Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the United Nations yesterday that Gibraltar was ready to work with Spain’s new Socialist government for the mutual benefit of citizens on both sides of the border.
This, he underscored, did not deviate from Gibraltar’s cast-iron position on sovereignty and the principle of self-determination.
“Although we will not deviate from our stated position that Gibraltar will never be Spanish, we reach out our hand in friendship and reiterate equally forcefully our desire to have a strong and positive relationship of cooperation with our Spanish neighbours,” Mr Picardo said.
Mr Picardo was addressing the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation – the C24 – in New York yesterday as the change of Government in Madrid continues to play out.
He drew a distinction between Spain under the governance of the Partido Popular and expressed his hopes for better relations and enhanced cooperation going forward under the new PSOE administration.
The session, the last before Gibraltar and the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the bloc, was also marked by a change in the leadership of the C24, with Ambassador Walton Alfonso Webson, from Antigua and Barbuda, replacing Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño, from Venezuela, as Committee Chairman.
In a speech updating the committee on political issues facing Gibraltar over the past twelve months, Mr Picardo renewed his call for the Committee to visit the Rock and see for themselves the real circumstances “of our modern reality”.
He explained that this would afford the committee an opportunity to see cooperation between Gibraltar and the neighbouring Spanish region grow.
This, he said, has been facilitated but not delivered by the lowering of ‘anti-Gibraltar rhetoric’ in the change of personnel in the role of Foreign Minister in Spain.
“We sincerely trust that the political change in Madrid may allow the space for such future cooperation,” he said.
“In that respect, the ball is in their court.”
“We will not be found wanting.”
“We remain ready to work together in the mutual interest and to the mutual benefit of our people,” he told the Committee.
The Chief Minister’s speech was followed by a reply from the deputy Spanish Ambassador to the UN, Francisca Pedrós, which was notable for its measured tone and the absent of belligerent references to tobacco, tax and fishing that have marked Spanish statements to the UN in recent years.
Mrs Pedrós confined herself to setting out Spain’s historic position on territorial integrity and sovereignty, alongside its desire for a return to bilateral negotiations with the UK in line with UN resolutions. She also highlighted Madrid’s willingness to engage in dialogue.
Following the session Mr Picardo told the Chronicle: “We’ve seen Spain put a position today which is the classic position without the belligerence that we’ve seen on other occasions.”
‘We haven’t seen, as we might have all wished to see, a reference to the return to the trilateral forum, but we have seen a reference to dialogue.”
“We have seen a reference to the joint sovereignty offer which none of us would like to see still there but I think it’s very early days and it is a much better position for Spain to be setting out as a new government takes over than we might have seen if there had been a seamless continuation of the position from October [at the last meeting of the Fourth committee] to now…”
Having “judged the mood” and assessed that Spain would not present an “aggressive and belligerent” speech, Mr Picardo opted not to flag-up before the UN issues such as the impact of drug trafficking and tobacco smuggling in the Campo, and concerns about the shortage of resources to tackle them.
These aspects remained in Mr Picardo’s written speech and therefore on the record of the United Nations, even though they were not read out to the Committee during his oral submission yesterday.
Mr Picardo was joined at the C24 session by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, Attorney General Michael Llamas, QC, and David Guerrero Liston, Gibraltar’s U.S representative. Also present was Gibraltarian academic Jamie Trinidad, who advises the government on international law.
The Self Determination for Gibraltar Group was not, however, in attendance at the annual session having been unable to obtain, due to an administrative hiccup, the necessary permission to make travel arrangements in time.
The Chief Minister also repeated calls he has previously made for feedback from the committee as to what it considers the effect of Gibraltar’s moves towards greater self-government in recent decades.
“Mr Chairman, our right to self-determination is clearly established and we will never cease to insist on its implementation.”
“Our wish is to be decolonised in accordance with the freely expressed will of the People of Gibraltar.”
“In recent decades, Gibraltar has moved progressively towards self-government, and in 2006 voted for a constitution that makes Gibraltar entirely self-governing other than in respect of defence and external relations.”
“We have repeatedly asked this Committee to give us feedback on what it considers the effect of our choice in a referendum of that Constitution means,” Mr Picardo said.
“Have we reached the “maximum possible level of self-government short of independence”?”
“We have had no feedback,” he said adding: “We once again seek your guidance in this respect.”
Since the United Kingdom started to negotiate its withdrawal from the European Union, Gibraltar has been exploring, in discussions with Spanish officials, ways of pursuing future cooperation.
The Gibraltar Government, he said, is ready to work on solutions that deal with the consequence the Rock’s involuntary departure from the EU and in, in particular, to protect the right of free movement to and from Gibraltar for all citizens, including but not only cross-frontier workers.
Highlighting the mass of people who live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, Mr Picardo told the Committee that the Rock is an “economic engine of legitimate activity” for the whole region, providing 25% of the GDP of the whole Campo de Gibraltar.
“That is what we explored more successfully with the former Socialist administration in Spain between 2004 and 2011 in the Forum for Dialogue, which the Partido Popular Government of Sr Margallo withdrew from,” he added.
“Gibraltar continues to strongly support that Forum, as the United Kingdom has itself repeatedly also stated in its interventions before this Committee and the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly to which you report.”
Gibraltar, he added, remains committed to delivering on its obligations under the agreements done in Cordoba in 2006, in particular in relation to Gibraltar Airport.
“Gibraltar and the UK have entirely complied and are complying with those obligations, including the payments of over one hundred million pounds sterling to Spanish pensioners who used to work on the Rock before the frontier closure,” he said.
Gibraltar has spent over one hundred million pounds itself on the new Airport terminal and associated works to comply with the agreement on the airport.
“Yet, the Spanish Government has singularly failed to comply with its obligations under these agreements since the Partido Popular was elected in 2011.”
“We trust that this attitude of non-compliance with agreements and false culumnies about Gibraltar will now be re-assessed by the Government of Prime Minister Sanchez.”
“And we are ready to conclude further agreements in areas of mutual concern and interest, including agreements to provide full and unimpeded fiscal transparency of persons and corporations, agreements for the protection of the environment and for deeper police and judicial cooperation.”
He added: “There is so much we can do, Mr Chairman. There is so much potential we can unlock. There is so much mutual benefit to explore.”
“Because, Mr Chairman, although we will not deviate from our stated position that Gibraltar will never be Spanish, we reach out our hand in friendship and reiterate equally forcefully our desire to have a strong and positive relationship of cooperation with our Spanish neighbours.”
There is a busy programme of meetings for both Mr Picardo and Dr Garcia set to take place during the course of today, to the extent that the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister will split up and attend different meetings in order to cover more ground.
Mr Picardo will attend a lunch hosted by the UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, whilst Dr Garcia will host a lunch for the Gibraltar-American Council.