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Czech MEP demands probe into why EC changed position on ‘colony’ clause

A Czech MEP who opposed Gibraltar’s description as ‘a colony’ in an EU regulation for post-Brexit travel has demanded an investigation to establish why the European Commission changed its position and accepted the controversial reference.

Petr Ježek, who was closely involved in parliamentary scrutiny of the regulation, said the Gibraltar footnote had been introduced by the European Council under Spanish pressure into a text that had already been approved by both the European Commission and the European Parliament.

But while the parliament opposed the change and tried to have it removed, the European Commission accepted the Council’s move.

In a hard-hitting letter to Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Mr Ježek said the ‘colony’ reference added unnecessary complications to the legal text.

Gibraltar, he said, had been “unjustly singled out” in a move that “makes absolutely no sense”, adding that no other British overseas territory had been described as a colony even though the regulation mentioned 15 British territories in total.

“Specifically, I demand that an investigation is launched into how the Commission’s view came to be changed, who is responsible for the change view of the Commission and on what grounds was that change made,” Mr Ježek wrote in his letter.

“From what I gathered during the final inter-institutional meeting, the reasoning seemed to be ‘because the Council will not change its position’.”

“I would add that the Commission representative seemed to indicate that the Parliament was responsible for the issues that arose.”

Mr Ježek noted that during the course of negotiations over the legislation, the Commission representative had appeared to indicate that the impasse over the word colony had been created by the Parliament.

“Having taken part in the negotiations from the very beginning myself, despite the Commission representative changing three times, it was absolutely clear that it was the Council that was responsible for the issue as it unnecessarily complicated the text,” he wrote.

Mr Ježek said the Council had not followed EU guidelines requiring consistency of terminology in legal texts, and had instead introduced the first reference to Gibraltar as a colony in an EU legal text despite the sensitivities.

The European Commission had then gone on to support that change, despite the parliamentary opposition.

“I will conclude this letter by highlighting that this process, and specifically the change in the Commission’s position from its initial proposal to the unfortunate and accusatory tone in the final inter-institutional meeting, has led me to lose faith in the impartiality of the Commission during inter-institutional negotiations,” Mr Ježek said in his letter to Mr Juncker.

The Czech MEP urged Mr Juncker to investigate the matter and provide “a clear response” to the issues he had raised.

On Tuesday, the European Council adopted the regulation, which will mean Britons – including those in Gibraltar - will be able to travel throughout the EU for up to 90 days without a visa in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as long as the UK reciprocates.

The regulation must still be formally rubber-stamped by the European Parliament and published in the EU’s official gazette.