Monday, 5th August 2013

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Spanish Foreign Minister orders Phase 2 of Rock hate campaign, London ‘concerned’

by Dominique Searle

Spain’s Foreign Minister, José Manuel García Margallo, yesterday chose the right-wing ABC newspaper to endorse threats, leaked on Saturday by his ministry, that he is planning to impose retaliatory measures against Gibraltar and its people. Significantly yesterday also marked the anniversary of the capture of Gibraltar in 1704.

In a stance and language not seen since Franco’s day Sr Margallo announced that “the party is over” – a reference to years of softer policy on Gibraltar under his predecessor Miguel Angel Moratinos of the previous Socialist government, the PSOE.

 

The PP minister said Spain was mulling a 50-euro border-crossing fee for access to and from the Rock and promised tax investigations of ‘thousands’ of Gibraltarians who own property and reside in Spain.

The move appeared to come as a response to the Spanish Ambassador being called in by the Foreign Office in London on Friday as a fresh set of long but unpredictable queues were being initiated.

The Foreign Office reacted saying that it was concerned by the remarks.

“We are concerned by today’s comments on Gibraltar, which we are looking into further. As we have said, we will not compromise on our sovereignty over Gibraltar, nor our commitment

to its people. We continue to use all necessary measures to

safeguard British sovereignty,” said the spokesman.

Measures threatened by Sr Margallo also included a reneging on all Cordoba Agreements including restrictions on aircraft manoeuvres, access to airspace and renewing their blocking of EU measures applying to the airport.


ARMADA

But La Razon, the extreme right wing newspaper, declared the return of the “Spanish armada” to Gibraltar. That means Spanish naval vessels to patrol the waters. It said Spain’s message to Gibraltar is any action that it fells infringes its sovereignty will have consequences. It added that the aim of naval patrols will include controlling bunkering activities.

The report indicated plans not only to renege on Cordoba but to stop Gibraltar’s laying of underwater communications cables.

The latest round of tension between Spain and Gibraltar began a fortnight ago after Gibraltar boats acting on No 6 instructions began dumping blocks of concrete into the sea off the runway creating an artificial reef. The Chief Minister has defended the decision on environmental grounds saying that it would foster fish populations. He also said that it would stop illegal fishing although only one fishing vessel was actually affected.

Spain said the reef would block its fishing boats and, and insisting that the waters are Spanish, ramped up border checks, creating long lines at the border between Spain and the Rock.

On Friday, the British Foreign Office summoned Spain’s ambassador for consultations. Britain said the delays, from July 26 to 28 and again on July 30, were unjustified.

Gibraltar has complained to the European Commission over what it says are unreasonable controls at the border, saying they violate European Union rules on free circulation.


THE ‘BOOK’

In his exclusive with ABC Sr Margallo was quoted as saying he was throwing the book at Gibraltar and would carry out meticulous checks at the border. He said that Spain is “trying to recover what can be recovered” adding that this amounted to all the “concessions” by his predecessor Miguel Angel Moratinos. He said the tripartite talks had been such a ‘crazy move’ (disparate) that even PSOE foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez had walked away from these when she took over.

“Gibraltar has to understand that things won’t be like that again. The party is over.”

He detailed the source of the conflict back to Peter Caruana’s GSD government introducing environmental laws and the 1999 conflict followed by an agreement under Aznar not to abolish but at least not implement those laws. But he said Fabian Picardo had taken that “absurd law” on fishing and made it a battle point by promising to implement it.

He said that when Britain had the waters declared by the EU as being of community interest (SIC) – some 5000 hectares of Gibraltar waters – he had told William Hague, Foreign Secretary, that Spain’s 23,000 hectares included these 5,000 and that, without entering into a sovereignty dispute the logic would have been “to implement identical laws for all the waters.”


HORSE TRADING

“It appeared we were about to come to an agreement at a time when the UK had an interest of having our support to unblock a petrol operation of British Petroleum’s in the sea off the North of Iran affected by sanctions.”

He said this issue and Spain’s interest on the Gibraltar front created optimism for an accord but this fell apart with the dumping of the cement blocks.

Sr Margallo nonetheless insisted that was not the reason for queues but simple as an example of a series of issues where Spain is “willing to talk and the other side makes it impossible”

Citing Gibraltar not being part of Schengen, Sr Margallo argues that Spain has obligations to carry out thorough checks. “Our EU membership obliges us to do these,” he said.

In a bizarre statement he declared that fiscal measures have to be taken including “inspecting some 6,000 Gibraltarians who have property in Sotogrande.” There are not that number of properties in that estate.

Another doubtful statement was a promise to reform gaming laws to oblige use of Spanish servers and payment of taxes to Spain. That arrangement is already in place.


AIR SAFETY

In a move designed to reduce air safety for passengers Sr Margallo declared that “We are going to close air space and restrict part of the flight.”

And in a gesture intended to provoke angry reactions and hit the economy he said that not only will there be queues but they are planning a 50 euro congestion charge for cars going in and out of Gibraltar. “That income would be useful to compensate the fishermen condemned by the destruction of their fishing area.”

The Spanish Foreign Minister also confirmed that cement supplies had been stopped from passing through the border into Gibraltar because of the cement dropped into the sea to create the reefs.

“But the damage is done whilst the blocks are not removed.”

In all this Sr Margallo insisted that Spain would continue to have good relations with UK.


‘UN INTERVENTION’

The Express newspaper reported yesterday that a Foreign Office source had revealed there was “fury” in Whitehall over Spain’s insistence on carrying out its “childish cat and mouse games” with the territory.

It quoted Mr Picardo, currently away from Gibraltar on vacation,as going further and warning that Spanish attempts to place the British territory in a “choke-hold”, coupled with increasing increased incursions of Spanish fishing vessels on British waters, had left relations between both countries at such a dangerous “flashpoint” that they merited UN intervention.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express at his offices at 6 Convent Place, Mr Picardo warned: “This is the sort of thing that the UN Security Council gets involved in. Things are getting too close for comfort. People could be hurt.”

Mr Picardo had also maintained the reef had been implanted for ecological reasons, and matched those laid by Spain in nearby waters.

“The blocks are as ecological as the identical blocks in many areas of Spanish waters. They have holes so that fish can nest and they have sea grass. They are designed to become a fish factory in an area which was severely over-fished and over-raked by illegal Spanish fishing,” he said.

He reportedly pledged that Gibraltar would not buckle under the weight of adversity, adding: “Spanish fishermen have suggested that until the artificial reef is removed, Spain will continue to exert pressure. Well, then we’ll be in for a long choke-hold.”

“Spain insists that Gibraltar has no territorial rights over these waters, and that we are only interested in demonstrating our jurisdiction.”

“The way I do that is through the international tribunal for the law of the sea.”

“I know we possess these waters, because of the charts deposited in the United Nations by the United Kingdom under the 1982 convention of law of the sea, and previously under the 1958 convention. These are British Gibraltar territorial waters and the rule of law is important – we can’t have Spanish fishermen flouting the law while Gibraltarians are prevented from breaching those same laws.”

He repeated a plea, reported by the Sunday Express a fortnight ago, for more Royal Naval assets.

“The Gibraltarian understands Spain’s ability to use the frontier as a choke-hold. When Franco was in power, he said Gibraltar would fall like a ripe fig if Spain exerted pressure on the frontier,” he said.

“He closed the frontier and it was like the Berlin Blockade. People died. Spain stopped oxygen being brought to Gibraltar hospitals. But Gibraltar didn’t loosen.”

“We need a frigate because that’s the size the muscle needs, not to punch, but to flex. The more we fill the water, the less room there is for incursion.

“The Royal Navy needs to consider that some of its larger assets are needed here more than they are needed elsewhere.

“For some time they have disrespected the authority of the RN whose waters these are. We need much more senior naval assets so that Spain once again respects the Royal Navy.”


 

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