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EU ministers give green light to ‘hard and tricky’ treaty talks

Today's meeting of the European Council, which adopted negotiating guidelines for talks on a UK/EU treaty for Gibraltar. Photo by European Council

The European Council on Tuesday adopted the bloc’s negotiating position for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar, clearing the way for negotiations that Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said would be “both hard and tricky”.

The EU said the aim of the talks was to negotiate a “broad and balanced agreement” that reflected the Rock’s unique circumstances “…without prejudice to the issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

The mandate, which was the subject of weeks of technical talks between the European Commission and the Council, was approved last week by EU ambassadors and formally adopted during a Council meeting of EU economic and financial affairs ministers.

The final negotiating mandate has not been published, even though a draft of the document had been released earlier this year.

But all the indications are that a number of changes have been made to the draft position published by the European Commission in July.

The Chronicle understands the changes include a specific reference to the role of Frontex in the application of any Schengen checks inside Gibraltar.

The Commission’s draft position received a cold response from the UK and Gibraltar when it was published in July.

Both governments raised numerous concerns including the absence of any reference to Frontex, adding the draft went beyond what was agreed with Spain in the framework New Year’s Eve agreement.

“The Council today adopted a decision authorising the opening of negotiations for an EU-UK agreement in respect of Gibraltar, as well as the negotiating directives,” the Council said in a statement confirming the adoption of the mandate.

“On this basis, the European Commission can now begin formal negotiations with the United Kingdom in respect of Gibraltar.”

“The aim of the negotiations is to establish a broad and balanced agreement between the EU and the UK in respect of Gibraltar in view of the particular geographical situation and specificities of Gibraltar.”

“The envisaged agreement between the EU and the UK in respect of Gibraltar should be without prejudice to the issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

Gibraltar’s Attorney General, Michael Llamas, said last week that negotiations could commence as soon as this month, although a timetable has yet to be published.

Reacting to the development, the Gibraltar Government said it remained “firmly committed’ to a treaty based on the political framework in the New Year’s Eve Agreement and would continue to work constructively towards that objective.

But it added too that if a treaty is not possible, preparations would continue in parallel to mitigate some of the effects of a no negotiated outcome.

“Undoubtedly, the key issue in this negotiation will be the inviolate preservation of our sovereignty, jurisdiction and control in every respect,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“We will work hand in glove with the United Kingdom on all matters relating to this negotiation and look forward to seeing the huge amount of preparatory work we have done together these past ten months now come to fruition.”

“This was already one of the key issues I discussed with the new Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon Liz Truss, on Sunday and I know that both our teams work brilliantly together in defence of the wishes and interests of British Gibraltar.”

“The Gibraltar Government’s core team alongside me will be the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, the Attorney General Michael Llamas and the Financial Secretary Albert Mena on economic matters.”

“All members of the Cabinet will be consulted on the areas of their concern and all members of the Cabinet will be kept fully briefed on the whole negotiation throughout, as we did with the negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

“We will need to draw on the expertise of different Government ministers and departments and the private sector as the negotiations move forward.”

“We will be meeting much more frequently now with interested groups in order to consult on any relevant issues which may arise.”

“We will also consult with Opposition colleagues as we try to ensure that we make this as non-partisan as possible going forward.”

“We must not pretend that this will be an easy negotiation.”

“It will, of course be both hard and tricky.”

“But the Government is nonetheless confident that, with goodwill and cooperation on all sides, a treaty can be concluded to protect the interests of Gibraltar, through our relationship with the European Union, for years and decades to come.”

“I am optimistic and will continue to work to deliver a safe, secure and beneficial treaty for the benefit of Gibraltar, our people and the people of the area around us also.”

No.6 Convent Place said the start of talks would place heavy demands on the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister and different parts of the government in the coming weeks and months ahead.

“The priority of the Government remains to secure a final agreement which is safe, secure and beneficial for Gibraltar,” No.6 said in a statement.

“The intensity of the negotiations, and the preparations for and around them, will mean that it may take more time for any other meeting requests to materialise or any queries responded to, in particular where these involve the responsibilities of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister.”

“The government would like to apologise to the public in advance for this.”

The Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of Together Gibraltar have been notified that the work on the negotiations will impact on meetings of Parliament and that the Government will endeavour to keep them briefed on how the negotiations are progressing, No.6 said.

OPPOSITION REACTS

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, reiterated a position he had set out on Tuesday in an interview with this newspaper, calling for transparency before any agreement was sealed.

“We have already stated that the [draft] EU mandate does not provide a safe basis for future arrangements for Gibraltar,” he said.

“That position is unchanged.”

“What is ultimately more important, however, is what kind of possible deal is put on the table for Gibraltar.”

“As we have stated on numerous occasions, we wish there to be a safe and beneficial agreement for Gibraltar that is safe on the fundamentals of our sovereignty, jurisdiction and control and beneficial economically and socially.”

“There was a failure to land a safe and beneficial treaty by the end of the transitional period and a complete loss of momentum to these talks because of the failure to approve the negotiating mandate.”

“It is important to reflect on the fact that despite Gibraltar Government spin, nothing of enduring value has as yet been obtained.”

“Now that the mandate has been approved, we hope that the talks will proceed so that a safe and beneficial agreement is put on the table.”

“However there are major economic and political pit-falls to be negotiated and there is a need for caution and scepticism on proposals given the mandate.”

“If the talks develop to a stage where a deal is put on the table, the draft agreement should be clear for all to see and subjected to proper debate and scrutiny in Gibraltar before it is signed.”

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