Sir Graham Watson interview
I was in Brussels last week for a high level Party of European Socialists conference at the EU on Europe’s industrial policy. I should stress it was high level not because I was there but because the keynote speakers were Laszlo Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, and Bernadette Segol, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.
A man who spends much of his time in Brussels working for Gibraltar is our Lib Dem Euro MP, Sir Graham Watson. I once dubbed him in an article as “The man who speaks for Gibraltar” and that is no exaggeration. So I took the opportunity to ask for his views on Gibraltar in Europe, next year’s European Parliament elections and the UK’s possible in – out referendum on EU membership
David Eade: Sir Graham, thanks in large amount to your hard word Gibraltar’s voice is now heard at the EU? What impact does Gibraltar now have and how can that be continued and strengthened?
Sir Graham Watson: In view of Spain's frustration of the lives of EU citizens living and working on the Rock it is important that Gibraltar's voice be heard. I have been pleased to organise meetings with EU Commissioners and other senior officials to ensure that the administration in Brussels is aware of Gibraltar's challenges. This is a process which should continue, since many of the decisions made in Brussels have an impact on Gibraltar.
DE: Next year we have the European elections. Currently in your seat there are three Conservatives, two UKIP and yourself. I believe it is important for Gibraltar that you are re-elected as you have been the only pro-active MEP for Gibraltar. However with the increasing popularity of UKIP and with the pressure on the Conservative and Lib Dem votes how are you viewing the looming polling day?
Sir Graham: Gibraltar's voters can have an impact in this election. Support for populist and newly established parties is rising across the EU, but I hope that voters will look at the way these parties' MEPs conduct themselves and recognise the much better value they get from those who seek election in order to achieve things rather than simply to make a protest.
DE: The UK seems set on an “in – out” referendum on EU membership. If the UK voted to leave I believe it would be a disaster for Gibraltar. Do you believe there will be a referendum and what will its likely outcome be?
Sir Graham: Having Liberal Democrats in government in the UK has prevented there being a referendum in this parliament. The Conservatives want one in the next. Much will depend on whether they win the next election. Should the UK pull out of the EU it would indeed have a huge impact on Gibraltar and would give grist to the mill of the Castilian nationalists.
DE: As Gibraltar is a member of the EU by virtue of the UK’s membership if the UK withdraws so too will Gibraltar without having any say in the matter. However Gibraltar unlike the UK is part of mainland Europe and its future lies within Europe. Is there or could there be a mechanism for Gibraltar to have its own status within the EU?
Sir Graham: There is not, but Woodrow Wilson's doctrine of the right of peoples to self determination has lost none of its validity. And the question of whether people can be stripped of their rights as EU citizens through loss of that citizenship against their will is indeed poignant.