MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY THE FOREIGN AND
By letter dated 16 November 2000, the Clerk
to the Foreign Affairs Committee sought answers to further questions
which the committee had decided to put to the Department. This
memorandum answers those questions.
1. What responses have been received from
(a) Commissioner Vitorino and (b) the European Commission to HMG's
representations about border delays; if HMG can provide a schedule
of the occasions when British Ministers and officials have raised
the issues with Spanish counterparts, outlining the Spanish response
on each occasion; and what discussion on Gibraltar in general,
and border delays in particular, took place when the two Prime
Ministers and two Foreign Ministers last met?
Officials in the United Kingdom Permanent Representation
in Brussels have been in frequent contact at various levels with
the Commission on the subject of the continuing delays at the
Gibraltar/Spain border. The Commission has said in response to
a question from Lord Bethell MEP that it "considers that
the checks conducted at the border which lead to these delays
could not be proportionate to the legal and practical objectives
they are intended to pursue". The Commission confirmed that
it has therefore requested observations from Spain "in order
to assess whether the particular measures applied at the Spain/Gibraltar
border are objectively justified".
As set out in the Memorandum responding to the
Clerk to the Foreign Affairs Committee's letter of 27 June, the
issue of border delays is raised frequently with Spanish officials.
It is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all such
occasions. The issue was raised most recently at talks between
senior officials of the UK and Spain in Madrid on 17 November,
following delays of up to three hours on 13 November. The Spanish
side attributed these delays to operational activity by the local
The Spanish response has generally been that
the delays are caused by the checks legitimately required to implement
Spain's obligations to check goods entering the EU customs territory
and to prevent smuggling of duty-free and other goods across the
frontier; and that these checks will vary in nature according
to police intelligence at the time. A further reason which they
sometimes give is that the Spanish authorities involved are unable
to provide the additional resources to process vehicles more swiftly.
We continue to make it clear that we do not regard these as sufficient
reasons for the delays, which we believe to be disproportionate
to their purpose.
The Foreign Secretary has regular contacts with
Sr Pique on a wide range of issues, including those related to
Gibraltar. The main purpose of the meeting between the Prime Minister
and Sr Aznar in October was to discuss a variety of European Union
issues with Spain.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary
have consistently made their counterparts aware of our wish to
see improved relations between British and Spain lead to material
improvements for Gibraltar and to the resolution of various practical
problems. The Spanish government is in no doubt about the importance
we attach to resolving such problems, including delays at the
border and the shortage of telephone numbers.
2. What is the Government's policy on the
invocation of Article 227 in respect of border delays?
The Government has noted the Committee's recommendation
that it take action under Article 227 of the EC Treaty. Such action
is extremely rare (since the EC Treaty confers primary responsibility
for the enforcement of Community law on the Commission). Since
we understand that the Commission is now taking up the matter
with Spain, it would be premature for the UK to consider the possibility
of action under Article 227 at this stage.
3. What are the figures for delay times at
the border over the period since Mr Vaz's answer to Dr Marek (HC
Deb 7 June 2000, col 294w)? (You may wish to be aware of the attached
letter from the Chief Secretary in Gibraltar: the Committee hopes
that statistics can be collected on an identical basis by the
Royal Gibraltar Police and the Government of Gibraltar.)
The figures are attached as an annex to this
4. What discussions have there been with
the Ministry of Defence about lowering the charges for use of
The Ministry of Defence has in the past held
various discussions with the Government of Gibraltar on this issue.
The Ministry of Defence has agreed to consider the potential for
reducing landing fees if and when increased usage results in recoveries
exceeding the cost of supporting civil flights at Gibraltar airport.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces confirmed this position
to a group of MPs led by Andrew Mackinlay MP during a meeting
in December 1999.
In the past there has also been discussion between
the Ministry of Defence and the operators at Gibraltar airport.
The only recent discussions have been with GB
Airways over the discount for the new Airbus aircraft which they
will introduce on the Gibraltar route next year and which will
operate at less than the maximum Take-off Weight on which charges
5. What responses have been received from
the European Commission to HMG's representations about delay in
the case of telephone operations; if HMG can provide a schedule
of the occasions when British Ministers and officials have raised
this issue with (a) Spanish counterparts and (b) the European
Commission, outlining the response on each occasion; and what
timetable is being followed for a resolution of this issue?
The Government frequently raises with Spain
the issue of the shortage of telephone numbers in Gibraltar. As
with the issue of border delays, it is not possible to provide
a comprehensive list of all the occasions when the subject has
The Government has been in regular contact with
the Commission on the issue of the complaints against Spain initiated
by the Gibraltar telephone operators. The Commission wrote to
the UK Permanent Representative on 7 June, urging the British
and Spanish Governments to have discussions to find a solution.
Our response of 26 June indicated that we were prepared to discuss
the issue with Spain without prejudice to possible infractions
proceedings. We immediately sought to initiate discussions with
the Spanish Government and have continued to urge them to take
action to resolve the problem. We wrote again to the Commission
on 28 September. The Commission replied on 14 November, noting
that a bilateral solution had not been reached and indicating
that it was continuing to consider its position. We are pressing
both the Commission and Spain for further progress. The issue
was raised substantively with Spain at talks at senior official
level in Madrid on 17 November.
6. Could HMG let the Committee know, in confidence
if necessary, what options are being considered for unilateral
action to enfranchise Gibraltarians for European elections by
The Government is committed to fulfilling its
legal obligations to implement the judgment of the ECHR in the
Matthews case to enfranchise Gibraltar for elections to the European
Parliament. We believe that the best method of doing so is by
amendment to the 1976 EC Act on Direct Elections, which would
require the agreement of other Member states. Unilateral action
would involve legislation to enable Gibraltar citizens to vote
in elections to the European Parliament without prior amendment
of the 1976 EC Act. We are currently assessing the legal and practical
implications of such action. We are considering how Gibraltar
might, for the purposes of elections to the European parliament,
become part of a UK multi-member Constituency.
7. What contacts there have been with the
Spanish national and regional authorities, and with the Government
of Gibraltar on HMS Tireless, and what undertakings were given
to either side?
The Government has kept the Governments of Spain
and Gibraltar regularly informed since HMS Tireless arrived in
Gibraltar on 19 May. The Chairman of the Naval Nuclear Regulatory
Panel is briefing a independent panel of experts appointed by
the Government of Gibraltar. The Government is also sharing information
with Spain via an ad hoc working group, which includes representatives
of the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council and other authorities. The
Secretary of State has written to the Chief Minister in response
to the Home of Assembly motion making clear that we do not see
the cooperation outlined above as having any bearing on broader
issues of the type mentioned in the first paragraph of the House
of Assembly motion. The Government has also made clear to the
Government of Spain that this cooperation has been provided for
the purpose of reassurance on public safety and in the spirit
of good neighbourliness, without any wider or future implications.
British Ministers and officials have discussed
the HMS Tireless issue frequently with the relevant authorities
in Gibraltar and Spain. The Prime Minister has discussed HMS Tireless
with the Spanish Prime Minister, for example, in Madrid on 27
October and Zagreb on 24 November. The Governor of Gibraltar and
the Commander of British Forces have given regular briefings to
the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. The Foreign Secretary has had
extensive contacts with the Spanish Foreign Minister. The British
Embassy in Madrid have also been in close contact with the central
and regional authorities in Spain. The Government acknowledge
the legitimate concerns which have been expressed in Gibraltar
and the neighbouring region concerning public safety and have
undertaken to maintain this flow of information and to do all
they can to allay the concerns of the people of Gibraltar and
8. The Government will be aware of the Committee's
view that the Brussels Process should be discontinued. However,
since the Government does not share this view, the Committee wishes
to know whether there will be a meeting under the Brussels Process
in the next six months and, if not, why the Government believes
that the Brussels Process is active.
The Brussels Process is a framework for talks
which was established with a view to overcoming a wide range of
differences between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar. It does not,
however, preclude discussion of Gibraltar issues in other contexts,
for example, in other Ministerial or official-level meetings.
We believe it is important to keep open all our channels of communication
Meetings under the Brussels Process do not take
place according to a set timetable. There have been several periods
since the process of meetings began in 1984 when there has been
no formal meeting. No meeting at either Ministerial or official
level is currently scheduled.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
5 January 2001