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Despite international upheaval over Ukraine, Commission remains ‘focused’ on Gib treaty and aims for Easter

Photo by Eyleen Gomez.

Negotiators for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar’s future relations with the bloc continue to work to the Easter timeline signalled at the end of last year, despite the political disruption created by the war in Ukraine.

With European and western nations centred on their collective response to the war and the refugee crisis it has created, there was concern that the final stage of the Gibraltar negotiations could again be delayed as political attention was necessarily focused elsewhere.

But while delays cannot be ruled out, the aim at present remains to hammer out the agreement by Easter, as signalled by the European Commission and the Foreign Ministers of the UK and Spain last December.

The hope is for talks to resume for a seventh round later this month.

“Despite the Ukraine situation, the European Commission endeavours to stay focused and work towards the objectives set out at the end of last year by the Foreign Ministers of Spain and the United Kingdom and Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič,” the Commission official said.

Last December, the European Commission said the negotiations had so far proved “very constructive” and would soon to enter their “decisive phase”.

Mr Šefčovič highlighted the “strong willingness” to reach an agreement.

“We will continue these negotiations in the New Year and enter the decisive phase as soon as possible,” he said at the time, adding that a deal could be possible in the first quarter of the year.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and his UK counterpart, Liz Truss, agreed after meeting in Madrid at around the same time that the ideal timeline was to reach agreement “more or less by Easter week”, meaning mid-April.

But while there have been two rounds of talks since, there is still no public information as to headway in the negotiations, or the nature of any stumbling blocks hindering that progress.

All sides remain tight-lipped about the content of the talks, adding they will not negotiate in public.

They have insisted repeatedly, however, that a deal remains possible and that all sides want it.

The Commission official told the Chronicle that the next round of talks will take place in Brussels.

While the final dates for the seventh round have not been confirmed yet, the aim is for negotiators to meet again before the end of March.

Last month, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Spain’s Mr Albares said negotiators were “rowing in the same direction” and that while Easter remained the goal, they would meet for “as many rounds as necessary” to reach a deal.

He acknowledged however that everything impacted by Brexit “has been complex” and that there had been delays in the negotiation process, not least because of the disruption caused by Covid-19.

Last week, a Gibraltar Government spokesperson said a deal remained “achievable”, even while cautioning that the Easter target may be impacted by international developments.

“There are areas of convergence and areas where the parties need to move closer,” the spokesperson said.

The negotiators hope to reach an agreement allowing a common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone.

Spain, as neighbouring country, would take responsibility on behalf of the EU for Schengen immigration checks in Gibraltar, but Frontex officers would carry out the actual physical controls on the ground, at least for the first four years.

There is also the possibility of a bespoke arrangement on customs.

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