Earlier this year I was proud to sponsor a stand by the government of Gibraltar in the European parliament. This interactive exhibition highlighted the Rock's history, vibrancy and enterprise. It included a string of compelling facts and figures about Gibraltar as a landmark, a home to 32,000 people and a destination for nine million visitors annually. It told of how Gibraltar has 30 miles of military tunnels cut into it, while the port is now the biggest bunkering or maritime fuelling station in the Mediterranean.
I am sure that the many MEPs and senior officials who visited the exhibition found it fascinating to learn about Gibraltar instead of having to listen to myths being circulated by other parties.
The timing of this exhibition is important as it coincides with further attempts by the Spanish government to exclude Gibraltar from the single European sky second package and among continuing investigations by the European commission into the situation at the land frontier.
Madrid is threatening to scupper the so-called single European sky initiative because of its long-running argument with Britain over the sovereignty of the Rock and its airport. In the past Spain has delayed important EU legislation because it included Gibraltar.
"Madrid is threatening to scupper the so-called single European sky initiative because of its long-running argument with Britain"
The EU council of transport ministers agreed in December to press ahead with single sky, which has been in the pipeline since 2004 and would merge national air corridors to create shorter flight paths and cut costs and carbon dioxide emissions. The council did not take any position on whether Gibraltar airport should be included.
Spain's stance is provocative and unreasonable as well as illogical and illegal. It flies in the face of the 2006 Córdoba agreement, under which Spain agreed to stop seeking the exclusion of Gibraltar airport from EU aviation measures in return for the settlement of Spanish worker pensions in Gibraltar.
Since the Maastricht treaty every citizen of every member state holds EU citizenship. In the UK very few people are even aware of this and those that are will regard it as worthless if the commission fails to defend the rights of British citizens when they are threatened.
It is now nearly two years since the politically motivated border problems began in Gibraltar. There have been 20 months of border delays, legal threats, harassment and bullying. Spanish accusations that Gibraltar breached environmental regulations in regards the establishment of an artificial reef, bunkering and reclamation projects on the eastern side of the Rock have all been rejected by the commission.
More importantly though, following on a visit to the frontier last year the commission "expressed serious concerns as to the lack of progress that could be observed by the experts on the Spanish side of the crossing point during the second visit as well as regards the complaints that continue to reach the commission pointing out persistent long waiting times on both entry and exit to/from Spain. The commission considers that checks giving rise to waiting several hours to cross this border are disproportionate."
After the visit the commission once again gave the Spanish authorities further recommendations to improve the situation at the border. The problem is that these are just recommendations. The people of Gibraltar are fed up with the commission allowing the Spanish government to drag its feet while they are forced to endure continued harassment. They want action. Nowhere else in Europe would this be allowed and for some reason the commission once again turns a blind eye and allows this bullying to continue.
I believe that the Spanish government has had more than enough time. The commission should begin legal proceedings and defend EU citizens in need.