by Brian Reyes, Maria Jesus Corrales and Gabriella Peralta
Pic by Sergio Rodriguez
– Campo mayors disappointed at lack of firm proposals
The Gibraltar Government this weekend welcomed Spain’s assurances about continued fluidity at the border after Brexit, but insisted the principle must apply to everyone and not just Spanish workers.
The government was reacting to statements made by Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, over the course of a two-day visit to the Campo de Gibraltar, during which he met municipal authorities and addressed an audience of 200 officials and business executives.
In interventions on Friday and Saturday, SrDastis said Madrid wanted to ensure Brexit did not have a negative impact on the Campo and its citizens.
He said transit at the frontier – he referred to it as “the fence”, as is usual for Spanish politicians – would remain fluid and that Brexit was an opportunity to improve relations.
But while his tone was more measured than that of his predecessor, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, SrDastis also stuck to the PartidoPopular’s traditional position on Gibraltar, including the view that agreements reached under the trilateral forum for dialogue “were a mistake”.
The visit was closely monitored by the Gibraltar Government, which reacted cautiously to the Spanish minister’s statements.
“The Government notes the tone of some of the things SrDastis has said in the Campo,” said a spokesman No.6 Convent Place.
“His statements at least reflect the realisation that it is not possible to compel Gibraltarians to change our minds in respect of the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”
“We welcome his remarks as to continued frontier fluidity, but cannot accept that such fluidity should be guaranteed only for Spanish frontier workers.”
“Unfortunately, even now, SrDastis seems not to appreciate the many benefits the Cordoba Agreements and the Trilateral Forum delivered to Spain, in particular Spanish pensioners who had worked in Gibraltar before the frontier closure.”
“Moreover, given the huge costs suffered by the Gibraltarian tax payer in the development of the new airport terminal, in excess of £80m, it is unfortunate that SrDastis appears to insist that the Government of Spain will continue to not comply with those of its obligations under the Cordoba Agreements that relate to the airport generally and the new terminal building in particular.”
During his visit to the Campo, SrDastis said the Spanish Government was “concerned about, and with” the impact of Brexit on the Campo de Gibraltar.
He insisted on repeated occasions over the two days that Spain would seek ensure a smooth border after Brexit, although much of his emphasis was on Spanish cross-border workers.
“As you know we don’t talk about a border, we talk about a fence, but we are certainly going to keep it open,” he told journalists.
“And we are going to do everything possible so that the crossing continues to be as fluid as it is today.”
“Our objective is that Brexit does not have a negative impact on this area or on the workers who cross the fence daily to work there [in Gibraltar].”
“I am confident that the situation in the area will improve clearly and definitively.”
This was the second time in the space of a year that a Spanish Foreign Minister has visited the Campo de Gibraltar, although the two visits were markedly different.
When Sr Garcia-Margallo came to the Campo last year before he was sacked by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, his tone on Gibraltar was forceful and uncompromising.
In contrast SrDastis, a career diplomat, was far more nuanced, although the underlying substance remained the same.
SrDastis said, for example, that he had “no plans to meet” with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister to discuss issues relating to Gibraltar.
He said Spain wanted an end to “unacceptable, illicit” activities, a reference to tobacco smuggling and what he described as Gibraltar’s “unjustified fiscal advantages”.
And while he ignored Spain’s earlier commitments under Cordoba, he added: “There are many practical issues that we can discuss.”
“We should try for a third time [to reach an airport agreement] but for that to happen we would first have to agree the conditions of use.”
During a press conference on Saturday, SrDastis was asked to comment on Sr Garcia-Margallo’s assertion last October that he would “place the Spanish flag on Gibraltar and much sooner than Picardo thinks”.
“The co-sovereignty proposal remains on the table is beneficial for everyone, but it needs two sides [to agree],” SrDastis replied.
“We are not willing to risk cooperation between two states by insisting on an aspiration which we are not renouncing, but on which we are not putting an exact date.”
The minister’s comments were closely followed by the UK’s ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, who was in Seville at the weekend and was interviewed by Europa Sur newspaper.
Asked whether it would be possible to maintain border fluidity, Mr Manley replied: “I hope so. The British, Spanish and Gibraltarian governments have that shared interest.”
“I’ve listened carefully to the comments of the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, SrDastis, and I share his concern for the future of workers who live in the Campo de Gibraltar and work in Gibraltar.”
“We have to find a solution because the commercial, social and cultural interchange between one side and the other is fundamental for all citizens in the area.”
Asked about Spain’s position in the Brexit talks, Mr Manley said this would not be an obstacle because the UK and Gibraltar were “in constant contact” and “a close relationship and common positions”.
He also reaffirmed the UK’s commitment never to negotiate or discuss sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
“We are not going to go against the will of the people of Gibraltar, but there are practical issues that we are willing to discuss,” he said, citing as an example ongoing discussions on security and law enforcement cooperation.
He also noted that the trilateral forum for dialogue “…was a good path and, if we could choose, we would return to it.”
The minister’s statements, however, fell significantly short of expectations in the Campo, with some mayors expressing frustration at the lack of specific measures to assist a region hit by chronic unemployment and crime.
Juan Franco, the mayor of La Linea, was particularly stern in his reaction to the minister’s visit, saying his city had “unique challenges” in the face of Brexit and that SrDastis had come “empty handed”.
“No concrete measures have been announced and it is extremely serious because 15 months have already passed [since the Brexit referendum],” Sr Franco said.
“Our 10,000 cross-border workers, our 8,115 unemployed and our small business are suffering from the uncertainty and La Linea’s economic environment is in serious danger.”
Sr Franco said he had hoped the minister would have announced progress on inter-ministerial initiatives aimed at mitigating the impact of Brexit on the Campo, including a proposal for a special fiscal status for La Linea.
Sr Franco refused to be drawn on issues relating to Gibraltar, insisting that his competence was as a mayor and that foreign affairs were the preserve of the Spanish Government.
But he offered a personal view on Spain’s co-sovereignty proposal, which has been firmly rejected by Gibraltar.
“If you want to charm someone, you have to be handsome or rich,” he said.
“We are not good looking and we are poor.”
“How can you gain Gibraltarians’ trust and attract them to Spain? At this moment, this is not realistic.”