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Dr Peter Gold, Head of School of European and International Area Studies, University of the West of England, on 27 April 2004.
The speaker said that the content of his talk essentially reflected conclusions presented in his latest forthcoming book of the same title.
Three hundred years ago British and Dutch forces seized the Rock.. Then the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) awarded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity. Spain's attempts to recapture it by military force in the 18th century were unsuccessful, but since then it has tried many ways to regain sovereignty. Since the 1960s it has tried through negotiation, diplomacy, the United Nations (UN) and other means. In 1967 99 per cent of Gibraltarians voted by referendum to remain British, but General Franco then imposed a blockade which ran from 1969 right through to 1985. Also in 1969 Gibraltar received a new Constitution, which guaranteed free and democratic choice by Gibraltarians of their sovereignty. In 1973 Gibraltar became part of the European Community (EC, then EU) although not subject to the Common Agricultural Policy or VAT and the Customs Union. Its status as a 'tax haven' brought it many companies and investments, to the annoyance of relatively impoverished local Spanish interests.
When Franco died Spain moved towards democratic government, so Britain in anticipation of this tried to encourage the opening of borders, by offering to discuss sovereignty through the Lisbon Agreement, in 1980. When Spain joined NATO in 1981 it hoped to get access to the military facilities on the Rock, but in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falklands and negotiations were suspended. A new agreement promising discussions on sovereignty signed in Brussels in 1984 led to the opening of the border just before Spain entered the EU. The 'Brussels process' developed too slowly for Spain, however. Howe knew that Britain could not offer Spain sovereignty, only discussion upon it, so the Spanish became frustrated. They then introduced various harassments - border delays, telecommunication restrictions, refusal to ratify EU directives concerning Gibraltar, etc. and they even tried to prevent participation by Gibraltarians in sporting events and dog shows. In 2001 the British government offered to discuss shared sovereignty with Spain, but when Spain held its own referendum in that November it learned again that 99 per cent of Gibraltarians rejected it.
Over the three hundred years of British sovereignty a hybrid population with a distinct identity and culture has developed on the Rock. In 2002 the Chief Minister declared that ' We are British by our political nature and Gibaltarian for geographical and anthropological reasons '. The official Archivist also referred to ' A Latin, Mediterranean creature with strong ties to Andalucia, over which is imprinted the British system of administration, justice and education '. The British naval base, there from imperial times and with its wartime roles, together with the readiness of Gibraltarians to demonstrate loyalty in times of need, underlies their concern over Britain's apparent willingness to negotiate away its sovereignty. The Chief Minister complained that ' Our unconditional loyalty is not being reciprocated '. Attitudes to Spanish claims have also been affected by 16 years of border closure, albeit that they are now some time in the past. More recently, continuing harassments add to their concern. The Spanish view may partially result from their own problems with Basques and Catalans, who would exploit any favoured treatment for Gibraltar, and with their belief that Gibraltar's commercial privileges require border controls.
Spanish policy has been described by a Gibraltarian as contrary to that of Britain in that it seeks 'confrontation' rather than 'conversion'. Obstructionism over Gibraltar is now an entrenched policy it appears, but at local levels there is cross-border co-operation. In 2002 a cross-border company was established and around 1500 Spanish workers daily commute across the border, while Gibraltarians shop and dine often in Spain. The mayor of La Linea, the nearest town across the border, has said that economic solutions to their problems were more important to locals than issues of sovereignty.
Spanish politicians claim that Gibraltar should be de-colonised , in accordance with the UN Charter, and that Spain has lost territorial integrity through force. Moreover, they claim that Britain has taken over the isthmus between the Rock and Spain (where the airport was built) improperly, since that was not covered by the Treaty of Utrecht. Further, they claim that an alien military base threatens the defence of Spain and that Gibraltar's fiscal advantages damage Spain's local economy. They tend, however, not to use another argument concerning ownership through geographical proximity, since Morocco also uses that with respect to Spain's enclaves in North Africa. Also, Spain has similar problems with respect to French and Portuguese towns still historically owned by Spain and with the status of the Canary Islands. Spanish claims to Gibraltar are underpinned by the 1504 will of Queen Isabella, who stated that all of her successors should retain that sovereignty. The Treaty of Utrecht declares that Britain has ownership, but also states that if Britain gave up sovereignty, that would revert to Spain. So while the Spanish continue to seek reversion, the inhabitants of Gibraltar argue that while the Treaty of Utrecht may have lost force over the centuries, the UN Charter is now supreme and that guarantees their right to self-determination. Since the tangle of claims is so difficult to unravel, the UN tends to leave settlement to Britain and Spain.
The speaker turned to why the British government approached Spain for an agreement in 2001. Previous governments have been willing to negotiate sovereignty away in the past, including the Heath government in 1971, by using the possibility as a bargaining counter. The current government argued that recent Conservative governments had made negotiation possible, but one motive was to counter-balance a developing Franco-German alliance in the EU through creating an Anglo-Spanish axis. However, there were several reasons why such a proposal could not work and by June 2003 the Minister for Europe, Dennis McShane, admitted that times have changed and that acceptance by the Gibraltarians is paramount.
The British government used the term 'indefinitely' in respect of a period of shared sovereignty, whereas the Spanish interpreted the term as 'undefined but finite'. It assumed (as in Irish negotiations) that Spain would eventually give up its full sovereignty claim, which Spain has never said it would. Its departmental negotiators also assumed that sharing military facilities with Spain, a NATO ally, would be acceptable, but both the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon demurred. Further, they did not appreciate the degree of hostility to shared sovereignty within Britain, let alone within Gibraltar, which clearly should have been anticipated. When Straw dismissed the referendum result as 'eccentric' he was not reflecting reality, but the attitude of his negotiators. Superficially, 'joint sovereignty' seemed an attractive compromise to satisfy both sides in negotiation, but both the concept and the practicalities of implementation were never properly considered. Gibraltar's Chief Minister pointed out that neither allegiance nor ultimate authority can be divided and concluded that 'joint sovereignty' is a 'political and legalistic nonsense'.
Dr Gold concluded by considering whether there are realistic options now. A form of integration with Britain has been suggested. In a 2003 poll of Gibraltarians, 39 per cent backed that, 32 per cent supported an alternative of free association with Britain (as with the Channel Islands), 12 per cent wanted an unspecified negotiated settlement, 9 per cent wanted only independence and 6 per cent settled simply for the status quo. Although the UN would support integration (partly because it would not conflict with the Treaty of Utrecht), most Gibraltar leaders would not welcome loss of self-government nor the loss of special fiscal status (which would also raise problems in Britain). Reasons given by earlier British governments (that integration would cause problems with Spain, the UN and with colonies) probably affect current government thinking and it would not welcome an obvious U-turn anyway. Gibraltar's House of Assembly approved an alternative proposal for more devolved powers in February 2002, but that has yet to be considered by the British government, who might favour it if inevitable Spanish reaction could be faced at that time. The so-called 'Andorra solution', which would give sovereignty to the people, but nominal responsibility to British and Spanish crowns, might be accepted by Gibraltarians, but that also is as yet untested. If Spain were to alter its stance towards Gibraltar a solution acceptable to all parties might be found.
Questioned on Gibraltar's status within the EU, the speaker confirmed that it has special status, although Spain disputes that. However, the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, although also disputed by Morocco, do have constitutional status as part of Spain. Then it was suggested that devolution to a regional status (as a current European trend indicates) might solve the problem and the speaker agreed, noting that disputed Spanish areas could be similarly treated, relieving problems. When it was suggested that tax havens might be abolished, he thought that there were too many vested interests for that to happen, but greater clarity upon who holds accounts and their nature might be obtainable. The discussion concluded with comments on Gibraltarian and Spanish attitudes. Many generations underpin the views of each side, but the young may be less inflexible. Many Gibraltarians speak both English and Spanish, often at the same time, and locals see the situation as a mixed blessing- each side sees gains and losses. Spanish politicians and officials, however, have entrenched views, as do some Gibraltarians.