Thursday, May 5, 2011


As tensions heighten over the incursions of Guardia Civil patrol boats and now the Spanish navy into Gibraltar’s territorial waters Spain’s minister for foreign affairs, Trinidad Jiménez, has stated as far as Madrid is concerned the Rock’s only waters are those laid down in the Treaty of Utrecht.
This stance has been that of Spain since the ink first dried on the battered and largely discredited treaty. Whilst even Franco turned a blind eye to its provisions the PSOE government, perhaps with elections in mind, has been upping the pressure in an attempt to outdo the Partido Popular.
Indeed when Jiménez made her statement is was in response to a question from PP Senator Alejandro Muñoz-Alonso on the incident between the Guardia Civil and RGP in Gibraltar’s waters on April 24. At that stage the latest incursion by the Spanish navy’s corvette, Atalaya, had not yet filtered through to Madrid.
None-the-less the foreign minister was adamant that Spain was not going to give more rights to Gibraltar over its waters above what is laid out in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. She stressed this gave Gibraltar (and Britain) only jurisdiction over the waters of the port and not the three miles that is claimed under international law, let alone the 12 miles which the UK could claim and which many in Gibraltar argue it should.
Jiménez went on to guarantee that the Spanish Government would “always safeguard this premise” and expressed her “full support” for the work of the Guardia Civil in fighting crime in the waters of what Madrid calls the Bay of Algeciras. She added that Spain would handle the matter with firmness and in a responsible manner.
As on previous occasions Jiménez stated that the problems with the UK over the waters “are absolutely not new” and have been going on with “different intensity for almost 20 years”. She stressed that the position of the socialist government was exactly the same as previous administrations over “the defence of Spanish sovereignty in the waters surrounding Gibraltar”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a formal protest note to the British Embassy in Madrid after the April 24 incident voicing its “most firm rejection” of the incident. However the PP in the form of Muñoz-Alonso considered this to be “insufficient, uncouth and sterile”.
Spain has to be credited with one thing: its stance over Gibraltar’s waters and airspace is as clear as can be. The Gibraltar Government is powerless to act other than to protest to Madrid and London in the strongest possible terms.
It is the British Government’s waters that are being violated and it is London that has to respond with appropriate action. Whether the Foreign Office will want to take a stand on this issue, invoking international law, remains to be seen. My guess is that it will not.
The attitude of London and Madrid seems to be that Gibraltar is a shared thorn in their mutual sides and conflict in the bay or off the eastern shore will continue to happen. Spain will wave the Treaty of Utrecht, Britain international law books, but in the meantime it will be business as usual between the two nations.
The challenge for the chief minister, or Fabian Picardo if he succeeds him, is to get the British Government to honour its obligations to the people of Gibraltar and its own interests by defending the Rock’s internationally recognised waters. A failure to do so will see this 200 year old dispute rattling on like a rusty sabre for another 100 years.
(The photo shows part of the waters of Gibraltar’s Harbour that are recognised by Spain. Ironically the harbour water’s described in the Treaty of Utrecht are those of the much smaller Nelson’s Harbour – the present day location didn’t exist in 1713).