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Gib deal possible despite ‘seemingly irreconcilable positions’, MEP says

Eyleen Gomez

A Spanish Socialist MEP has expressed confidence that agreement can be reached on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the bloc despite “seemingly irreconcilable positions”.

Writing in The Parliament magazine, a respected Brussels publication that is widely read by EU lawmakers and officials, Nacho Sanchez Amor said that despite deep differences on the issue of sovereignty, the UK and Spain had always sought pragmatic solutions to practical problems affecting communities on either side of the border.

But he cautioned too that the UK and Gibraltar should “re-read” the European Commission’s proposed mandate published in July, just as they had called on the EU to “re-think” its position.

“With a common objective, of avoiding the harshest effects of a simple conversion of this area into an external border of the Union, it is now time to shape Gibraltar's future border relationship with the EU, expressly conditioned by Spain's recognition of a logical right of veto over Brussels' decisions and by the previous agreement reached in December with a British delegation that included representatives of the colony,” he wrote.

“The European Commission’s draft-negotiating mandate does not seem to have gone down well in either London or Gibraltar, although the criticisms of incompatibility with the December agreement are still very vague and seem more like a pre-emptive stance for the negotiations.”

“Pending further details on this alleged lack of coherence with what was already agreed, the new Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, travelled to Britain to explore the level of disagreement and clarify the role of Frontex in the initial management of the movement of people and goods at the Gibraltar-Spain border.”

“The spirit is therefore the same as always: openness, dialogue, cordiality and the search for practical solutions for the benefit of both populations.”

“Our British friends asked us to ‘re-think’ our offer, it is only right that we should also ask them to ‘re-read’ it, because from seemingly irreconcilable positions we have always been able to find that wise balance between matters of principle and the practical, day-to-day needs of both neighbouring communities.”

“Once again, why should it be any different now?”
Mr Sanchez, a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, is no stranger to Gibraltar and the neighbouring Campo, both of which is has visited in the past.

Mr Sanchez visited the Rock and the Campo de Gibraltar as Special Representative for Border issues of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, and as Secretary of State for Territorial Policy of the Spanish Government.

Prior to becoming an MEP, he was also the spokesman for the Socialist Group in the Foreign Affairs and European Union Committees of the Spanish Parliament.

He said he had enjoyed “a cordial relationship” with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who he has met on several occasions.

“In all our meetings, the underlying concern was the search for that complex equilibrium between the sovereignty claims and the inevitable vigour of an increasingly deep and multifaceted neighbourly relationship between the two societies,” he wrote.

“It’s true that in Spain the positions of conservatives and socialists have often diverged, despite the solid political consensus on the claim to sovereignty.”

“The former perhaps more politically-emotive and involving frequent allusions to flag; while the latter adopted a viewpoint more sensitive to the socio-economic difficulties of the neighbouring Spanish area, and the needs of the thousands of cross-border workers.”

“However, over and above these domestic differences, I believe that the way in which the Spanish and British have always approached the issue is an example of how modern democracies should conduct themselves in resolving their differences.”

Mr Sanchez said Brexit “and its many loose ends” had obliged governments and the EU to review relations and find “balanced solutions” to problems that arose from the UK’s departure from the bloc, a decision that he reminded readers had been widely rejected in Gibraltar.

“Because of this new framework, we are obliged to solve new problems created for the Gibraltarians by a British decision that they do not share,” he wrote.

“Neither Spain nor the EU have caused these new problems.”

“Brexit has turned a framework, that was working reasonably well, upside down; and channelled on two fronts: the general agreements between Great Britain and the EU, on the one hand, and the agreements between Spain and Great Britain, as well as those of Spain and Gibraltar, that have followed one after the other since the ‘disengagement’ process began.”

And despite clear differences on the core issue of sovereignty, he believed the UK and Spain had always sought to approach “the Gibraltar issue” with “respect, cordiality and empathy”.

“The long history of the handling of the Gibraltar issue between two democratic governments, Spanish and British, as well as my own personal experience on the matter, reaffirm my belief that, at each step of the process, what has been sought and achieved is a delicate equilibrium between the divergent substantive positions on sovereignty and the day-to-day needs of both populations,” he wrote.

“By all accounts, it has been this firm attitude - grounded in principles, but respectful in form - that has enabled us to overcome delicate circumstances and successively put solutions and proposals on the table to alleviate the situation of the people affected, without expecting the other side to abdicate its principles,” he wrote, adding: “If we have always succeeded in this, why should it be any different now?”

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