Spain expected to be a hot topic in Gibraltar election, as 'joint sovereignty' looms

By DAVID EADE
According to Spain’s minister for foreign affairs, Trinidad Jiménez, in her recent address to the Senate committee dealing with such manners Senator José Carracao is anxious that Gibraltar should not become an issue in the 2012 Spanish general election.

Apparently he has asked the minister to tell Partido Popular to back off from making it part of their election agenda. Certainly Jiménez has been busy since her appointment stressing that nothing has changed in Madrid’s attitude to Gibraltar and that the Brussels Process is the only show in town. In other words both PSOE and the PP share a joint view so the opposition should back the government on this issue.

As Carracao is from the Campo de Gibraltar and has a special responsibility in the Senate for Gibraltar relations one can understand his concern. However in the wider world I would argue that Gibraltar will not even register with the Spanish electorate when it comes to cast its vote in 2012.

In a recent opinion poll the main preoccupation with voters is the high unemployment levels (62.2 per cent) followed by the economy (18.5), politicians (5.8), immigration (2.5), corruption and fraud (1.1) and terrorism including ETA on 0.6 per cent. If ETA can only register 0.6 per cent then Gibraltar is not even on the voters’ radar.

CONTRAST

This is of course is in stark contrast to Gibraltar which is due to go to the polls within the next 12 months. Spain will definitely be a hot topic and Fabian Picardo who could well be leading the GSLP in to battle told me: “The relationship with Spain is always an issue in Gibraltar politics. Now that Mr Caruana has been quoted as saying that he wants Joint Sovereignty on the basis of an Andorra style ‘solution’, I believe that this is likely to be a major issue at the election. I certainly don’t share Mr Caruana’s view and believe that we should never agree to anything that dilutes our sovereignty one iota.”

A similar view was offered by Dr Joseph Garcia for the Liberals who said: “The Spanish claim to Gibraltar has always featured to a greater or lesser extent in every general election in Gibraltar and the next ones are not likely to be any different.”

Whilst Jiménez has tried to build bridges with the PP over Gibraltar her statement to the committee on the incursions of the Guardia Civil and confrontations with the RGP has only gone to anger the opposition. Her view of “stuff happens” – there have been confrontations for over 200 years and they are not a problem – have been deplored by the PP administration in La Línea. Speaking from the party’s policy manual it argues the Guardia Civil is defending Spain’s waters and the armed force should be backed to the hilt by the government with no quarter given to Gibraltar.

This issue of course also resonates strongly with Gibraltarians with Fabian Picardo stating: “I have always believed in co-operation in international policing; but incursions into out territorial sea by the Guardia Civil - or any other police force, e.g. those of the Kingdom of Morocco - are an intolerable step in Spain's assertion of her purported claim on our waters. There is no excuse for the Spanish decision to escalate tension in this way and the UK must act to defend the Sovereignty of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. No "fudge" or "compromise" will do. If they don't, the effects will not just be felt here, but in all British Territorial Waters - even those where there are lucrative deposits of minerals and oil.”

SERIOUS CONCERN

This stance is shared by Dr Joseph Garcia who added: “There is serious concern on the Rock at the number and scale of Spanish incursions into Gibraltar's territorial sea. We had pointed out that the Guardia Civil were becoming increasingly reckless and cavalier in their intrusions into Gibraltar's waters. This was seen at the end of last year when they entered the Port of Gibraltar and actually landed on Gibraltar soil. There was also another extremely serious incursion in September of this year where the Guardia Civil removed a suspect who was about to be arrested by the Royal Gibraltar Police inside our territorial waters. They have shown a complete lack of respect for British sovereignty, jurisdiction and control over Gibraltar's territorial sea and it is imperative that these incursions cease forthwith before the matter escalates even further. Spain must understand that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Gibraltar is legally entitled to claim territorial waters of its own.”

If either Spanish party tries to top its political agenda with the Gibraltar issue – other than in the Campo de Gibraltar – it will be ridiculed by the electorate. However when Gibraltar goes to the polls it will be the hot topic – but then the Rock’s economy is not in the dire straits that Spain’s is.

29-11-10



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