Gibraltar: Why should negotiations be any different now?

Despite the UK’s less-than-enthusiastic response to the European Commission’s draft-negotiating mandate on Gibraltar, Nacho Sánchez Amor is confident that a spirit of openness will prevail in the search for practical solutions for those living on the ‘rock’
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By Nacho Sánchez Amor MEP

Nacho Sánchez Amor (ES, S&D) is a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee

29 Jul 2021

The long history of the handling of the Gibraltar issue between two democratic governments, Spanish and British, as well as my own personal experience on the matter, reaffirm my belief that, at each step of the process, what has been sought and achieved is a delicate equilibrium between the divergent substantive positions on sovereignty and the day-to-day needs of both populations.

I visited the Rock and the “Campo de Gibraltar” as Special Representative for Border issues of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and more recently as Secretary of State for Territorial Policy of the Spanish Government.

However, my experience was not limited to these visits, as in the Spanish Parliament, when I was spokesperson for the Socialist Group in the Foreign Affairs and European Union Committees; Gibraltar was a frequent matter of discussion during hearings of successive ministers and in the regular visits of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

I have also had a cordial relationship with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, on the various occasions on which we have met. In all our meetings, the underlying concern was the search for that complex equilibrium between the sovereignty claims and the inevitable vigour of an increasingly deep and multifaceted neighbourly relationship between the two societies.

It’s true that in Spain the positions of conservatives and socialists have often diverged, despite the solid political consensus on the claim to sovereignty. The former perhaps more politically-emotive and involving frequent allusions to flag; while the latter adopted a viewpoint more sensitive to the socio-economic difficulties of the neighbouring Spanish area, and the needs of the thousands of cross-border workers.

However, over and above these domestic differences, I believe that the way in which the Spanish and British have always approached the issue is an example of how modern democracies should conduct themselves in resolving their differences.

"The European Commission’s draft-negotiating mandate does not seem to have gone down well in either London or Gibraltar, although the criticisms of incompatibility with the December agreement are still very vague and seem more like a pre-emptive stance for the negotiations"

In an environment where the traditional logic of agreements and treaties is increasingly being replaced by a more unstructured crisscrossing of multidirectional sanctions - which has now become a 'normalised' policy rather than an exceptional mechanism - the ways employed by both parties at each stage of the management of the Gibraltar issue can be considered exemplary.

Built on completely divergent positions on sovereignty and on the interpretation of the Treaty of Utrecht, the attitudes of the British and Spanish governments, whatever their leanings, have always been imbued with respect, cordiality and empathy.

By all accounts, it has been this firm attitude - grounded in principles, but respectful in form - that has enabled us to overcome delicate circumstances and successively put solutions and proposals on the table to alleviate the situation of the people affected, without expecting the other side to abdicate its principles. If we have always succeeded in this, why should it be any different now?

Brexit, and its many loose ends, has once again put us in the periodic situation of reviewing relations and finding balanced solutions to new problems arising from the UK’s decision to leave the EU; a decision which was widely rejected in Gibraltar.

Because of this new framework, we are obliged to solve new problems created for the Gibraltarians by a British decision that they do not share. Neither Spain nor the EU have caused these new problems.

Brexit has turned a framework, that was working reasonably well, upside down; a channelled on two fronts: the general agreements between Great Britain and the EU, on the one hand, and the agreements between Spain and Great Britain, as well as those of Spain and Gibraltar, that have followed one after the other since the "disengagement" process began.

"Our British friends asked us to “re-think” our offer, it is only right that we should also ask them to “re-read” it, because from seemingly irreconcilable positions we have always been able to find that wise balance between matters of principle and the practical, day-to-day needs of both neighbouring communities"

With a common objective, of avoiding the harshest effects of a simple conversion of this area into an external border of the Union, it is now time to shape Gibraltar's future border relationship with the EU, expressly conditioned by Spain's recognition of a logical right of veto over Brussels' decisions and by the previous agreement reached in December with a British delegation that included representatives of the colony.

The European Commission’s draft-negotiating mandate does not seem to have gone down well in either London or Gibraltar, although the criticisms of incompatibility with the December agreement are still very vague and seem more like a pre-emptive stance for the negotiations.

Pending further details on this alleged lack of coherence with what was already agreed, the new Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, travelled to Britain to explore the level of disagreement and clarify the role of Frontex in the initial management of the movement of people and goods at the Gibraltar-Spain border.

The spirit is therefore the same as always: openness, dialogue, cordiality and the search for practical solutions for the benefit of both populations.

Our British friends asked us to “re-think” our offer, it is only right that we should also ask them to “re-read” it, because from seemingly irreconcilable positions we have always been able to find that wise balance between matters of principle and the practical, day-to-day needs of both neighbouring communities.

Once again, why should it be any different now?

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