This article was written by Clare and originally appeared in the New Statesman on 16 December 2014, here.
There are many things to celebrate about Gibraltar: the thriving economy, the drive to build new social housing and the promotion of environmental protection, to name just three. I could go on about all the positive things that are happening in Gibraltar. However, as Gibraltar’s MEP I feel that I have to use this article to address the latest problems that Gibraltar is unnecessarily facing as a result of the truculent behaviour of the Spanish government.
The ongoing border issues continue to frustrate the day-to-day lives not just of Gibraltarians, but also Spanish people who depend on Gibraltar for their livelihood. Given the economic strength of Gibraltar and the current weakness of the Spanish economy, it would make sense for the Spanish government to make it easier for its citizens to take good, well paid jobs in Gibraltar. However, its priority seems to be to use Gibraltar as a political football in internal Spanish politics to the detriment of its own citizens.
On top of continuing breaches of the fundamental European Union principle of freedom of movement for workers, there are the frequent invasions of sovereign territory. Last week saw the latest of a long list when a Spanish helicopter, without displaying lights, flew over houses in Gibraltar. It is wrong in principle and in law that British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and airspace are continually abused, but it is also very dangerous. On my visits to Gibraltar and talking to Gibraltarian representatives in Brussels, the recurrent concern is that one day one of these incursions will result in serious injury or even death. Again, the Spanish government must be held to account for its illegal and irresponsible behaviour.
Finally and extraordinarily, the Spanish government attempted to exclude Gibraltar and its airport from the Single European Sky 2+ (SES2+) agreement at a meeting of European transport ministers on 3 December. These rules will coordinate airspace regulation and planning across the EU, and in effect their implementation was delayed because of Spain's intransigence about Gibraltar's sovereignty. However, there shouldn't be a dispute on this issue in the first place. The 2006 Cordoba Agreement between the British, Gibraltarian and Spanish governments specifically included the airport, and subsequently Gibraltar has fulfilled all of the requirements of the agreement.
I wrote to the Commission about this issue last month but have not received a response in time to report it in this article, despite chasing. I have also spoken with colleagues about the European Parliament's Transport Committee, working to build an alliance in an effort to avoid SES2+ being agreed without any resolution in favour of Gibraltar. It is more than a little disappointing that the Italian presidency let the Spanish government derail the agreement, turning what should have been a good news story into an unnecessary controversy. I welcome the strong words from the UK government on this issue and sincerely hope that, on this occasion at least, it will result in a positive outcome for Gibraltar. In the meantime, I will continue to do all I can as an MEP is to ensure that Gibraltar is included in SES2+, and only then can the new regulation finally be agreed.
I am looking forward to writing an article all about the many positive things that are happening in Gibraltar, and I will do so one day soon. However, frustration with both the Spanish government's actions and the snail’s pace of the Commission in enforcing Gibraltar's rights as a part of the European Union mean that that day must be postponed once again.