quotes in the exchange.