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James Skinner
'Why not ...give in to Spanish pressure and hand over the territory?... What about the people of Gibraltar?'

Political leaders make strange bedfellows. Spain’s President, Jose Maria Aznar and Anthony Blair, Britain’s Prime Minister are the best of friends in today’s European Union yet are also heads of opposing ideological parties. Tony’s Labour is meant to represents the workingman’s party with all the trimmings of a socialist regime whilst Chema’s 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 that’s the theory.

There is, however, a caveat to this Anglo-Spanish honeymoon that keeps on raising its ugly head and wont go away! It’s 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. Spain’s sovereignty over the Rock and Britain’s insistence on the ‘people’s 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 Spain’s wound, one of the world’s 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 Germany’s 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 Spain’s 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, Spain’s government snubs its nose at any communist advancement in the country and guarantees pro-western policies for the future.
Meanwhile, the European Economic Community was being established. Britain’s entry in 1973 allowed Gibraltar to also join the EEC thus adding another aggravation to Spain’s 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 Franco’s dictatorship ended and democracy was finally restored.

Although an uphill battle, events began to move in Spain’s 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. Britain’s 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.

Spain’s 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 it’s existing method of administration. The all-important English language would predominate. By being a part of Spain, Gibraltarians would immediately benefit from Spain’s 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 the problem?
Timing. If Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, and Joan Pique, Spain’s Foreign Minister can work out a plan and convince Peter Caruana, Gibraltar’s 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 in Spain’.

© James Skinner. 2001

also by James Julio's War


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