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Convincing EU to sign up to New Year’s Eve agreement ‘hasn’t been easy’

Convincing the European Commission to reflect the spirit of the New Year’s Eve agreement in its negotiating mandate for talks on a UK/EU treaty for Gibraltar “hasn’t been easy”, Spain’s State Secretary for European Union affairs, Juan Gonzalez-Barba, said on Thursday.

Speaking at the start of a visit to Algeciras where he will meet with Campo mayors and attend a workshop with business representatives from both sides of the border, Mr Gonzalez-Barba expressed confidence that the treaty talks would prosper but warned that all sides will have to “cede something” from their opening positions.

Mr Gonzalez-Barba said the Commission would likely publish its negotiating mandate next week, after which it will have to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers before negotiations can commence.

“It’s taken a long time because it hasn’t been easy to convey the spirit of the New Year’s Eve agreement to commission officials,” he said.

“Because in many aspects, it will mean creating an ad hoc regime.”

“There was no precedent for some of the things we want to do and all of that, in any administrative organisation, not just the European Commission, requires more time in order to convince those responsible for the different services that what is sought is, firstly, in line with the community acquis, and secondly, is in the interests not just of Spain, the UK and of course Gibraltar, but of the European Union.”

“So we’ve had to work hard to convince.”

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had previously warned that the Commission’s mandate may contain aspects that are not to Gibraltar and the UK’s liking, and that the crucial factor was not opening positions but the final agreement.

On Thursday, Mr Gonzalez-Barba played down the suggestion that the mandate would diverge significantly from the framework agreement.

“The mandate, even if it doesn’t reflect 100% [the New Year’s Eve agreement], is very inspired by it, and in the end, the final agreement that will be reached will have to follow closely what the UK and Spain agreed informally,” he said.

“There will be no surprises and it will not prevent the treaty from progressing.”

“This is a proposal for a negotiating mandate. A negotiation will commence and each side will have its own mandate and an idea of what, at the end of it, will be the landing zones where positions can converge.”

“Ultimately, everyone has to win, that’s the important thing, and everyone has to cede something.”

“This is not an agreement in which opening positions will be maintained 100%, as in all negotiations. I’m not revealing anything here.”

Mr Gonzalez-Barba said the treaty negotiations were “one of the priorities” for Spain’s new Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, who took over from Arancha Gonzalez Laya this week.

“He was already working on this when he was Sherpa [in the Brexit negotiations] so this is a priority..,” he said.

“That priority continues and intensifies, and the proof is my presence here today.”

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