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Treaty negotiators will meet ‘as many times as necessary’ to reach ‘shared objective

Photo by Eyleen Gomez.

Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, said UK/EU negotiators would meet “as many times as necessary” to achieve the “shared objective” of a treaty that would lay the foundations for an area of shared post-Brexit prosperity between Gibraltar and the Campo.

In an interview with Campo newspaper Europa Sur published at the weekend, he said all parties were “working very constructively” to that end, even while cautioning again that the negotiation “cannot be prolonged indefinitely”.

Mr Albares was speaking after a series of public statements last week by all parties involved in the negotiation – the UK, the EU, Spain and Gibraltar – in which they reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty negotiation, even while holding back on sharing detail of the talks or setting out any tangible progress.

“We’re working very constructively to reach a shared objective, which is an area of shared prosperity, and I think both Spain and the United Kingdom are being constructive in the way we are approaching this process,” he said.

“Spain is not responsible for this situation, which arises from the United Kingdom’s sovereign decision, which we respect, to abandon the European Union.”

“We’ll meet as many times as necessary to reach that shared objective,” he added.

In common with his counterparts in the other negotiating teams last week, Mr Albares played down criticism that the public statements, while optimistic, offered little by way of solid content on progress.

“We’re closer to an agreement after that meeting [with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly] and I think that’s already significant progress in respect of other moments in the negotiation,” he said.

“Even so, while there is concrete progress on specific matters, there is no agreement until everything is agreed.”

And he added: “Spain is ready to reach agreement tomorrow. In respect of Gibraltar, the ball is now in the British court.”

Mr Albares repeatedly referred to a “global proposal” tabled by Spain – in reality, it was tabled by the EU, though it was largely crafted by Spain which has the final say in any agreement proposed by Brussels – and, despite previously stressing the need for discretion in the talks, highlighted thorny differences in the negotiation.

These differences included the practical arrangements of how immigration controls will be handled in any common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone.

As far back as December 31, 2020, the New Year’s Eve framework agreement that set the foundation for the current negotiation envisaged an end to immigration checks at the land border, with Schengen controls instead being conducted at the port and airport with the assistance of officers from Frontex, the European borders and coastguard agency, at least for the first four years.

As the Schengen member neighbouring Gibraltar, Spain would be the guarantor of those checks to other Schengen countries.

“It would be Spanish authorities who exercise that control,” Mr Albares said, adding that “nothing exorbitant or extravagant is being requested”.

“The role of Frontex is clearly determined and I have said so publicly: for the first four years, Frontex will have a role supporting Spanish authorities,” he added.

“It cannot be any other way.”

Quizzed about a potential customs arrangement between Gibraltar and the EU, Mr Albares said Spain wanted the free circulation of goods but that this would have to avoid any competitive distortion with the EU single market.

“This is very reasonable and must be covered by the agreement,” he said.

“It cannot be the case that a territory is integrated into the European customs union and produces a distortion that does not exist in the rest of it.”

Mr Albares spoke too of the need for “certain harmonisation” of tobacco prices to ensure “a balance” – this is already being implemented under MoUs agreed in 2020 – and the aim to be “as ambitious on environmental issues as we can be”.

And he again raised the issue of Community Care and “joint use” of the airport, two issues that Chief Minister Fabian Picardo last week indicated Gibraltar would not accept, even while emphasising his government’s commitment to find a way through Spain’s concerns.

"Gibraltar has in the past already rejected the concept of joint use of the airport but we continue committed to the principle of enhanced use of the airport for the benefit of all those around us,” Mr Picardo said last week.

The Chief Minister said too that the Gibraltar Government would not accept any discrimination against any individual or worker, "in particular pensioners".

And he added: "There are no such discriminations in Gibraltar and Community Care is misunderstood by those who believe that it leads to any discrimination.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Albares was asked whether Gibraltar should do more to combat money laundering, a traditional bugbear of the Spanish right which the Foreign Minister sought to play down.

“I’m not an expert on taxation and money laundering, but I know that it is the desire of the UK authorities and local authorities in Gibraltar to do everything possible in this respect,” he said.

And while he acknowledged “small irritants” arising from UK military operations in Gibraltar, and signalled Spain’s hope to “reach an understanding” with a valued NATO partner at a time of international tension arising from the war in Ukraine and other shared security challenges, he scotched another traditional stance adopted by Spanish critics of the UK’s military presence here.

Asked whether he was concerned that Gibraltar was being used to repair nuclear submarines, Mr Albares replied: “I am not aware that Gibraltar is being used as a workshop for the repair of nuclear submarines.”

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