Tuesday, 22nd May 2012
The comfort of a mirage
by Dominique Searle
It won’t be long, if that day is not already here, before the fishermen of the Campo realise that Madrid and its media circus have not the slightest interest in their plight. They are the victims of political, economic and environmental realities. The problems that affect them need serious political and economic decisions that hardly lie with Gibraltar.
Instead the PP government in Spain has chosen to up the ante by abandoning a coherent policy on Gibraltar, the tripartite process, for various forms of bullying.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo did well in remaining unflustered and focussed on Saturday night, plunged as he was into the cave of ‘chusmerío’ and pumped-up prejudice that is Telecinco’s Gran Debate. It was an attempted trap which he side-stepped with good humour and sensible argument. He calmly pulled a thread of coherence and dignity through the cacophony of that programme.
Saturday also saw Telecinco send a team of agent provocateurs to Main Street tasked with getting people to vent their frustrations on camera. So let’s move on.
No doubt there can be solutions found to the fishing dispute. As in 1999, given space to talk sincerely, the Gibraltar Government and the fishermen can surely find a way ahead which recognises and respects Gibraltar authority over the waters and global standards for protecting the environment. And let’s give them some ability to fish. The problem that endures – after the fish meet their chips and the royals move to their next diary date - is our relations with the two Spains. Madrid and our real neighbours the Campo.
It is always the right moment to foster good relations with the Campo and try and help each other through these difficult times.
Sr Margallo’s apparent instruction to pull out the Castiella handbook simply sets back the clock and fails to understand that modern Spain and modern Gibraltar have moved on. When those who do not need to cross the border are removed from the equation, what remains are ordinary workers and people who most need society’s support, for example patients who cross daily for cancer and other medical treatment. Are they not enduring enough already?
In El Mundo, yesterday, senior foreign affairs lead writer Felipe Sahagun eloquently rehearses the past 35 years of diplomacy to conclude that the PSOE were responsible for breaking what had always been a consensus state policy. That is only partly true. The tripartite process in fact preserved the underlying bilateral possession of sovereignty discussion to UK and Spain in terms of formal engagement, but it allowed all sides to navigate away from the rocks that concerned each party.
The PSOE were trying to move on from a proven failed policy.
With tripartite there was always the possibility that trust might eventually coincide with realism to create a resolution which all three sides would freely accept. Whilst that halcyon day might seem improbable in any short to medium term, the goodwill it created on a day to day basis gave it a greater sense of possibility as each day passed.
Whilst it is true that a resolution of the Gibraltar question will probably only ever happen if there is a consensus position in each of Gibraltar, UK and Spain, Sr Margallo and Sr Sahagun (that is a penname) fail to recognise that their clinging on to discredited policies merely forces the political process onto a tedious roundabout with no exit.
Gibraltar has moved far beyond its days as a tax haven. The image painted by some of the Gran Debate participants –pirates, smugglers, alchemists, beasts of Babylon…….! – is simply an attempt to incite hatred.
That is a policy that will take Spain nowhere. In fact, it is the one policy that guarantees that Gibraltarians will never have any political truck with Spain - an eternal preservation of ill-will from a major state towards a small country.
Do make-believe pictures of aircraft carriers poised for action and claims of Gibraltar preparing for ‘war’ really reflect a serious policy or serious journalism?
Hotheads and lynch mobs are the problem, not the solution.
The fishing dispute can and should be resolved. But for sense to prevail generally the UK needs to come out from the shadows and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo needs to be allowed some real political space, by us all, to move forward on to a more progressive relationship with Spain.
The PP might reflect on the fact that going back to imposing hard-line measures on ordinary people is not just undemocratic, it is not a policy at all.
None of that, however, gives comfort to those who argue that there is no problem. Finding a resolution, an agreed (firstly by us) international status for Gibraltar is not a quest we can afford to turn our backs on. Those who saw some far off day when the problem would be ‘dissolved’ in the European Union may find the EU itself is not evolving into the creature we would like it to be.
Let’s all sides keep talking. Let’s move beyond the mirage.