Spotlight ‘should be on Spain’ in EU aviation debate, Govt says
Spain’s continued opposition to Gibraltar’s inclusion in EU aviation agreements will come under increasing scrutiny in the months ahead against the backdrop of Brexit.
Amid reports that Spain could try to block Gibraltar from any post-Brexit aviation deal between the UK and the EU, officials here are keen to highlight that Madrid’s position flies in the face of earlier Spanish commitments going back a decade.
“It is unfair to blame Gibraltar for the current impasse which affects a number of EU aviation dossiers,” said Dr Joseph Garcia, the deputy Chief Minister, who also has responsibility for aviation and European affairs.
“These measures are being blocked by Spain and not by Gibraltar.”
In 2006, the then PSOE government said Spain would “…cease to seek the suspension of Gibraltar airport from any EU aviation measure not yet adopted”.
The commitment was made in a ministerial statement with the UK and Gibraltar as part of the Cordoba Agreement. The aim was to enable the enhanced use of the Rock’s airport for the socio-economic benefit of Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.
Since then, Gibraltar has been included in at least four EU aviation regulations covering areas such as security, common rules for air services and the investigation of accidents, as well as regulations aimed at improving the performance and sustainability of the European aviation system.
But when the Partido Popular came into power in 2011 and withdrew from the trilateral forum, it also reversed Spain’s policy on aviation.
“EU law on civil aviation applies to Gibraltar airport by virtue of our terms of membership of the European Union [and] it is Spain that seeks to undermine the legal position by advocating the exclusion of Gibraltar Airport,” Dr Garcia said.
“This exclusion would be illegal.”
“EU law was applied between 2006 and 2011 until a new Spanish Government decided not to honour what Madrid had previously signed up to,” he added.
“The blame for the existing impasse therefore lies squarely with Spain, and in particular with the PP, and not with Gibraltar or the UK.”
Dr Garcia was speaking to the Chronicle following a report in the Financial Times which suggested the Spanish position on Gibraltar could prove a stumbling block to negotiations to agree a new aviation framework between the UK and the EU.
Britain is analysing options to ensure continued air links to the EU after it withdraws from the bloc.
These include attempting to retain membership of the European Common Aviation Area, which would mean it keeps full access, or seeking a bilateral “open skies” agreement with the EU, which is likely to have more restrictive terms.
Both deals would, however, require unanimous support from all EU member states.
According to the FT, Spain is not prepared to accept a deal in which Gibraltar airport is given the same rights as UK mainland airports. Madrid argues that Gibraltar airport is situated on a disputed isthmus and must be left out of the EU’s aviation agreements
“Any EU agreement with the UK on aviation cannot apply to the airport of Gibraltar,” one Spanish diplomat told the FT.
“A deal that is applicable to the airport of Gibraltar would imply recognition of the legal right of the UK to the territory.”
Yesterday Dr Garcia said the Gibraltar Government was keenly aware of the potential implications of Brexit in the aviation sector, and the likelihood that Spain would object to Gibraltar’s inclusion in any future deal between the UK and the EU in this sector.
“It is clear that the decision taken in the UK to leave the EU will have an impact on EU aviation measures both for Gibraltar and for the UK itself,” he said.
“The nature and extent of this impact depends on the detail of the exit negotiations and of the new relationship on aviation matters between the UK and the EU going forward.”
“The Gibraltar Government has, at an early stage, already flagged potential issues to the UK Government.”
“The previous and the current UK Governments have maintained important red lines on the inclusion of Gibraltar Airport in EU aviation legislation.”
Britain argues that there is no legal basis for excluding Gibraltar from EU aviation legislation and the UK has so far remained adamant in this position.
All eyes now will be on whether or not London maintains that stance as it discusses aviation issues as part of the wider negotiation for withdrawal.
Yesterday the British Government declined to be drawn on the matter.
A spokesman said the UK government was conducting a wide range of data analysis covering the entirety of the UK economy and looking at over 50 sectors, as well as “cross-cutting regulatory issues”.
“This will inform the UK’s position for the upcoming negotiations with our EU partners,” the British Government spokesman added.
“The UK is committed to fully involving Gibraltar as we prepare for negotiations to leave the EU, to ensure that their priorities are taken into account.”
“The Prime Minister has been clear that we will not be giving a running commentary.”