Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices


Memorandum submitted by Sr Rafael Estrella

  The following text should be considered as an individual contribution of the author. Opinions expressed here are personal too. It is therefore the author's view as a participant in the ongoing debate within the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and an account on some elements of such a debate. My position as the PSOE's Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Spokesman is, no doubt, a relevant information for the Committee, but no official PSOE's position or proposal should be inferred from the texts I am contributing to the Committee.

  1. A year ago, the PSOE initiated an open-ended process to update his strategic assessment on Gibraltar. If our position on all the questions related to sovereignty remains unchanged (and we do not perceive either changes in British basic positions), we consider that a number of new elements should be taken into account.

  2. The fact that Gibraltar appears increasingly as an obstacle in the relations between Spain and the United Kingdom, be it in NATO or in the EU thus affecting our bilateral relations.

  3. The perception of a growing awareness in both the British Government and Parliament of such a distorting effect as well as of the derived liabilities for the UK of the lack of implementation in Gibraltar of EU legislation. Gibraltar will hardly remain as a non-issue as it was during the last decades. Opting-out decisions or reservations, imposed as a means to preserve the status-quo make more relevant the conflicting peculiarities of the Colony.

  4. The diminished strategic value of Gibraltar, particularly with Spain as a NATO ally and since the end of the Cold War.

  5. British decision to open a debate aimed at introducing reforms in the Dependent Territories which might affect the current status quo of Gibraltar.

  6. The obligations established in the Utrecht Treaty, upon which, sovereignty on Gibraltar ceded to the British Crown by Spain can either be retained by Britain or transferred to Spain, but is not transferable to anybody else.

  7. These factors become relevant at a time when international community appears committed to the elimination of all expressions of colonialism.

  8. In this framework, both politics and daily life in Gibraltar seem to be overshadowed by the "sovereignty factor" thus preventing communities in both sides of the gate to build a "normal" relation and adding tension to these relations. The origins of the fishing crisis respond to this pattern.

  9. Along the same lines, Mr Caruana, who totally refused the Matutes proposal of December 1997, has placed in the centre of the local debate a scenario in which Gibraltar might aspire to a process of self-determination which, through a referendum, would result in a full integration of Gibraltar into Britain. This option is by no means possible under the Utrecht Treaty to which both States are committed. Any attempt in this direction would result in a strong reaction from the Spanish Government and political parties and might have a counterproductive effect. Other suggested options would conflict with EU's trends concerning tax havens. However, Mr Caruana's attitude has resulted in an hyper-gibraltarism that makes impossible the expression of a more constructive approach.

  10. Against this background, there are clear signs of a constituency in Gibraltar's community for a different approach. That appeared evident in the course of a visit that a PSOE delegation paid to Gibraltar last November. The outcome of the recent by-election indicates the same trend.

  11. However, there is not an open and public challenge to the attitude of the main political forces. The different British Governments have expressed a position based upon two principles: attachment to the commitment contained in the preamble of the Gibraltar "Constitution" (a concession that bears no obligation nor recognition for Spain), and asserting that self-determination could only be exerted in the framework of the Utrecht Treaty. But Britain has failed to formally draw and put before Gibraltarians the obvious conclusion of both principles, that Gibraltar may either remain as a colony or integrate with Spain and that even under the British commitment, freedom of choice has clear limits, since these are the only possible options. This failure has given room to a debate based upon the false premises of the feasibility of Mr Caruana's or Mr Bossano's claims.

  12. British officers have always sustained that Spain should try to "conquer the souls" of Gibraltarians. Fifteen years after reopening of the gate and adopting other measures related to citizens, the Spanish perception is that no progress has been achieved concerning the Brussels Agreements and the London Declaration. British attachment to the preamble of the Gibraltar "Constitution" has prevented the UK from accomplishing his commitments, creating a peculiar situation that can hardly be understood from the Spanish side. The fishing row is the most recent example. The foreign Ministers of both Britain and Spain agreed on a wise formula that eluded the sovereignty factors; the failure of the British Government to implement this agreement or understanding, coherent as it may be with the British notion of commitment with Gibraltarians, has presented Mr Cook to the eyes of Spaniards as the Minister of a non reliable nor credible Government. The result has been the most serious crisis between Spain and Britain since the beginning of Spanish democracy and a sad damage to relations between people both sides of the gate.

  13. Apart from issues related to sovereignty, the current situation shows two different aspects: on the one hand, the growing interdependence between Gibraltar and the neighbouring area (workers, investment, tourism, etc); on the other, the lack of transparency in financial activities carried through Gibraltar and the alleged use of the Rock for illegal activities (drugs smuggling, etc).

  14. Spanish accusations regarding the failure to implement EU directives are basically coincidental with the contents of the Public Accounts Committee Report from May 1998. A credible response and a diligent commitment to satisfy both Spanish and the House of Commons demands is required too as a contribution to restore mutual trust and overcoming the current crisis.

  15. However, new crisis may easily arise. The existing framework for relations between Gibraltar and Spain seems to be exhausted. Remaining hostages of the sovereignty deadlock and daily uncertainty appear as the only perspective for the individual citizen, for the real people of Gibraltar. A reflection in Britain on the present and future of Gibraltar is a compelling need. It should devise new scenarios and favour a non passionate debate in Gibraltar. A process in which Spain should not interfere but accompany within a mutual constructive engagement based upon the Brussels process, still the valid framework for joint discussions and decisions. Obviously, pretending to introduce changes in the status quo (or a modification of the "Constitution") would be incompatible with such a process.

  16. As an Annex to this Memorandum, I attach the text of an article I wrote for the "Gibraltar Chronicle". It was published last January and contains ideas for a change of scenario based on the assumption that while the well known mutual diverging positions on sovereignty will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future, there is a room for new visions and for progress without reunification.

12 March 1999

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