EU must protect Gibraltar’s border fluidity, Garcia says
The border between Gibraltar and Spain is “a microcosm of what Europe should be” and the EU should take pride in that and ensure continued fluidity post Brexit, deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said in a budget statement this week.
Dr Garcia, who is has responsibility in the Gibraltar Government for exiting the EU, offered a snapshot of the work carried out by the government after the June 23 referendum last year.
He said a Brexit formula that involved a difficult border was not in Gibraltar or Spain’s interest, and that even the Spanish Government had recognised the importance of maintaining links between communities on both sides of the frontier fence.
“This entire area has become a microcosm of what Europe should be – that is thousands of nationals of different Member States who have chosen to live in one part of the EU and to cross an internal border to work in another,” Dr Garcia said.
“It is a reality that Europe should be proud of, a reality that should be protected and maintained.”
But while a fluid border was possible, Spain’s joint sovereignty aspirations were “unrealistic, unacceptable and unattainable”, Dr Garcia said. Dr Garcia said the people of Gibraltar had rejected shared sovereignty and would continue to do so, adding that Spain’s position on this issue was out of step with modern times.
“Spain has to come to terms with the simple fact that they lost Gibraltar three hundred years ago and they are never going to get it back,” Dr Garcia said.
“It would be wrong and irresponsible for Spain to complicate Brexit further still by bringing their obsession with Gibraltar to the fore.”
He compared Spain’s attitude to Gibraltar with other the way other countries approached territorial history.
France was not blockading the Channel Islands or Monaco, he said, and neither was Portugal aggressive to Spain over Olivença.
Only Spain was “obsessed with re-drawing the frontiers of Europe at a time when Europe needs certainty and stability,” he said.
“History is littered with examples all over the planet where countries have come to terms with particular situations and learnt to live with them.”
“Spain must come to terms with that reality also.”
Dr Garcia said the Gibraltar Government had explored potential solution to guarantee frontier fluidity, adding that because Gibraltar was outside the Customs Union, this challenge was primarily about the movement of persons and not necessarily about the movement of goods, which would likely continue as it is now.
The government had looked at the possibility of joining Schengen and analysed how the EU’s other small neighbours – Andorra, Monaco and San Marino – operated their borders. All three are outside the EU and not in Schengen, but are members of the Customs Union.
“These small territories have no hostile Spain next door, that is true,” he said. “Nonetheless, we are dealing in an area where precedent is often a valuable ally to deploy.”
The government has also been looking at the possibilities provided by the framework of the EU’s Local Frontier Traffic Regulation No 1931/2006.
This provides a mechanism which allows EU Member States to conclude bilateral agreements with their neighbouring non-EU countries in order to facilitate the crossing of external borders.
“Two particular advantages of this scheme are that the European Commission retains oversight of the mechanics and that it is already enshrined in EU law,” he said.
Dr Garcia also reflected on the implications of Brexit on civil aviation and revealed that Gibraltar had already been consulted on the “outline preliminaries” of the new aviation agreements that the UK will need to negotiate with third countries once outside the European Union.
He said the Clause 24 of the EU’s guidelines applied only to any future agreement after the UK leaves the EU, and therefore did not apply to the withdrawal treaty or to anything that may be agreed under its terms.
He said the clause, which gave Spain “a second bite at the cherry” in the form of an additional veto on a future deal, was “tactless, insensitive and wrong”.
Dr Garcia, who was in Brussels yesterday to open an exhibition on Gibraltar in the European Parliament, also highlighted potential future opportunities for trade, including with the UK and the wider Commonwealth.
Dr Garcia also provided a rundown of the work conducted by the government’s offices in London, Brussels and Hong Kong, as well as lobbying work in Washington.