In UN decolonisation seminar, a Spanish nod to Gibraltarians as a people
The Spanish Government, in a speech to a UN decolonisation seminar late last month, signalled a marked shift from its usual tone on Gibraltar, acknowledging the Rock's “profound transformation” over the past three decades and insisting democratic principles must underpin Spain's future relations with Gibraltar and its people.
The speech, delivered by Pablo Gutiérrez-Segú, a diplomat at Spain’s Permanent Representation to the UN, set out Spain’s traditional position on Gibraltar and territorial integrity.
But it signalled too before the international community Madrid’s hope to build a new post-Brexit relationship with the Rock based on shared social and economic interests.
In addressing the UN decolonisation seminar on the Caribbean island of Dominica, the Spanish diplomat said UN resolutions required the UK and Spain to take into account “the interests” of the people of Gibraltar in negotiating bilaterally the future of the Rock.
Successive Gibraltar Governments and the UK have argued that Gibraltarians have the right to self-determination and that that their “wishes”, not just their interests, must also be taken into account.
Spain’s position on this issue remains unchanged, but its language at the seminar appeared nuanced in a way that has not been evident before.
“The [UN] resolutions require that Spain and the United Kingdom negotiate taking into account the interests of the population of the territory,” Mr Gutiérrez-Segú said, according to a transcript posted this week by the UN's Committee of 24 on its website.
“It couldn’t be otherwise, especially if we take into account the political principles operating in both countries. Two parliamentary monarchies, European friends with deep democratic conviction.”
“In fact, as a result of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, Spain has demonstrated its willingness to take into account those interests of the population of Gibraltar, in the same way as it is taking into account the interests of the population of the Campo de Gibraltar, the Spanish district on the other side of the so-called Fence, the demarcation line between Gibraltar and the rest of the Iberian peninsula.”
“Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar have close social, family and economic ties which are impossible to ignore and which are the foundation of the opportunities for future prosperity.”
Mr Gutiérrez-Segú said that after Brexit, Spain had deployed “great effort and imagination” to find a way for the “inhabitants of Gibraltar” and the Campo de Gibraltar to continue to “enjoy European freedoms”.
He referred to bilateral talks between Spain and the UK – Gibraltar has in fact formed a key part of those talks throughout – and highlighted the memorandums of understanding reached during the withdrawal negotiations, as well as the framework agreement reached on New Year’s Eve for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar.
“As a result of all that, in the near future, the inhabitants of Gibraltar will enjoy the four basic freedoms of the European Union even more than they do now,” Mr Gutiérrez-Segú said.
“They will have the freedom to move and establish themselves and do business with the rest of the European Union, on an equal basis with citizens of the Union.”
He said the most “striking and symbolic” consequence of this would be the dismantling of “the Fence”, adding: “Our objective and desire is that the new context allows a better future of shared social and economic prosperity for the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar.”
But he made no mention at all about who would control border checks at the airport and port in the event that a treaty on Gibraltar can be agreed by the UK and the EU, carefully avoiding one of the thorniest aspects of any forthcoming talks.
Mr Gutiérrez-Segú said Spain’s “constructive” position did not reflect any change in the Spanish Government’s legal position on the issue of sovereignty and jurisdiction in respect of Gibraltar.
But there was no mention, as is usually the case, of "the genuine Gibraltarians" being those Spanish inhabitants who were forced to leave the Rock when it was captured in 1704.
The Spanish diplomat even had fulsome praise for Sir Joe Bossano, Gibraltar’s Minister for Economic Development, who had spoken just before him during the seminar.
“It is an honour to speak after Mr Bossano, who has discharged the highest political roles and is one of the principal architects of the profound transformation and economic progress of Gibraltar over the last 30 years,” Mr Gutiérrez-Segú said.
Speaking on National Day in Gibraltar, Sir Joe, whose engagement with the UN spans decades, confessed he had been left speechless.
“For the first time in my life, I was lost for words,” Sir Joe said.
“This is the first time in 57 years that Spain has not challenged our claim that we are a genuine people with our own identity.”
“It is the closest we have ever come in the UN to Spain accepting we are a distinct people and it is something to celebrate in national week.”
And he added: “This is the most important advance we’ve ever had at the UN.”
Despite the difference in tone, there was little change on the core substance of Spain’s legal position on Gibraltar.
Mr Gutiérrez-Segú had repeated Spain’s traditional position on Gibraltar and its surrounding sea and airspace, insisting the UN doctrine of territorial integrity was key to the Rock’s decolonisation.
He said UN resolutions required the UK and Spain to negotiate bilaterally under the Brussels process to decolonise Gibraltar, and that Spain awaited the start of those talks.
Earlier in the seminar, however, delegates from around the world had been told by Sir Joe that the Brussels process was “as good as dead” and that only the Gibraltarians would decide the future of the Rock.
“We believe that a mutually beneficial economic relationship is possible with our neighbours in Spain, but we will never sacrifice our right to the jurisdiction and control of our land, sea and air space,” Sir Joe told the seminar.