Frontier delays will stay unless...

Speaking in La Linea, Spanish director for Europe Jose Pons has suggested that the improvements to the frontier flow will come through improvements to the installations there, but indicated that for the problem to be fully resolved it would require Gibraltar joining the EU customs union and for Britain to join Schengen.

Since Britain has been saying that she is not interested in joining Schengen, and the usual Gibraltar view is that we should remain outside the customs union, the prospect of frontier problems are to remain, even if there is an attempt at improving the situation.

Under Schengen, frontiers between EU member states are removed.The Spanish foreign ministry favour such a move as Gibraltar would be seen to be an integral geographical part of Spain. In the past, they have said that they would not object to Gibraltar joining Schengen, even if Britain were to stay out - as Gibraltar would then be 'more like Spain' and 'less like Britain', which is what Spanish policy is after.

However, the Spanish authorities must be told that they could still uphold EU frontier controls at Gibraltar without causing unnecessary delays and inconvenience to travellers. It all depends how they implement those controls, which in Gibraltar are regarded to be of a political nature.

As regards the customs union, Gibraltar has always said that the present situation is the most favourable for us because it means that we are able to impose whatever customs duties we want, rather than come under the EU general tariffs.

Even though the government controls the level of duties, the fact of the matter is that goods in Gibraltar tend to be more expensive than in Spain, with the exception of some specific items such as gold, jewellery, perfume, tobacco and petrol.

Sr Pon also spoke of 'Spain's generosity' to Gibraltar which had been responded by the Rock by adopting a cooperating position. No one is to impose anything on the other, he said, and added: There exist enormous posibilities of reaching a global agreement.

The question of sovereignty was complex. Gibraltar is not Spanish because it was ceded under the treaty of Utrecht 'for ever'. But Spain would carry on claiming it.

He drew a distinction with the airfield area which, he said, was not so ceded.

He noted that Gibraltarians did not want to be Spanish, but Gibraltar is not a state or a nation - sovereignty is for Spain and the UK.