Setback for full Tripartite talks
|by our Political correspondent
The next round of tripartite talks at officials level, including the chief minister, will take place next month, said foreign Office sources yesterday.
This meeting should not be confused with the technical talks taking place in London today. It is a setback for the planned full ministerial meeting.
The October meeting will be between the chief minister Peter Caruana and the respective UK and Spanish foreign office officials, Dominick Chilcott and Jose Pons.
They have been engaged in such talks as part of the tripartite process, the last meeting taking place in Albufeira in Portugal. At the time, the expectations were that this would lead to the full ministerial talk in the autumn, with October as the favourite month.
However, enough progress appears not to have been made for foreign secretary Jack Straw and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos to agree to meet as part of the process. There would appear to have been a setback which has put the full ministerial meeting on hold.
It will be recalled that in the middle of the summer Mr Caruana interrupted his holidays so that he could meet up with Bernardino Leon, the Number 2 in the Spanish foreign ministry. This was to try and iron out some of the difficulties that remain and to pave the way for the full ministerial meeting.
This full ministerial meeting is now delayed, and it remains to be seen if the October tripartite meeting will lead to final agreements on certain issues, such as the airport, which would be required to allow the full ministerial meeting to take place.
As PANORAMA revealed, the Malaga working dinner in the summer had the airport in the menu.
Mr Caruana had to interrupt his holiday to hold an impromptu meeting with the Spanish. This raised the question: What's cooking?
The UK representative at the tripartite talks, Dominick Chilcott, was not there, so this meant that it was Spanish and Gibraltarian differences that needed to be ironed out.
An official statement from No.6 Convent Place said then: "The meeting is to prepare for the full ministerial round of the Trilateral forum envisaged in the autumn."
The full ministerial meeting envisaged is one where foreign secretary Jack Straw and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos will be attending.
It is clear that more preparations are needed - and this new, unexpected encounter is evidence that all has not yet been concluded.
What is required, above all, are agreements on the airport and the Spanish pensions.
The pensions issue is being tackled today. If there is an agreement on this, it is thought that this would lead the way for an airport deal as the Spanish could then show concrete progress on the pensions and argue that an airport deal is good for Spanish interests.
It has been said by Spanish sources that Madrid would like to have a police presence in the air terminal. This is something that the Spanish government has always wanted - not only in the airport, but also at other points of entry.
That is why opinion in Gibraltar is against making such concessions, because if they put a foot in the air terminal, they will later use that as a precedent for moving in in other entry points.
Certainly, any deal must not impinge on UK military interests in the airfield. The RAF, as this paper as pointed out, could block any deal if British national interests in the military field were not properly safeguarded.
For the go-ahead to be given for a full ministerial meeting it would be necessary to establish progress on two fronts: The airport and the Spanish pensions.
From a Spanish perspective, it would be difficult for them to agree on an airport deal if there is no progress on the pensions.
On the airport, the Spanish Government would like Spanish involvement in the running of it.
The idea of a two-terminal airport is out of the question - although Mr Caruana did speak of a derivative of it when he spoke of "a single terminal for joint use" which is almost the same thing by another name! He has also spoken of there being a 'building' on the Spanish side, but it has not been explained what will be the purpose of such a building.
It was confirmed after the Malaga meal that the aim was to try and overcome the differences so that the full ministerial meeting in the autumn is a success.
Another tripartite meeting at the level of officials was not contemplated. That this is being held next month shows that here are matters that remain to be resolved before the full meeting takes place.