Javier Chaparro's Opinion | Pedro, Fabián, and the Treaty on Gibraltar

There is no doubt that Fabián Picardo's victory at the helm of the coalition formed by the GSLP and the Liberals in the elections held on the 12th in Gibraltar will facilitate negotiations for a 'ad hoc' integration agreement for the British colony in the EU. This potential pact will also be favored if, as it seems, Pedro Sánchez is invested as the President of the Spanish Government. Based on the fact that the dialogue process is taking place between the European Commission and the UK, neither Sánchez nor Picardo have the decision-making capacity regarding the signing of an international treaty on the matter by themselves. However, we will not be mistaken if we deduce that nothing will be approved with the opposing view of either one of them, and that everything that is agreed upon will be with their consent. Spain secured its right of veto on this treaty in the EU if it believed its interests were harmed, and the Rock has London's commitment that no document will be signed against the criterion of the local government. "Pedro, it's time for you to form a government too, and for us to complete together the treaty we started," proclaims the newly reelected Chief Minister euphorically and loudly, although we do not know if he has ever had personal contact, not even a phone call, with the acting Spanish leader, whom he now addresses informally.

However, it is advisable to contain the enthusiasm and not be carried away by contagious optimism, even though the mayors of La Línea and San Roque have immediately joined the celebration of their common "friend" Fabián. There is a compelling reason for this: the interests of Spain and the Campo de Gibraltar are very different from those of the UK and Gibraltar. We can say that they approach each other or, at most, that they are tangential, but there is no basis to argue that they are common or even shared. Among other things, if this were the case, we would not have had thirteen or more rounds of negotiations over the past two years, along with multiple bilateral meetings.

To date, and as we have reported during this period in 'Europa Sur', differences persist in key aspects: the fiscal harmonization of the colony with its nearest geographical environment (i.e., with La Línea and the rest of the Campo de Gibraltar), the border control system, the military use of the port and airport, tobacco smuggling, the transposition of EU environmental regulations to the Rock, and the equalization of the pensions of Spanish workers with those of the locals, so that for equal work and equal time of contributions, they receive the same as each other.

First of all, let's discard the idea that the interests of the Campo de Gibraltar residents (if you push me, the residents of La Línea) are different from those of the rest of the Spaniards regarding Gibraltar. When the EU and Spain demand that bunkering operations in the waters surrounding the Rock comply with the same safety and environmental standards as those on the other side of the bay, they are fighting unfair competition and protecting the interests of Spanish companies. The same goes for the fiscal leveling on both sides of the Verja or when asking for Spanish retirees to receive the same pension, as they are no less than their neighbors. As for tobacco smuggling, it is unlikely that there could be anyone among the honest people who defends the ruin of the tobacconists and the annual loss of tens of millions of euros in taxes defrauded to the Spanish Treasury.

Regarding the situation of cross-border workers, it is a fallacy to argue that Brexit has hindered their passage through the Verja since, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, there is nothing preventing Spanish workers from entering Gibraltar and returning to Spain quickly through the smart border system, which ceases to be smart when, on the other side, access or exit lanes are reduced without explanations and only for Spaniards. The issue is even more serious regarding the control of the external borders by Spanish authorities, which, in the event of the removal of the Verja, would be located in the port and airport of Gibraltar, because, in that case, it would affect security and national sovereignty. And neither of these two things should be taken lightly.

Let's stay attentive and away from those who, just to go down in history as the protagonists of the Verja's demolition, aspire to take the photo, with the pickaxe in their hands, and close a minimal treaty that leaves critical issues without being properly addressed, which could have a particularly negative impact on the future of the Campo de Gibraltar. To sign a bad agreement today is better to stay as we are. There will surely be better opportunities in the future to sit down and talk.