Friday, February 24, 2012


On Tuesday the new Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, met his British Conservative counterpart, David Cameron, holding the briefest of meetings at Downing Street. Apart from the security helicopters hovering overhead and the police outriders the tourists gathered in Whitehall had no idea anybody important was coming or going.
The meeting was important for both men because it was about the economy and not Gibraltar. Spain and Britain along with 10 other EU nations have sent a joint letter to Brussels calling for urgent measures to be adopted to stimulate economic growth.
Spain is in the euro zone, Britain is out. Yet both economies are embattled and whilst both Rajoy’s and Cameron’s administrations have grasped the public austerity nettle they want to see flexibility and liberalisation in the markets to help them in the quest for the all important goal of economic growth.
Rajoy had another message too: and no it wasn’t Gibraltar. His government has introduced a labour reform package which on Sunday led to widespread street protests in Spain. The Partido Popular leader had to make it clear to his own country, London and the wider world that he wasn’t for turning and sorting out the economy is his primary goal.
It is ironic that Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo should have jetted in to London later on the same day because he has also stressed this simple fact. There is only one item on Spain’s political agenda and that is the economic crisis that is both engulfing the euro nations but also his country. Spaniards couldn’t give a hoot about Gibraltar: they want jobs, they want to be paid, they don’t want to be evicted from their homes and still owe a fortune to the banks, they want to be able to feed their families – they want to live in dignity.
So was Gibraltar on the agenda at Downing Street? Of course it was. It was for the very simple reason that no Spanish prime minister or his foreign minister can meet his British counterpart without Gibraltar being discussed. They know it’s the wrong issue on the wrong day but are equally aware that if it is not raised they will get it in the neck politically and from the media when they get home. The Spanish public couldn’t care a toss about Gibraltar right now but that is neither here nor there.
It was the wrong issue on the wrong day in Downing Street because David Cameron was as clear as he could possibly be in re-stating Britain’s support for Gibraltar and the right of Gibraltarians to self-determine their own future. When he made that statement he also included the Falklands and I have pointed out in print here before that it was Buenos Aires that was the prime recipient of that message. Britain cannot give an inch on Gibraltar without giving Argentina hope of a deal on the Malvinas. As long as Argentina sabre-rattles on this issue Gibraltar is safe.
Which brings us nicely to Spain’s new big idea on Gibraltar. It wants meaningful and constructive talks with Britain over the future of Gibraltar. It wants the Campo de Gibraltar to be included in those talks. It wants Gibraltar to sit alongside the UK delegation as the Campo representatives will sit alongside its own: so it will be two flags with two supporting delegations. William Hague quickly but politely kicked that in to touch which means both London and Madrid can now get back to concentrating on the economy as Fabian Picardo said they would and should.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I look from time to time on the Wake Up Gibraltar Facebook page to see what local issues are resonating with members. What caught my eye yesterday was a posting about Gibraltar registered cars being burnt out in La Línea with an accompanying photograph by Bryan Zammit Senior.
Apparently it was one of two cars and as that is the case I am surprised it hasn’t hit the headlines in Europa Sur or the other Campo media. The torching of cars across the border and indeed on the Costa del Sol isn’t sadly an isolated issue. A councillor in San Roque had his car set on fire near his home in Estación San Roque just a week or so ago. I reported on another case in the Cancelada district of Estepona last year and others in Marbella.

In some cases such as the councillor’s it could have been politically motivated. In other such as Estepona and Marbella it was the work of vandals with cars chosen at random. As far as I am aware all of those had Spanish plates.

Certainly security and safety has improved markedly in La Línea compared with 20 years ago when I used to drive through as fast as I could. None the less even in recent years I have reported on too many street attacks by far that have resulted in death or serious injury to the victims. Gibraltarians or residents of the Rock walking to the border after a late night out in La Línea have all too frequently been attacked. I park my car as near to the border as I can and say a silent prayer whenever I get back inside unmolested with the car in good order after an evening out on the Rock.

Are Gibraltarian cars a target in La Línea over and above any others? I simply do not know. It would be interesting to learn the facts surrounding the burnt out cars in Bryan Zammit’s photograph and whether the owners have made official complaints to the police on either side of the border.

The fact is that La Línea is not a normal Spanish town in any meaning of the word. It has close ties with Gibraltar both in the number of people living there who are dependent on the Rock for employment and of course in closer family ties by marriage. Many Gibraltarians and British workers on the Rock live there because they cannot afford the rents locally. GHA patients are treated daily at La Línea’s health service hospital.

On top of all that we have La Línea’s municipal workers who can’t remember the last time they were paid. High jobless numbers, high addiction to drugs, a high number of cross-border cigarettes smugglers, a high number of people with no roofs over their heads. For the latter the town hall has now invoked a special plan because temperatures have plummeted to around minus five. If you are unfortunate enough to be living on streets I would have thought you obviously needed help regardless of the state of the weather. I digress: in short the town is an economic and social basket case.

Given all of that I have never experienced any anti-British or Gibraltarian sentiments. However I would never leave my car parked anywhere in La Línea overnight regardless of its number plate. Nor if I could help it would I walk on the wild side of the border at night and in some areas in daylight either. It’s just the way it is.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Word has reached me that some government supporters are not happy with the way it is handling matters. Not satisfied that a socialist-led administration is back at the helm after nearly 16 years; that it is opening up the workings of government for all to see or honouring its election pledges, they are complaining because there is no GSD blood on the carpet. If they were hoping for a night (and perhaps day) of the long knives they are certainly disappointed.

Not that I am unsympathetic to their wishes: but do not confuse sympathy with agreement. Over the last year I have heard of numerous cases of injustice meted out to local residents. Some of these are where the system has let them down or is due to the lack of a proper response from a government department or agency. However the ones that have truly shocked me are where people have been singled out because of their political allegiance and punished by the withholding of services or help that were their due by law. There are those that have been persecuted in the workplace. They were examples of a government’s vindictiveness and I certainly have never seen the like in Britain. I have seen such cases, where people truly lived in fear of their government, but they were in the townships of apartheid South Africa.

So when these people who were treated as an underclass by the previous government find their party in power it is a natural human trait to want revenge. Bloody revenge is not on the agenda but justice is.

When the GSLP elected Fabian Picardo as their leader he pulled no punches or pulled no wool over anybody’s eyes when he declared if elected to government he would lead an administration that dealt fairly with everybody regardless of their political persuasion.

When Gibraltar elected Fabian Picardo as chief minister he had made it clear in his election addresses that he would be fair and open – he even told the then chief minister that he could still inaugurate the new air terminal when it was finally completed if he wasn’t in power.

However one should not believe that Picardo or the administration he leads is a soft touch. One should not confuse fairness with weakness. As my grandmother used to say: there is more than one way to skin a cat.

The government’s first priority is to govern and that is the business the new team of GSLP and Liberal ministers are fully engaged in. To deal with the present and future is their main obligation but the past will not be ignored because it impacts on the others.

Much went on in the GSD mandate that is being investigated. Mismanagement there certainly was: every time a Gibraltarian passes their airport they have standing before them an empty terminal which is a monument to the political and personal vanity of one man.

Yet forensic audits and legal investigations are also underway in to the many other disasters and abuses of the Caruana mandates. These things take time; the search by financial and legal experts will be exhausting. As the new government has stated plainly: the GSD will be fully held to account for its years in power. Some of that fallout will be political. However do not be surprised if these investigations end up in the civil or criminal courts. There is no blood on the carpet, nor will there be, but justice there will be as surely as night follows day. So no night of the long knives but certainly the full light of day will shine on the shenanigans of the GSD era.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


We all have to play the hand we are dealt. Hence for the new Gibraltar Government they are saddled with a vast new air terminal, a large ditch where there is meant to be a traffic tunnel, the commitments of various contracts and probably compensation payments too.
However it could all be for nothing. The prime mover behind the new airport terminal abutting the border was the Tripartite Accord. Caruana agreed to build a new terminal by the border and re-route the traffic for the sole purpose of having a Spanish terminal abutting it and in those days we even spoke fondly of flights from the Rock to Madrid and Barcelona.
Now we have a new Partido Popular government in Madrid and one of its first acts was on relations with Gibraltar. The Tripartite process has been cancelled and the new foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo is not seeking a day out with Picardo and Hague at the top of the Rock but nitty gritty haggling in Brussels with his British counterpart whilst the chief minister sits in the corridor.
Well it’s not going to happen: Britain has been clear enough about that. So is the Spanish airport terminal going to happen either? PSOE made a great song and dance about it having to proceed with the terminal and hence needing La Línea’s land because it was obliged to build it because of its international treaty obligations.
Rajoy and García-Margallo have torn up the Tripartite – Cordoba agreements: they are as dead as the proverbial Dodo. So if you were sitting in Madrid what would you do? You have torn up the accord; you need every euro you can get your hands on; you are going to get tough with Gibraltar and there are no flights from Spain to the Rock. Hence the pretence that Gibraltar’s airport is La Línea’s airport is not worth persevering with. So would you spend millions of euros building a terminal when travellers can do as they do now and walk across the border.
If it was me I’d scrap the plans (if they ever existed because nobody I have spoken to has ever seen them) and have a good belly laugh as the new Gibraltar Government grapples with running a terminal that it is never going to have the passengers to fill it.
I am one of those who believe Gibraltar needed a new terminal but as Dr Joseph Garcia continuously pointed out whilst in Opposition the model to follow was that created at Southend Airport in Essex and not the Caruana Gin Palace. It would have cost millions less and be better geared to meet Gibraltar’s needs.
However Spain may have dealt the Government a good card. Caruana made it clear at a press conference after the 2010 low level trilateral that the airport was a Gibraltarian project and would be operational in the Spring of 2011 whether Spain had its terminal or not.
Of course that simply wasn’t true. The location of the terminal at the border was to give access to the La Línea terminal and in addition there was much talk of how the adjacent freight facility would be alongside with part of it actually located across the border. Although this had many implications on sovereignty, the border and employment technicalities it was seized upon by the Campo de Gibraltar as creating jobs for Spaniards, which indeed it would have.
This is presumably now a dead project along with the La Línea terminal. If that is the case it means the new government can look at the airport purely with regard to the needs of Gibraltar. Any freight element will be inside our side of the fence and the beneficiaries in investment and jobs will be Gibraltarian. Indeed perhaps rather than creating a freight terminal part of it can be housed in the Gin Palace.
SOUTHEND V GIBRALTAR: Projects to make London Southend Airport a fully functioning international gateway by the 2012 Olympics are well underway. A new Control Tower is now operational, as is the new airport railway station. London Southend Airport’s new passenger terminal will be completed in the coming months, as will its runway extension and new Holiday Inn hotel. On landing, passengers with hand luggage will be able to process through to the train station platform in just 15 minutes from the aircraft doors opening. The airport is targeting a security process with a maximum four-minute waiting time. The Stobbart Group has invested £60million on a new control tower with state-of-the art radar, a runway extension, a new terminal building and the railway station. The budget for Gibraltar’s new terminal alone is 67 million euros and rising!