Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It was British premier Harold Wilson who coined the phrase a week is a long time in politics so it is a dangerous game trying to foretell what will be the situation in a year or 15 months time.
First we have a general election to face in Gibraltar. By this time next year Peter Caruana could have been elected for his fifth term, there may be a new GSD name at the helm, Fabian Picardo may have stormed home for the GSLP Liberal coalition or will it be another candidate yet to come forward?
Whoever is chief minister at the close of next year he (or she) will have just a few months in office before there are two major elections across the border in Spain. In March 2012 there will be a Spanish general election and another in Andalucía. Whilst Gibraltar has face the Partido Popular in government in Madrid the regional government in Sevilla has always been PSOE. Indeed Andalucía has always been considered to be a socialist fiefdom.
Yet that could be about to change. An opinion poll by IESA puts the Partido Popular under Javier Arenas on 46.8 per cent with PSOE trailing on 37.7. The far left IULV-CA takes 8.2 per cent, the Partido Andalucista 2.9 and the UPyD on 1.7 per cent.
Now if a week is a long time in politics then 15 months is an eternity but a 9.1 per cent lead takes some making up and the omens are not good as PSOE has lost 11.2 per cent of its support since the last Andalucía elections. Indeed if these figures held then the PP would rule the region with an absolute majority.
Despite the assurance of the chief minister Peter Caruana that he can deal with the PP the omens are not good. The PP nationally has been breathing fire on both Gibraltar and Morocco but it is arguable that the future Rajoy administration in Madrid will have many issues on its hands other than the Rock.
However the PP in Sevilla control the region up to the Gibraltar border and despite Caruana’s assurances he can work with the centre right party the evidence from La Línea’s mayor Alejandro Sánchez and the candidate for mayor in Algeciras, José Ignacio Landaluce – who is also a PP MP is not good. Indeed there is no evidence of the chief minister bonding or having a working relationship with either.
Of course in the past Gibraltar has faced down Franco so there is little that the PP can throw at the Rock that it cannot handle. However with the “friendly” socialists in power in Madrid and Sevilla since 2004 the going has been rough and it could be a whole lot rougher if the PP takes PSOE’s place.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Recently Gibraltar’s chief minister, Peter Caruana, made two statements relating to talks with Spain and the future status of the Rock. The first was to law students in Algeciras where he mentioned that in 2004, before the fall of the Aznar government, he had been close to an accord for bi-lateral talks with the Partido Popular in Spain. The second and more recent statement was on the Andorra option in Sevilla.
Now it is the latter which has dominated the headlines and political comment ever since. I believe Caruana has every right to consider what an Andorra option could deliver for Gibraltar in the future. Where I would take issue with him is that the first time Gibraltarians heard about it was via the media because he’d spoken to an audience in Spain rather than his fellow countrymen. Also as it was the chief minister who raised that option many would consider he was speaking on behalf of the Rock. He wasn’t but it didn’t stop some Spanish politicians from saying the door should not be closed on such a solution. The problem here is of course that whether the door is open or shut it is not acceptable to the vast majority of Gibraltarians.
What I find more interesting though is the first of the chief minister’s statements on his accord with the PP. My reasoning is simple for whilst the Andorra option is a snowball that can happily exist in the Pyrenees it wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell in the Med bathed Rock. However it would only be a fool who would write off Caruana’s chances of re-election next year and hence he could well be talking to a PP government again in Madrid in 2012.
Let us go back to November 2002 when the chief minister held a referendum to reject proposals by the British and Spanish governments for power sharing. After the referendum relations with London and Madrid were at an all time low. Yet Caruana insists his Government came very close to establishing a process of bilateral discussions with a PP government going so far as setting out an agenda, dates and agreeing a European city to meet in, before Aznar’s administration collapsed.
Given the referendum was held in November 2002 and the Spanish general election was in March 2004 these talks must have been held in the 14 or so months between Gibraltarians delivering a black eye to Madrid and the elections. Also as far as I am aware the people of Gibraltar were never told of any such talks and nor has the chief minister offered any explanation since.
Now the British Foreign Secretary who tried to force through the joint sovereignty agreement for his lord and master Tony Blair was Jack Straw. So I asked him what he knew of the chief minister’s PP accord, surely London had been kept informed. His office told me that “it was eight years ago” and so presumably he couldn’t remember. Given the circumstances involving British – Gibraltarian – Spanish relations at that time you might find it surprising that the British Foreign Secretary cannot remember if Caruana was about to sign an accord with the government in Madrid. Yet let us not forget that Jack Straw is also the man who shook Robert Mugabe’s hand by mistake at the UN so all things are possible.
So I spoke to a contact in Madrid who walks the corridors of power and who has access to the foreign ministry. He told me: “I know of the declarations of Caruana but I cannot confirm or deny whether they are true. I do not think there is any document proving it.”
Curious because the discussions were with the Spanish government of the day and not the Partido Popular as a party so ministerial records should exist about any such talks – especially as the outcome was so far advanced. It also sounds to me as somebody has been searching the files in Madrid to find out - hence the comment “I do not think there is any document proving it.”
I am sure the talks took place. I am sure an accord was reached. Given that the chief minister and the PP’s Mariano Rajoy could be talking again soon about Gibraltar it would be interesting to know what was discussed then – as it may tell us what is on the table in the future.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Whenever I have discussed the legality of the Treaty of Utrecht or the water sovereignty issue with Gibraltarians who are knowledgeable on these weight matters they have all told me that if Gibraltar’s case was taken to an international court it would win.
When we discuss Spain’s sovereignty claim, its reliance on the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht for Gibraltar to past back to Spain if it ceased to be British or the row over the sovereignty of the Rock’s waters or airspace the refrain is always the same – Spain’s claims would not stand up in an international court of law and hence Madrid’s refusal to take that course.
Gibraltar’s chief minister and opposition leader trip off each year to the UN in New York to lay their case before the committees dealing with decolonisation yet the outcome is the same. Whether it is Caruana or Bossano speaking they defend the Rock’s position and its right to self-determine its own future, Spain rubbishes it saying it claims sovereignty and Britain basically says Gibraltar is British till the people of Gibraltar say otherwise. In both cases London and Madrid grasp the Treaty of Utrecht that is so old and battered that its only modern role is as a museum curiosity.
The problem for Gibraltar is that whilst it is British, may or may not have reached a post-colonial status, unlike its famous Rock it has no firm foundations because Spain tries to undermine it by insisting it is Spanish.
Spain claims sovereignty and waves the battered treaty. Spain says Gibraltar has no waters or airspace because they weren’t mentioned in the treaty. Britain says Gibraltar is British because of the treaty yet seems reluctant to defend the Rock’s waters or to secure for it the 12 mile limit which international law says is its right.
Now in the two referendums held on the issue in 1969 and 2002 the people of Gibraltar voted firmly to remain British with levels normally reserved for polls in dictator controlled or communist states. The unanimity of the result gives no hope to those in Spain who might seek to drive a wedge between Gibraltarians – except of course on the occasions when a politician suggests a more accommodating result could be delivered.
So my question is this – why not forget the UN, forums, dialogue and what-have-you and go to the international court instead? Why don’t the people of Gibraltar united take their case to the international court to establish their right to self determine their own future? Why doesn’t Gibraltar go to the international court once and for all to have a ruling on its sovereignty over its own Rock, waters and airspace? Why doesn’t Gibraltar go to the international court to have the Treaty of Utrecht confined to the waste bin?
If the law is on Gibraltar’s side isn’t it time this nation of lawyers called Madrid’s bluff and took the legal route to cement its own future?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


The furore over the chief minister’s remarks on an Andorra style (photo above) future for Gibraltar has had one useful purpose – it has opened up the debate on what future Gibraltarians want for their homeland.
Whether Caruana favours an Andorra model is neither here nor there. The decision will not be made by him or any other holder of his office but by the people of the Rock in a referendum. He like every other Gibraltarian will have one vote.
Yet it is time for Gibraltarians to decide what future they want for Gibraltar, not just for them, but their children and their children’s children.
It would help for instance if Gibraltarians knew what the status of the Rock is. Spain says it’s a British colony. Gibraltar has a new constitution which was heralded as taking the Rock beyond being a colony. Gibraltarians who know more about such things than I assure me no such move forward has taken place. Britain just mumbles. So first of all we need to know where Gibraltar stands before the Rock can take any step forward.
I am told, again by people who spend their time studying these runes that Gibraltar cannot be independent – it has to be tied to another larger entity. Gibraltar’s current future depends on its links with the EU. Gibraltar is not a member of the EU – it is a member by virtue of Britain being a member. Hence if Gibraltar broke that link it would be outside of the union.
If an independent Gibraltar then applied for membership its application would be blocked by Spain. Of course if Gibraltar joined with Spain on some sovereignty basis then it could maintain the EU link.
There are people on the Rock who see Gibraltar’s long term future in a federal EU. This would see member states such as Spain break down with regions such as Cataluña, the Basque region, Andalucía taking their place and at that table would be a seat for Gibraltar. Yet that is a long term bet.
So if Gibraltar can’t be totally independent – which sounds logical given its size is that of a small British town or large village – it needs to plot its future in partnership with somebody be it Britain, Spain or the EU.
As was demonstrated in 2002 Britain would be happy for Gibraltar to move to a joint sovereignty status with Spain or even possibly an exchange of full sovereignty. Britain and Spain are EU and NATO partners and the mutual interests of London and Madrid do not revolve around the Rock. As Spain’s foreign minister Trinidad Jiménez recently stated rows over Gibraltar have been going on for 200 years and are not going to spoil bilateral relations. It should also be taken in to account that the number of Britons living in Spain by far outnumbers those in Gibraltar. The emphasis has changed.
It is because Gibraltar is being marginalised in British Spanish relations that determining the path for the Rock’s own future is a priority. It won’t be done in the general election process because parties bidding for power will seek the solution that will secure the most votes rather than what is best for Gibraltarians over the long term. It is a debate for the people because it is their votes which will be required to make it happen.