Thursday, May 31, 2012


Over the years I have spoken to many local politicians and all have been of the opinion that if Gibraltar went to court to challenge the validity in this modern age of the Treaty of Utrecht the government would win and it would be placed in the judicial waste bin.
I include in that number Daniel Feetham who was then leader of the Labour Party. I would not hold anybody to their views from a past life but as he will soon no doubt be the leader of the GSD his stance is important. However I have read or heard nothing to suggest he doesn’t still hold that view.
Given that the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, the deputy leader of the GSD, Daniel Feetham, and the leader of the PDP, Keith Azopardi, are all lawyers their collective agreement on this issue is important. It is not only important to win the legal battle but also the fight for public opinion. Hence Gibraltar needs to be united and 100 per cent behind this cause.
I accept there are lawyers and there are lawyers hence Messers Picardo, Feetham and Azopardi may well not be the ones to stand up in court and argue the case on an ancient treaty and constitutional matters. None-the-less Gibraltar and the world are not short of lawyers and perhaps Michael Llamas QC might be such a legal eagle.
In a recent Government statement on the fishing dispute Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said “I am the fifth Chief Minister of Gibraltar to challenge Spain to litigation on the issue of the territorial waters around Gibraltar. Instead of accepting our successive challenges to resolve matters in an International Court, some elements in Spain continue to risk the lives of those at sea by seeking to advance its position in the waters around Gibraltar.”
Well my question as a lay man is if five Chief Ministers were confident enough to take the matter before a court why haven’t we called Spain’s bluff before now and done just that?
Whilst the waters and air space issues are the ones the court in such circumstances would be required to rule on I believe it should be the whole issue of the Treaty of Utrecht that should be up for judicial grabs.
Again as a lay man I can see no danger for Gibraltar. If we lose the case then the Treaty of Utrecht is upheld and as long as Gibraltar remains British, by the will of the Gibraltarian people, then the status quo stays.
However if the court rules that Gibraltar is entitled under international law to its own air space and waters, as provided for in the 1958 Geneva Convention to which Spain is a signatory, then it’s certainly game, set to us. If the court also rules the Treaty of Utrecht is as dead as the Dodo then you can add match over too.
In the 1967 referendum 99.19 per cent of Gibraltarians voted to reject any move to transfer them to Spanish sovereignty. In 2002 almost the same number, 98.48 per cent, rejected the attempts by Tony Blair and Jack Straw to bounce Gibraltar in to a joint sovereignty deal with Spain. The people of Gibraltar have been staunch in their rejection of Spain and surely it is now time to take the matter to court to cement in judicial stone the death of the Treaty of Utrecht and the right of the people of the Rock to self determine their own futures.
Of course Spain would oppose taking the case to court: but so too would any land grabber threatened with legal action. Britain would also oppose it as there is nothing the Foreign Office and the establishment likes less than change. Certainly it would be happy for joint sovereignty to be imposed but as an extension of the Treaty. However take away the Treaty of Utrecht and you remove the plank on which London – Madrid relations have been founded on for over 300 years. The brolly brigade would be in uncharted territory whilst Gibraltar would have a legally enforced map of its seas and air space. Do it I say!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


In a 2010 report Greenpeace stated: “The Spanish government has encouraged the development of excessive and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, purse seining and long lining. It has supported illegal ‘pirate’ fishing through fishing subsidies, and seems unwilling or unable to effectively prosecute Spanish companies who fish illegally.” It is that same Spanish fishing armada that has until recently raped Gibraltar’s waters, which are British waters, and the Gibraltar government is now insisting its environmental laws are upheld to stop the destruction of its marine environment.

In writing this article two statistics stayed with me that described the size of the problem facing Gibraltar. According to Greenpeace if you were to line up all Spanish fishing vessels, bow to stern, they would stretch for a distance of 123 kilometres. Whilst in a Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) paper dated 1999 by its then general secretary and now Gibraltar’s Environment Minister, Dr John Cortes, he stated: “The fact is that the average tramallo (bottom laid net) can be anything up to 1250 metres long while Gibraltar's coastline is only some 14 kilometres in length. Sixty four per cent of that coastline is taken up for commercial purposes; leaving only 36 per cent natural coastline where such fishing if allowed could realistically take place. A single net is equivalent to 11 per cent of our overall coastline…The fishing is neither sustainable nor sufficient.”

So what are Gibraltar’s waters? They are defined by the Geneva Convention of 1958 and Spain is a signatory to this Convention. The waters in question are three miles off the Rock to east and south and a median line in the bay to the west on the other side of which sits the Spanish port of Algeciras. Gibraltar had to play catch up in the 1980s on its environmental laws but in 1991 its parliament passed the Nature Protection Act which is the legislation currently being enforced by the GSLP Liberal Government.

When Gibraltar’s new government was returned in December it fell on its feet by having Dr John Cortes on hand to step in as its environment minister. His qualifications and credentials are internationally recognized and as long as a Spanish bottom laid net. He was General Secretary of the respected NGO the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society, a post he had held since its creation in 1976 and before becoming a minister was the Director of the Gibraltar Botanic Garden since 1991. It is worth noting he was also a director of Spain’s Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales: so is highly respected on both sides of the border.

I asked Dr Cortes about the current dispute with Spain’s fishermen and the Nature Protection Act 1991: what specifically does it prohibit? The minister stated: “It specifically prohibits the use of seine and gill nets in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. Seabed raking and the use of artificial lights for attracting fish are also illegal under the aforementioned Act.  These methods, including drift nets as well as long lines are used by Spanish fishermen in our waters.”

These measures were enacted in 1991 in order to safeguard marine habitats and species within Gibraltar’s waters that were being negatively affected by commercial fishing activities. Dr Cortes added: “In order to further protect the marine biodiversity the Southern Waters of Gibraltar were designated as a Site of Community Importance under the EU’s Habitats Directive. This designation was approved by the Commission in July 2006.”

Between 1991 and 1997 the Act was enforced by the Royal Gibraltar Police.  While some fishing occurred, this was without sanction and the Police effected arrests and prosecutions on a number of occasions. It was following such an arrest, a campaign was started by Spanish fishermen to press the Gibraltar Government to allow them to fish.  In 1999, after the fishermen blockaded the Gibraltar frontier, a ‘Joint Understanding’ was accepted by the fishing federations of the border town of La Línea as well as Algeciras across the bay and the then Chief Minister Peter Caruana. It allowed Spanish fishing vessels to fish in Gibraltar’s waters using methods illegal under the Nature Protection Act 1991.

So what are the implications of the new Gibraltar Government rescinding the illegal 1999 ‘Joint Understanding’? Dr Cortes explained it now follows that the Royal Gibraltar Police, who are not controlled by the government, are free to use their own discretion in enforcing applicable laws that prevent the use of illegal fishing methods under the Nature Protection Act 1991. 

The minister continued: “As circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that marine resources continue to decline, and in keeping with the precautionary principle, a revised system for the protection of marine resources, which will include regulation is currently being developed by my ministry for the Government of Gibraltar.”

During the past 3 months the enforcing of the Nature Protection Act 1991 has hit the news headlines as the Spanish fishing fleets have been banned from raping Gibraltar’s waters. This has led to illegal incursions by up to 12 fishing boats, sometimes escorted by a Guardia Civil armed patrol boat, to which the Royal Gibraltar Police or Royal Navy have had to respond. The fishing vessels had deployed seine nets and used artificial light lures: both prohibited under Gibraltar law. It is against this background that discussions have taken place between the Government of Gibraltar and the fishing confraternities of La Línea and Algeciras regarding commercial fishing within Gibraltar’s waters. Dr Cortes noted: “These discussions took place as a direct result of the Gibraltar Government rescinding the 1999 ‘Joint Understanding’ and the impact that this would have on the ability of the local Spanish fleets to continue fishing.”

The fishing grounds around Gibraltar have been over exploited and the fishermen themselves accept that catches have declined seriously.  It is ironic that as a result, protected areas including no-fishing zones and time restrictions have been applied by the Spanish authorities in their own waters: and would be extended to Gibraltar if its British waters were Spanish.

On a final note Dr Cortes stated: “The presence of rocky reefs in Gibraltar’s territorial waters is attractive both to fish and to fishermen.  This is one of the reasons why Gibraltar has created this protected area, one of the considerations being to provide refuge, feeding and breeding opportunities for fish, something which will be of benefit to fishermen in adjacent areas, as well as to all marine life.”

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on May 29 2012 and on various US environmental websites)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


On Friday evening Spain’s equivalent of the FA Cup, the Copa del Rey, should be played at the Vicente Calderón stadium in Madrid. I say should because at the time of writing the political authorities in the region of Madrid want the game postponed because of the poor state of the pitch. It was apparently damaged in a recent Coldplay concert.

Whether it goes ahead on Friday or at a future date no Spanish team will be involved. Instead we see the giants of Cataluña FC Barcelona take on the might of the Basque region, Athletic de Bilbao.

It is traditional for the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, to attend the match and present the trophy. It is now almost a tradition too when teams from regions of Spain who want their independence to greet the presence of the king with abusive chants and banners.

Certainly that was the even case when the Spanish monarchy was popular in the country. Now with the corruption trial embroiling the king’s son in law, Iñaki Urdangarín, and the monarch being under fire himself for going on a holiday to shoot elephants (during which he injured himself) when his country is in dire straits could lead to even former loyal Spaniards hurtling abuse. ‘The King is a Dumbo’ might be an appropriate slogan.

Barcelona and Bilbao are not new comers to this trophy having won it 25 and 23 times respectively. The Madrid stadium will be packed with Basques and Catalans and although they are there to watch the beautiful game it is also a chance not to be missed to loudly underscore their people’s demands for nationhood on nationwide TV.

Our chief minister, Fabian Picardo, is a keen soccer fanatic but on this occasion I doubt whether he will be sharing a fish supper out of old copies of La Razón with Spanish dignitaries in the Royal Box. However make no mistake at this football fest Gibraltar will be the elephant in the room.

The decision by UEFA, albeit forced on it by the Court of Arbitration, to allow Gibraltar to go forward for election to the ranks of European soccer nations has put the cat amongst the pigeons in Madrid. Of course Spain objects to Gibraltar doing anything, be thankful breathing is allowed although Madrid will insist its Spanish air, but on this occasion the implications are far wider.

Spurred on by Gibraltar’s success with UEFA the action groups for Basque, Catalonian and Galician national teams wants Bilbao’s and Barcelona’s fans to back the cause in Madrid on Friday. The fans are supported by the separatist parties in the three currently autonomous Spanish regions who see having a national team as a symbol of nationhood.

In the past the Spanish FA, ordered by the Spanish Government, has made it clear that if Gibraltar joins UEFA it would boycott all international and European club competitions. Other UEFA nations have in the past backed Spain’s stance but the court ruling gives them the get out they were looking for.

I always understood that both FIFA and UEFA would act swiftly against any country where the government started calling the tune in football matters. That seems to not have been the case with Spain, at least in the past. Whilst the Spanish FA might withdraw its international teams would its club sides follow suit. Would Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Bilbao and so on boycott the rich pickings of European leagues and cups just because Gibraltar had joined UEFA’s number? I very much doubt it: their fans would riot.

This leaves the Spanish government and football authority in a place they do not want to be. Their threats will no longer carry any wait, Gibraltar will be a UEFA footballing nation and worst of all the campaign to have Cataluña, Basque and Galicia national sides alongside the Spanish team will gather pace. I suspect as you read this Rajoy, King Juan Carlos and the Spanish FA bigwigs are busy digging up the Vicente Calderón pitch.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I am starting this article not in London or Gibraltar but in France. In recent weeks I have been covering the French presidential elections and there is one more to come in June when France’s voters choose a new parliament.

I believe that French overseas territories already send MPs to the Assemblée Nationale in much the same way that Ceuta and Melilla do to Madrid. The latter two North African enclaves are considered an integral part of Spain and hence are represented in both the lower and upper house.

What is different in this French election in June is that French voters overseas can also elect an MP for a constituency that is not in France or one of its territories thanks to legislation that was introduced in 2008.

I make no political point here but I have be in frequent contact with Axelle Lemaire who is the Parti Socialiste candidate for a constituency that takes in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. In other words France has created a Northern Europe constituency covering ten countries although the vast majority of the voters are in the UK.

Now this is a different animal altogether. From June there will be French MPs who directly represent in the parliament in Paris its nationals who live outside France’s sovereignty territory.

Gibraltar having a seat at Westminster has often been discussed before but one problem is that the Rock would only have 20,000 voters whereas the average UK constituency is far bigger: on average between 60,000 and 80,000 electors. Hence if it was to come about the pressure would be for Gibraltar to be included as an extension of an English constituency as it is for the Euro elections. Even with 20,000 voters the Rock would be the tail on this dog.

Britons overseas can still vote in their last UK constituency subject to a number of previsions. However if the British Parliament followed the French model there could be a British Constituency for say the Iberian Peninsula covering Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar. Indeed there may need to be a number of constituencies as the French Northern Europe constituency will have around 130,000 voters whereas several million Britons live on the Iberian Peninsula.

How would such a constituency operate in Gibraltar? How would you define a British voter? I am not going to get in to the distinction of whether Gibraltarians are deemed full British citizens because I suspect it is a minefield and I would step on the first one. I understand that Gibraltarians have the right to be regarded as full British citizens and of course they vote in a British constituency for Europe – but then so do Commonwealth residents in the UK.

The fact remains if Britain followed the French model then Gibraltar could have a voice at Westminster either as part of an Iberian constituency or perhaps for the Mediterranean islands. Voting would be on UK party lines: but there is no reason why a Gibraltarian MP should not be elected and speak for the Rock and the other constituents in the House of Commons. It is an interesting thought.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Social Europe: is it worth fighting for? That was the theme of the Fabian Society conference held in London in February. In her keynote speech Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister Emma Reynolds stated: “The presidential election in France in May presents a great opportunity for Francois Hollande to spark a revival of the centre left in Europe. Only then will social democrats have the chance to start shaping the debate about Social Europe and return Europe back to growth and prosperity.”

Well the two rounds of the French Presidential election have come and gone and indeed Hollande has emerged triumphant. It is understandable that because of the stature of the French Presidency this victory is seen as the great beacon of revival those on the progressive left have been seeking. However in truth the revival started here in Gibraltar in December and has since taken in Andalucía and now France.

In December the voters of Gibraltar returned a GSLP led coalition with the Liberals, the sort of progressive alliance many in the British Labour Party have only dreamed of. Ousted was a centre right administration that had ruled Gibraltar for nearly 16 years. I use the term ruled deliberately because the GSD didn’t govern for the people but ruled for its elite.

In came Fabian Picardo as Chief Minister, a then 39-year-old winning at the first time of asking: a feat never achieved before in Gibraltar politics. It would be a mistake to believe that the victory of the GSLP only reverberated around the streets of the Rock. It also raised cheers amongst the embattled Labour family in the UK.

When I met with Labour Party officials at the then HQ in Victoria Street close to Parliament in January and February they delighted in telling me of the response generated when they took the news of the GSLP victory to National Executive and other top committee meetings. It was not just greeted with murmurings of approval but cheers and clapping. The GSLP is a sister party of Labour but is also ‘de la familia’: it brought fresh hope to Miliband and his team.

After the drubbing PSOE received in Spain last May at the local and regional elections and then again in November at the general election when a triumphant Rajoy and his arrogant PP cohorts took power, who, yes who would have thought the socialists would have held on to Andalucía in March’s election against all the odds.

The left alliance of PSOE and the Izquierda Unida won 59 seats against the PP’s 50 as the centre right party’s lead in the polls collapse after the briefest honeymoon in political history. So what started in Gibraltar in December crossed into Andalucía in March and in May has moved on to France. The centre left, which I have been arguing all along in the Morning Star and London Progressive Journal never went away, is back and on the march.

In France on Sunday Francois Hollande was elected the next president of France with just under 52 per cent of the vote. He is the first socialist president since Francois Mitterrand was elected in 1995. Nicolas Sarkozy was the first incumbent president not to establish a lead after the first round of voting and also the first since 1981 not to secure a second term.

In his victory speech Hollande said he was “proud to have been capable of giving people hope again” and will honour his pledge to refocus EU efforts away from austerity and on to growth. “Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option.” Those will be the headlines in the coming days – but don’t forget this much talked about socialist revival started here in Gibraltar.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


One of the first acts of Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, on being elected to office last December, was to establish Workers Memorial Day to be commemorated just before May Day. April 28 was the first homage to those who died in work place accidents and as the Chief Minister’s speech reveals he had a very personal reason for marking this day.

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo’s Address on Workers Memorial Day, 28th April 2012

On 11th Nov 1938 32 year old Henry Massetti went to work as normal.

He was assigned to a building site in the area of the Alameda red sands. He was excavating near a wall that collapsed on him.

Having survived the collapse of the wall by the 14th November he was dead; dying an agonising death from respiratory failure.

Henry Massetti left a widow with three children and a fourth child unborn in his wife's belly.

The eldest daughter was my mother.

The inquest into the death of my grandfather in 1938 records a verdict of death by misadventure.

Let me now read you the intro to a piece in the Gibraltar Chronical in 2009 by Brian Reyes:


Workers at the Waterport Terrace construction site put productivity before health and safety, an inquest into a fatal accident was told yesterday. John Moreno, the Gibraltar Government’s principal health and safety inspector, said he had reached that conclusion as a result of an investigation following the accident at the site in 2007.

“If works had to be done, they would do it regardless of health and safety,” Mr Moreno said. “Production came first and the rest behind.”
Mr Moreno was giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Jose Luis Gomez Garcia, a Spanish worker employed by Brues y Fernandez [Brues], the main contractor at the Waterport Terrace site  Sr Gomez fell to his death from a partly-finished second floor balcony after a makeshift guardrail gave way, the inquest heard.

 The guardrail was made from timber recycled from wood pallets used to transport building materials to the site.

 It had been placed across a gap at the side of the balcony as a safety measure, secured at one end with a masonry nail and at the other with a wedge.

Similar barriers were in place elsewhere but there was no evidence that they had been certified as safe by a competent person.

In evidence, Mr Moreno said the setup was far from adequate and that purpose-built, metal barriers should have been installed.”

Only last year, in an incident that rocked the whole of our Nation, an explosion at North Mole resulted in the death of a working man With 70 degree burns.

As a result of that incident we have celebrated the bravery of police officer Jared McIntosh.

So we must also remember the sacrifice of Pedro Zambrano Lopez who dies last year aged 40, my age today, in that explosion.

His was believe it or not the second death by fire on the Western Arm in 20 years.

Mr David Pickup died in a fire at the refuelling depot on North Mole.

We also cannot forget those who died in the Bedenham incident and in the explosion in Tangier that resulted in the loss of lives of GSP officers who we remembered in another plaque here earlier this year. Yet they are not the only ones. Too many too mention or list have died at work, trying to earn an honest living.

From 1938 to 2007 to 2011

Wherever workers are from, nationals, Spanish cross frontier workers, Moroccan workers or detached workers from form eastern european states - the health and safety of each individual worker matters.

Even in offices there are threats to health and safety.

Not just on building sites and other sites of manual labour.

Electricity, constant staring at screens, humidity - all these things are also silent dangers that we must look out for today.

Wherever danger lurks, we must be ready to ensure it is checked and countered to protect the workforce.

We may never be able to deal with every lurking danger but we care and we as a community are sending out a message with this holiday that we will not tolerate any corners being cut any shortcomings with the health of our workers.

Because that is how we remember the dead and protect and fight for the living.

I want to thank Gilbert McCarthy public ally for the work he has done to raise the profile of this day as a distinct occasion to the 1st of May and also Christian Duo who picked up the mantle from Gilbert.

I make no apology for how personally I feel the need to establish this day in our national calendar.

I now ask you to observe a minutes silence after the excellent Scout band plays in my unveiling of the plaque to commemorate those who we remember today.