Gibraltar: An Avoidable and unnecessary crisis

Much has been said and published in recent weeks about Gibraltar and Spanish-British relations. For obvious reasons, I have followed this matter with interest, and still more on account of the mentions made to the policies I promoted as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Some media have tried to gather my opinion and reactions to the criticisms and half truths embellishing the crisis. I have preferred to keep silent until now because, in my humble opinion, this crisis should never have happened. Now that some time has passed, although unfortunately Strait waters have still not quietened, I would like to respond to some of the opinions expressed concerning my performance as to Gibraltar dispute.

As the former head of Spanish diplomacy, I consider that institutional respect and support to the Government in matters of state must always prevail, especially when it comes to a constant issue in our foreign policy such as Gibraltar dispute, which has always received unanimous support and caution from all Ministers of Foreign Affairs under democracy. When I took office as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, I spoke to some of my predecessors about Gibraltar to learn about their experience and listen to their contributions. Therefore, I praised both in public and in private the work of Josep Piqué. It would have been desirable that such spirit had prevailed now.

For 300 years, Spain has been trying to recover Gibraltar and has still not achieved it. I will not deny the progress and efforts brought about by Brussels and Lisbon agreements and Minister Piqué’s shared sovereignty proposal. All those milestones were essential in the advance towards a final settlement. On the contrary, I have always considered a mistake the Franco policy of “closing the fence”, which was given up for being a complete failure, and hampered the daily life of a whole generation of Gibraltarians without progressing an inch towards the recovery of sovereignty. President Zapatero’s first administration faced a scenario in which the shared sovereignty proposal had been dropped, the review of pensions of former workers of the Rock was stranded, another mooring of the Tireless submarine had been announced, wrong orders were given to prevent cruise ships from berthing in the Rock, Princess Anne’s visit was announced, celebrations for the third centenary were coming up… In this context, the strategy for Gibraltar was traced, aimed at improving Campo de Gibraltar citizens’ conditions and the efficient defence of specific cooperation issues in order to foster a political climate easing a bilateral negotiation on the Rock’s sovereignty between the United Kingdom and Spain. No veto over negotiation was granted to Gibraltarians and a policy based on respect was implemented to progressively win Llanitos’ hearts and minds. Without their support and approval, the United Kingdom will never give up sovereignty over the Rock, as has been stated in many occasions. I think we all agree on the fact that the diplomatic channel is the only way to recover the Rock and that such diplomacy consists of two essential tools: dialogue and cooperation.

My stance on this crisis and the statements made concerning Gibraltar can be summed up in a single sentence: the crisis was avoidable and unnecessary. Instead of rejecting achievements reached by former Governments, including the Forum for Dialogue on Gibraltar, in my opinion the Government should have furthered the existing negotiation framework, held conversations on sovereignty with the United Kingdom and enhanced dialogue and cooperation with all sides in the forum, which by the way always included, in addition to United Kingdom and Spanish Government representatives, representatives for Gibraltar, the Andalucía Regional Government and the Campo de Gibraltar municipalities group. In these and other matters, we would have spared ourselves many misunderstandings if the texts and final reports of the Madrid and Cordoba meetings setting the positions had been read in detail.

In this crisis with the Rock, it has often been the case that dialogue positions have been termed as “soft” and confrontation ones as “hard”, when what really matters are results. In politics, and especially in foreign politics, what matters are not statements, but rather facts and verifiable results. What seems clear is that between 2004 and 2010 fishermen fished in the Algeciras bay without problems and Gibraltar did not throw concrete blocks, a change of legislation in matters of taxation and struggle against money laundering was achieved and Gibraltar signed 27 agreements to be removed from the OECD tax haven list, the United Kingdom undertook not to repair nuclear submarines in Gibraltar, several agreements were reached, including the joint use of the airport, free movement by Spanish and Gibraltar citizens and the payment and update of pensions to Spaniards working in Gibraltar (37 million Euro were contributed by the United Kingdom), the telecommunication issue was smoothed without any economic loss for Spanish operators, tolerance with military supplies by land was ended, a yearly declaration on Gibraltar was agreed upon in the United Nations, avoiding uncertain and risky votes, the European Union agreed that waters around Gibraltar were under Spanish control concerning environment programmes… And during this period, Gibraltar was not admitted as a FIFA member.

Since there is no forum for encounter and debate, the sides have now been tempted to carry out undesirable unilateral actions, such as throwing concrete blocks to the sea, which could have been avoided through effective dialogue. I do hope and wish conversations are quickly resumed and work groups are created that include all players involved, as in the Forum for Dialogue, although maybe there was no point in going through all this trouble to reach the same situation we already were in…