I've been proud to represent Gibraltar in the European parliament since I was elected in 2009 and have enjoyed getting to know this unique part of my constituency on the south western tip of Europe.
A self-governing UK overseas territory, Gibraltar plays host to a modern, vibrant and highly diversified economy. Numerous international firms have chosen to base themselves on the Rock, taking advantage of its highly skilled workforce and contributing to a near full employment rate. With a population of just 30,000, there were 21,519 employee jobs registered in 2012. This is an achievement all the more remarkable considering the wider economic malaise in Europe.
Gibraltar's economy is highly regarded and well regulated. As well as being a major maritime hub, its main activities include financial services, online gambling and tourism. Its success is aided by its excellent infrastructure, communications and IT. For the 2012/2013 period, its GDP stood at approximately €1.45bn. Its economic contribution to the region and the wider EU is therefore highly significant.
One of the reasons why businesses choose to locate in Gibraltar is that it provides an excellent location from which to provide cross-border services throughout the EU. One of the largest employment growth areas has been in the online gambling industry, employing 2848 people at the last count, in addition to all the support services that go with it.
Being a cross-border industry, I would like to see the creation of a single market for online gambling. This would help to protect consumers and provide gambling operators based in Gibraltar with the legal certainty necessary to expand their business across the EU. In this regard, I recently led on a report in parliament calling for greater EU action. Faced with fierce opposition from member states trying to protect their state monopolies, progress is proving slow but there is certainly movement in the right direction.
Despite a strong and growing economy, providing jobs to both Gibraltarians and Spaniards from over the border, life on the Rock is regularly undermined by the actions of the Spanish authorities. At its border crossing with Spain, queues have been engineered, sometimes lasting up to seven hours. The Spanish government has also tried to ban the import of building materials into Gibraltar, damaging much needed business to Spanish exporters. These actions are illegal and disproportionate, undermining the freedom of movement within the EU.
When I last visited the Rock in October, I met with the chamber of commerce to discuss the economic impact of the ongoing troubles. It was clear from our discussions that the border delays have been an inconvenience for businesses, as well as individuals. Indeed, it's just as much an inconvenience for Spanish businesses to have Gibraltarians prevented from crossing the border to shop in Spain too. Thankfully, Gibraltar's economy is far more buoyant and diversified than when the Spanish authorities last caused problems at the border, but the delays are still a concern.
Gibraltar sets a fine example to the EU of how to maintain employment and growth during difficult times. The European commission now has a duty to ensure that Gibraltar can continue to enjoy the free movement privileges it is entitled to under the EU treaties.
Ashley Fox is a UK Conservative MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar