GIBRALTAR: A THORN IN EUROPES BUTT?
...give in to Spanish pressure and hand over the territory?... What about
the people of Gibraltar?'
leaders make strange bedfellows. Spains President, Jose Maria Aznar
and Anthony Blair, Britains Prime Minister are the best of friends
in todays European Union yet are also heads of opposing ideological
parties. Tonys Labour is meant to represents the workingmans
party with all the trimmings of a socialist regime whilst Chemas
Partido Popular are staunch right-wing conservative; keen on keeping happy
the Spanish champions of industry. In reality, nothing could be further
from the truth. Spain and Britain continue to move in the same direction
bar the Euro for the time being together with other European
states in building a strong economic fortress based on not too disparate
political differences. At least thats the theory.
There is, however, a caveat to this Anglo-Spanish honeymoon that keeps
on raising its ugly head and wont go away! Its known as the Rock
of Gibraltar. For centuries, Spain has been claiming Gibraltar as
part of Spanish territory whilst Britain continues to consider it as a
British colony. Spains sovereignty over the Rock and Britains
insistence on the peoples right of choice if any status
change is made, are like trying to unite two similar poles of a magnet.
They just wont come together; that is until very recently. Defying the
metaphoric laws of physics, Tony Blair has given his word
that the Gibraltar issue will be settled by the summer of 2002. Both countries
foreign ministers have already started talks.
The historic events of the dispute are well documented. Gibraltar was
handed over to Britain during the War of the Spanish Succession under
the terms of the Utrecht treaty in 1713. Britain turned it into a colony
in 1830 and due to its geographical location coupled with the opening
of the Suez Canal in 1869 it became a military stronghold protecting the
entrance to the Mediterranean Sea that has lasted till the end of the
Cold War. It has also become a tourist attraction and, adding more salt
to Spains wound, one of the worlds present day tax havens.
Spain has continued to raise its sovereignty claim on more than one occasion
and has actually carried out hostile pressure. The most serious was when
Britain, in 1967, held a referendum on the Rock and the Gibraltarians
overwhelmingly wished to remain as citizens of the British colony. The
then Dictator of Spain promptly closed the border with the mainland that
was not re-opened until 1985, long after his death.
Although the fascist regime that ruled Spain during WWII was, in principle
on the opposite side of the fence of the allies, Generalissimo Franco
never allowed Germanys Hitler to move into the Iberian Peninsula.
Churchill accepted this false neutrality and conceded that
Gibraltar was out of reach of Nazi hands. Let sleeping dogs lie. Exit
Hitler and enter Stalin and the Cold War, and Spains fascist government
once again protects Gibraltar by allowing the USA, in 1953,
to open military bases on Spanish soil. In exchange for international
and economic status, Spains government snubs its nose at any communist
advancement in the country and guarantees pro-western policies for the
Meanwhile, the European Economic Community was being established. Britains
entry in 1973 allowed Gibraltar to also join the EEC thus adding another
aggravation to Spains list. Spain, however, never let go of its
principal objective of turning Gibraltar into another Spanish state. Britain
in the meantime, continued to view Spain with political suspicion, that
is, until Francos dictatorship ended and democracy was finally restored.
Although an uphill battle, events began to move in Spains favour.
In 1986, Spain was admitted as a full member of the European Union, and
despite the continuing political battle with Britain over Gibraltar, joined
NATO in 1997. In other words, by the turn of the century, Spain was in
effect a full-blown ally both military and politically of the western
world. Britains strategic protection of the Mediterranean as a sole
defender had thus become obsolete. Why not therefore, give in to Spanish
pressure and hand over the territory? It still left one question unanswered.
What about the people of Gibraltar?
Gibraltar is a self-governing colony in all matters but defence. The political
structure is made up of a Governor, appointed by the Queen, who in turn
appoints a Council of Ministers composed of a chief minister and eight
other members. A solid constitution and freedom of elections, guarantees
a democratic system of government whereby, for all intents and purposes
simulates a British way of life. Its 30000 inhabitants, two-thirds Gibraltarians,
one-third resident aliens and the remainder, families of British military
personnel make up the population of this outpost of the British Empire.
All enjoy economic stability and security and are accustomed to a lifestyle
no different to that of Brighton, or Truro. Why then should they succumb
to the pressures of Madrid and become part of Spain?
The answer lies in the future of the European Union and whether or not
Gibraltar would benefit, in the long run, as part of a geographically
close member state.
Spains political system is made up of autonomous regions that more
or less govern themselves. Apart from the central government legal system
and distribution of public funds, each region has its own parliament and
decides its own future regarding elections, investment, education and
even language imposition. From a national point of view, Gibraltar would
probably be assimilated into the system and would continue to maintain
its existing method of administration. The all-important English
language would predominate. By being a part of Spain, Gibraltarians would
immediately benefit from Spains pool of social security benefits,
its healthy education network and its vast range of job opportunities.
They would, in effect, be welcomed as part of the 40M inhabitants of this
section of the Iberian Peninsula.
Within the European Union, and as part of Spain, their voice would have
a stronger say in Brussels. Although the benefits are yet to be proven,
their introduction to the Euro would be immediate. Their tourist industry
would flourish, not only from Britain but also from mainland Spain. Spaniards
would add Gibraltar to their preferred list of holiday locations that
include the Balearic and the Canary islands. The recent changes in world
conflicts would turn the Gibraltar NATO base into a strong joint effort
that would include British and Spanish naval co-operation. What then is
Timing. If Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, and Joan Pique, Spains
Foreign Minister can work out a plan and convince Peter Caruana, Gibraltars
chief minister of some of the above mentioned benefits, the Barbary apes,
long term residents of the Rock may one day be able to savour nuts Made
© James Skinner. 2001
also by James Julio's War
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