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Spanish parliament hears support for Gibraltar’s right to self-determination

A parliamentary debate yesterday exposed the differing views on Gibraltar held by Spanish political parties, who share common ground on Spain’s sovereignty claim but are split on key issues including the right to self-determination.

The debate in the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Spanish Congress left no doubt that Spain’s principal parties want Gibraltar back, even if they differ on how to go about it.

But in a potentially significant development, there was clear support in the Spanish parliament for the right of Gibraltarians to decide their own future – and not just from regional parties with vested nationalist interests.

There was also little evident backing for the co-sovereignty proposal presented by caretaker Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo recently.

Ángela Rodríguez Martínez, the spokeswoman for Unidos Podemos-En Marea, voiced her party’s unequivocal support for self-determination.

“Gibraltar is considered a colony by the UN…and that means that we are going to have to embark on a process of decolonisation that will inevitably have to end in a binding referendum,” she said.

“The people who live there will have to decide what their future will be.”

A similar position had already been expressed by Joan Tardá, the spokesman for Catalan party Esquerra Republicana, which has traditionally backed Gibraltar’s right to self-determination.

He said that while it was legitimate for Spanish political parties to defend a claim over the sovereignty of the Rock, it was also necessary to respect the right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar.

And he said that Gibraltar must be represented at any discussion about the future of the Rock in the face of the Brexit challenge, adding that 96% of the population of Gibraltar had voted to remain in the EU.

“If we want to help them, then we have to listen to them,” he said, adding that Spain “should stop making life difficult” for the Gibraltarians.

The Foreign Affairs Commission was debating a motion presented by the PSOE MP for Cádiz, Salvador de la Encina, who was critical of the PP’s decision to table a joint sovereignty proposal without debating it first in parliament.

Sr de la Encina’s motion presented a robust defence of the trilateral process and the need for dialogue and good cross-border relations, even while advocating a Spanish Gibraltar.

But it shied away from criticising the PP’s proposal itself, focusing instead on the process and the need for parliamentary consensus on issues such as this.

He said the decision by the caretaker PP government to push ahead with the co-sovereignty proposal and present it at the UN was “a very serious unilateral step” that other parties would not be able to support.

That was a view backed by Ciudadanos, whose spokesman, Fernando Maura, said the upstart centre-right party was “pretty upset” by the way the PP had handled the co-sovereignty proposal.

The PP spokeswoman in the commission, Teofila Martínez, replied to the motion first by setting out a long list of well-known criticism of Gibraltar, ranging from bunkering and tax, to fishermen and smuggling of “tobacco and drugs”.

But while she defended the PP’s approach to Gibraltar, which she insisted was a bilateral matter between the UK and Spain, Sra Martínez did not talk about the co-sovereignty proposal and focused instead on the need to strengthen dialogue between regional and national bodies in Spain in the face of Brexit.

She said this “…cooperation and dialogue must serve to deliver solutions to specific problems of a local nature, without intervening in bilateral negotiations between Spain and the UK on issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity of our nation.”

And she added it was “vital once and for all” for Spain to develop a medium and long-term strategy to coordinate investment in the Campo to address the “abysmal” difference in income between the Campo and Gibraltar so that this “no longer plays a determining role” when it comes to reaching local agreements with Gibraltar.

The PP tabled a number of minor amendments that were accepted by the PSOE and the motion was approved with support from Ciudadanos too.

It called for parliamentary consensus on decisions relating to Gibraltar in order to avoid conditioning Spain's position ahead of Brexit, an implicit indication of a step away from Sr García-Margallo's joint sovereignty bid.