Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Gibraltar, Spain & the E.U.

THIS week the European Commission, the executive arm of of the European Union, entered the dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar.  Gibraltar is a 2.6 square mile peninsular dominated by the rock of Gibraltar just south of the town of La Linea de la Concepción in the Bay of Algeciras in the Andalucian province of Cadiz.  The latest spat over Spanish fishing rights and Gibraltarian smuggling of cigarettes has been described by some Spaniards as a return by the Spanish authorities to the tactics and diplomacy of General Franco in the 1960s and 70s.  

I first entered Gibraltar in the early Spring of 1964 in order to regularise my passport and family documents to allow us to continue to reside in Spain.  In the end with the help of some local anarchist Gibraltarians, I got a job as an electrician at Gibraltar airport while living with my family in La Linea.  In 1964, relations between Britain and Spain were relaxed and each working day I and about 10,000 Spaniards crossed the border clutching our passports in order to work in the British colony.  By 1967, things had deteriorated and the British held a referendum in which a clear majority of Gibraltarains voted to remain of a British colony with only just over 40 voting to go with Spain.  After that Franco closed the La Linea Frontier and stopped the ferry from Algercires to Gibraltar, meaning that henceforth departure and entry to the Rock had to be by boat via Morocco or by air:  thus the Spanish workforce was withdrawn until after the death of Franco in 1975.  None of these recent difficulties involving stricter Spanish border checks on the pretext to curb tobacco smuggling are new to Gibraltar, and in the early 19th century there was a siege by the French under Napoleon. 
Fabian Picardo, the leader of the Gibraltar government, has accused the Spanish government of using the dispute to divert attention from an ongoing scandal over a slush fund that has almost drowned the Spanish head of government and his conservative Popular Party.   It is true that there has always been tobacco smuggling from Gibraltar into Spain; as Spain's Interior Minister, Jorge Fernandez said  last Friday that Gibraltar could not be 'the frontier of tobacco smuggling,' noting that Gib. had imported 140 million packs of cigarettes last year, even though it has only 30,000 residents.  The left in Spain believe the timing of these complaints is to distract public attention from the Mr. Rajoy's government's other more pressing problems. 
El Pais, Spain's leading newspaper, in a recent editorial entitled 'August Fever' said that a 'realistic vision' ought to take account of the fact that any concession by Britain over Gibraltar might encourage Morocco to revive its claims over Spain's own North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.   

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