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Cross-Frontier Group highlights ‘stability and trust’ as key to cooperation

Cross-Frontier Group meets in La Linea.

Cross-border cooperation must be “shielded from politics” in order to gain the trust of citizens and the business community in Gibraltar and Spain, the Cross-Frontier Group said yesterday.

The group, which brings together unions and business organisations from both sides of the border, is pushing ahead with plans to set up a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation [EGTC] as a means of promoting transnational cooperation and economic opportunities.

It believes the EGTC, an EU framework established to foster cross-frontier cooperation between public entities, could provide the necessary space for long term initiatives to prosper between Gibraltar and communities in the Campo de Gibraltar.

Juan Carmona, a former socialist mayor of La Linea, said the Cross-Frontier Group had strived to stay apolitical from its inception in January 2014 at the height of the border delays.

“It’s always been one step forward, two steps back when it comes to cross-border relations,” he said.

“For us, the question was how to fence off initiatives from the impact of politics.”

The EGTC will involve the members of the Cross-Frontier Group, which include leading unions Unite, the GGCA and NASUWT in Gibraltar and UGT and Comisiones Obreras in Spain, as well as business organisations such as the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, the GFSB and Apymell in La Linea.

But the initiative also has support from the Gibraltar Government and the town councils of La Linea and San Roque.

The aim of an EGTC is to facilitate cross-border, transnational or interregional cooperation in the EU, allowing regional and local authorities and other public undertakings from different member countries to set up groupings with a legal personality to deliver joint services.

One attractive aspect of the initiative is that, once set up, it would have access to EU funds available specifically for cross-border projects and programmes.

If it meets all the requirements – and the indications are that it will – the EGTC can be constituted under EU rules irrespective of whether the central government in Spain supports its aims or not.

“If certain requirements are met, it has to be approved,” Sr Carmona said.

In the coming months, a technical group will prepare the necessary documentation in order to proceed with the creation of the EGTC, hopefully by the end of 2016.

John Isola, the Chamber of Commerce director who currently holds the presidency of the Cross-Frontier Group, said “stability and trust” were crucial in order to foster cross-border investment and business opportunities.

He said border fluidity was a crucial element of that and, while recognising that there had been some improvement on the back of infrastructure investments, said more was needed, particularly in terms of human resources.

“We’ve seen an investment in physical infrastructure, but I don’t think that’s been the case in terms of human resources,” he said.

Reflecting the work of the Cross-Frontier Group, he said much had already been achieved since it was established two years ago.

“I’m an optimist,” he said, when questioned about future prospects.

“The people who have not wanted this to work are realising that citizens are broadly supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

“So, even those who oppose our aims are starting to change their discourse.”

The Cross-Frontier Group, whose members have travelled to Brussels to brief officials there, believes it played a role in ensuring Spain invested in infrastructure at the border.

Inmaculada Ortega, the Campo secretary for CCOO, said it was vital that the border was not used as a political tool, adding that the crossing was still plagued by “anomalies” such as shorter opening hours for commercial goods.

“The investments that are needed for a smoother, more agile border are not there yet,” she said.

And while the group has found political backing on both sides of the border, there are also those who have been less supportive of its aims.

“The truth is that we have had no help from the Partido Popular or from the central [Spanish] government, when this is a matter of national interest,” said Angel Serrano, the Campo secretary for UGT.

But he added that even this may be changing.

“At the start it felt like we were being watched from a distance with a pair of binoculars,” he said.

“But having seen that all we want is to improve the lot of citizens on both sides of the border, they seem to have put the binoculars down to come a bit closer.”

He highlighted as an example of this a commitment from the PP to look at the possibility of longer opening hours for the commercial gate at the border.

Cross-Frontier Group meets in La Linea.

Cross-Frontier Group meets in La Linea.