Staff July 05, 2023
Today we include below an editorial from The Times which appeared on their edition of Tuesday 4th July dealing with the ongoing treaty talks between the EU and the UK on Gibraltar.
Spain and Britain have to carry on talking to secure Gibraltar’s safety and prosperityA power tussle in Madrid has left the people of Gibraltar caught between a Rock and a hard place. According to polls, Spain’s national elections this month are likely to return a right-wing government, a coalition between the conservative People’s Party and the anti-immigrant Vox.
Gibraltarians are in little doubt about what this would mean for them. Vox party activists once draped a huge Spanish flag near the summit of the Rock. In local council elections in May the Vox leadership stressed that any deal with Britain on Gibraltar would have to entail the surrender of sovereignty over what still ranks as a British Overseas Territory. It is a situation that would lead to a hard border and an existential crisis.
Post-Brexit trade talks between the European Union and Britain left the sticky issue of sovereignty untouched. Gibraltar, on the face of it, should have been a far less knotty problem than the Irish border with its 200 crossing points along 500km. After all, Gibraltar is a mere 1.2km wide with two entry points; one for pedestrians, another for vehicles. As a territory it is so narrow and so cramped that arrivals on foot find themselves crossing a runway to get into town. It has a population of 33,000 and is dependent on the daily commute of 15,000 workers from the Spanish side of the border. For the territory they are essential, especially for the running of its health and social services. It is also a boon for the Spaniards-Gibraltar pays better.
All the more reason, then, for not engaging in a diplomatic wrestling match. The British case is clear: the Spanish crown gave Gibraltar to London in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Under the Franco dictatorship the borders were shut despite a large majority of Gibraltarians voting to remain British. As part of the entry price for Spanish membership of the EU, Madrid backed down in 1985. But politically-motivated border congestion lingered on as a Spanish instrument of pressure.
It did seem that under the current centre-left government of Pedro Sanchez a pragmatic agreement could be reached, one that could see both sides tearing down the border fence and shaping a zone of common prosperity. The aim: to make Gibraltar a de facto, if low-key, member of the Schengen zone, allowing freedom of movement for workers with entry checks only at the port and airport. For Gibraltarians this could have been the golden prize: the benefits of EU membership without actually being in the EU. But the negotiating climate has become colder, especially since the May elections when Mr Sanchez’s coalition took a thrashing.
Gibraltar occupies an awkward limbo, its only land border being with a country that is unhappy with its status. The way forward is through non-dogmatic compromise. First, the election has not yet happened. It could be that a government can be found without the participation of Vox. There is perhaps over-optimistic talk of a grand centrist coalition. Second, both Spain and Britain are members of the NATO alliance and the naval port of Gibraltar remains a strategic chokepoint between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. At a time of war in Europe, NATO solidarity is an essential part of the security order. This is not the place or the time to score nationalist points.
Spain has just taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU. It is the perfect moment to be creative about resolving historical animosities.