Rock of the Rages: Gibraltar Border Spat Gets Spain and U.K. PMs Involved

  • Share
  • Read Later
A. CARRASCO RAGEL / EPA

Workers throw concrete blocks from a Gibraltar tug into the sea in an area where Spanish fishing boats usually sail around, off Gibraltar's coast, on July 25, 2013

It happens every year about this time, like blockbuster releases or a bad algae bloom. As the temperature heats up, so too does the rhetoric seeping from the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. But this year’s incarnation has been notable for its level of vitriol. With comparisons to North Korea and the dictator Franco emanating from one side, and threats of new taxes and border delays from the other, the sabers are rattling at a volume not heard in decades in the 300-year-old tiff involving Spain, Great Britain and Gibraltar.

Although tensions over fishing rights had been building for months, this year’s spat began in earnest in late July when Gibraltar, a British territory that Spain wants for its own, began dumping concrete blocks studded with iron spikes into waters off its coast. The Gibraltar government said the blocks were intended to create an artificial reef that would foster fish stocks; Spanish fishermen saw them as a devious attempt to tear their nets and keep them from their habitual fishing grounds.

But torn nets were only the beginning. Decrying Gibraltar’s unilateral decision to sink the blocks, Spain made one of its own: a day after the blocks were sunk, Spanish Civil Guards began subjecting the steady tide of cars that daily cross what Spain calls the “fence” (it refuses to acknowledge the line as a “border”) into Gibraltar to heightened, even meticulous, inspections. Suddenly the crossing of a few meters was taking as long as seven hours. By Aug. 3, Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel García-Margallo was threatening worse: to look into a tax that would exact a €50 ($67) levy from every car entering Spain from Gibraltar as well as measures to prevent any plane arriving at or departing from Gibraltar’s tiny airport from entering Spanish airspace. Explaining his position to newspaper ABC, García-Margallo sounded not unlike the hero of a summer blockbuster. “The party’s over,” he said.

The Spanish moves and rhetoric got Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo so worked up that he compared the Spanish minister’s statements to “the kind of declaration you would hear from North Korea, not from a member of the European Union.” Appealing for assistance from the British government, which had already called the Spanish ambassador in for questioning over the delays, Picardo requested that the Royal Navy be sent to the Rock as a suitably dissuasive measure.

Why so much bluster about what is essentially a hunk of rock? Only 30,000 people live within Gibraltar’s 6.7 sq km, and although most are British nationals, they rely on Spain for things like telephone service and reasonably priced groceries. It would seem a perfect place for a little cross-cultural cooperation, if it weren’t for lingering disputes surrounding the 300-year-old Treaty of Utrecht, which in the course of ending the 18th century War of Spanish Succession ceded Gibraltar to Britain.

The treaty failed to mention whether that concession included the isthmus attaching Spain to the Rock and, even more pertinently, whether the deal came with any water included. And therein lies the root of today’s conflicts. “Spain maintains that the original deal included no territorial waters,” says Martín Ortega Carcelén, a professor of international law at Madrid’s Complutense University. “But Great Britain says that it’s only logical, that any territory in the world includes an extension of water. How many miles of water? No one knows. They could negotiate that, but there is no negotiation.”

There was an attempt at negotiation a few years ago, when Spain’s then Socialist government proposed a “tripartite forum” that would bring Britain, Spain and Gibraltar to the table to negotiate as equal partners. But one of the first things that the current government, in the hands of the conservative Popular Party, did upon being elected in 2011 was to reject three-way negotiations and to insist that what it perceives as a colonial relic be returned to its purportedly rightful owners. “Margallo started out by saying the Gibraltar was Spanish,” says Alejandro del Valle, an international-law professor at the University of Cádiz. “And everything got blocked from there. There are no channels of dialogue anymore, so everything that happens becomes a problem.”

Adding to the complication is the fact that the current Spanish government has made it clear that it will only negotiate with Britain, not with Gibraltar itself. That, in turn, may help explain why Gibraltar is acting so forcefully. “Putting down those blocks, comparing a European Union democracy to North Korea — these are not acts of good faith,” says law professor Ortega. “Picardo is asserting himself, trying to make Gibraltar’s situation irreversible.”

Gibraltarians themselves confess to no fears that Britain will leave them out. “We trust the U.K. government is going to do what they’ve said because they know they’ll get themselves into a huge mess if they do an about-face,” says Dominique Searle, editor of the newspaper Gibraltar Chronicle.

On the morning of Aug. 7, British Prime Minister David Cameron had a 15-minute phone conversation with his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy, which, in his Twitter account, he called “constructive,” though Spain continued to insist that the block dumping was “unacceptable.” After a second call later in the day between their Foreign Ministers, both countries agreed to form an ad hoc working group to resolve the situation. That undramatic outcome was just about what Searle expected from this latest contretemps. “There’s huge pressure on both sides to turn to a little lowlight diplomacy,” he says. “Some Spanish fishermen will get a wad of cash, and it will all go away.” At least, that is, until next summer.

49 comments
Gibballs
Gibballs

Seeing that I am Gibraltarian and born in 1969 with a closed Border, I am and feel British to the core .... have a look below ref the waters in actual fact we might say that Spain has built into our British Territorial Waters.

http://www.chronicle.gi/headlines_details.php?id=30462  http://www.gibnet.com/fish/waters.htm

Under international law, States are entitled, but not required, to extend their territorial sea up to a maximum breadth of 12 nautical miles. Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent, the general rule is that neither is entitled, unless they agree otherwise, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line. The UK Government considers that a limit of three nautical miles is sufficient in the case of Gibraltar.

"Catalanes, Vascos, Gallegos, Leonesses etc" thus as I understand the only Spanish people are those that live in Gibraltar, funny that.

Tomorrow one of my Children gets her GCSE results, and hopefully she will then take her A'Levels etc then off to University to UK...so from a purely human aspect how in Gods name can we feel Spanish, let alone with some much agression against us.

ManuelCosmen
ManuelCosmen

@Gibballs The problem is located in an area disputed between Spain and Gibraltar. I not going to dicuss this but the reality is that, Gibraltar has allowed, since long ago, to work in this area to the spanish fishermen (http://www.diariodesevilla.es/article/andalucia/1322915/gibraltar/cede/y/permite/los/pescadores/faenar/cerca/sus/aguas/hasta/diciembre.html)

Why now Gibraltar is impeding this men to work there? Some people think that this turmoil has something to do with the problems that both Governements (Cameron and Rajoy) have in their respectives countries. While we discuss about Gibraltar we don't talk about other questions...

Daaxx
Daaxx

Crazy Spanish people....don't believe in everything you hear or you see…there are always two sides to every story !!!!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivenza

ManuelCosmen
ManuelCosmen

@Daaxx From the article that you are linking to:  "the issue has not been a sensitive matter in the relations between these two countries.[2][3] Olivenza and other neighbouring Spanish (La CodoseraAlburquerque and Badajoz) and Portuguese (ArronchesCampo MaiorEstremozPortalegre and Elvas) towns reached an agreement in 2008 to create a euroregion.[4][5]" The iberian nations, don't bother one to another about this issues, and there are towns claimed from both states in each of them. Neither Spain nor Portugal has done anything to break the status quo. I agree that is a good example to learn how to manage this kind of questions.

ManuelCosmen
ManuelCosmen like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Only to clarify, there goes some facts:

1) The Utrech Treaty only speaks of the city and castle of Gibraltar 'without any territorial jurisdiction'. Yo can read it at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Peace_and_Friendship_Treaty_of_Utrecht_between_Spain_and_Great_Britain. So it not true that 'The treaty failed to mention whether that concession included the isthmus attaching Spain to the Rock and, even more pertinently, whether the deal came with any water included.The treaty failed to mention whether that concession included the isthmus attaching Spain to the Rock and, even more pertinently, whether the deal came with any water included.'

2) The UN has taken several resolutions favoring the decolonization of Gibraltar (http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/005/34/IMG/NR000534.pdf?OpenElement and http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/236/88/IMG/NR023688.pdf?OpenElement)

Regards

XeromeFernándezÁlvarez
XeromeFernándezÁlvarez like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The matter isn't about who owns Gibraltar, is that Gibraltarian government is not respecting the treaties and are doing illegal stuff, destroying the environment and getting possesion of territories that don't belong to them.

RoyGeoffreyWaters
RoyGeoffreyWaters

Thank you Raimon6 for clarifying the status of Andorra. A perfect solution for Gibraltar - a sovereign state with an elected government and a seat in the UN (as well as a football team and a language which is not catalá).

Raimon6
Raimon6

@RoyGeoffreyWaters Any language is not "catalá", as there is no language (afaik) with that name. About if a sovereign state would be the perfect solution for Gibraltar, I think it is the people of Gibraltar who should say which is the perfect solution for them. I believe they already have, actually. ;-)

Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Britain should decolonize the territory. Full stop.

Raimon6
Raimon6

@Ocsicnarf @Ocsicnarf Even if the territory doesn't want to be "decolonized"? I believed that decolonization was intended as giving freedom and self-rule to people who didn't want to be dominated by a colonial power. I didn't know that it was meant to force the "colonized" people into a rule they don't want.

RoyGeoffreyWaters
RoyGeoffreyWaters like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm left with the impression that JoannaMay is British. 

RoyGeoffreyWaters
RoyGeoffreyWaters like.author.displayName 1 Like

Do I perceive a touch of "nationalism" in Joanna ? The faster the world gets rid of nationalism (egoism if you like) the better the world will be. The people of Gibraltar cannot have everything they might want, nor can Britain, nor can Spain, nor can you, nor can I. Let's think in terms of what other people want rather than what "I" want. If Spanish fisherman want to catch fish then make it easier for them not harder.  

JoannaMay
JoannaMay

@RoyGeoffreyWaters Well, if you had read my comments carefully you will see that I advocate discussions, but that these should involve the Gibraltarians, not just the Spanish and British governments. In addition, if you read many of the comments in this thread, they seem to be coming from mouth-frothing British haters, who have not declared their nationalities. The way that the Spanish government has been treating the Gibraltarians, it is no wonder that attitudes are hardening there. The British have no particular interest  in retaining Gibraltar, but they are committed to defending the interests of the people who live there. The Spanish would do better by seeking to woo the Gibraltarians, rather than trying to intimidate them. It is the same with the Falklands, in that Argentina invaded them, and having lost the war, has sought recently to intimidate them, with the result that the Falkland islanders are becoming more determined to remain British.

Pluscachange
Pluscachange

The people in Gibraltar do a good business off of Spain.  Of course they don't wish to change that.  Why change such a cash cow?  

It's good you have declared your nationality.  Your position is predictable.


RoyGeoffreyWaters
RoyGeoffreyWaters like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Why not treat Gibraltar like the French and Spaniards treat Andorra - six months under French authority (the President) and six months under Spanish authority (the bishop of Seu d'Urgell) ? Probably because the British intepret most things in the world as black and white, rather than various shades of grey, and, as we all know Nelson Mandela once said of the USA (something like) "the only fault of this great nation is that it sees everything as black and white and we all know that the truth is in various shades of grey". "Reasonable" people can always reach an agreement - but black and white are extremes rather than reasonable.

Raimon6
Raimon6

@RoyGeoffreyWaters Roy, I'm afraid you are mistaken about Andorra. Andorra is a sovereign state, with an elected government and a seat in the UN. Spain and France have no authority over it. The role of the co-princes (one of which, as you point out, is not the Spanish government but the Bishop of La Seu, and thus has no relationship to Spanish rule) is purely symbolic, with no real power at all.

JoannaMay
JoannaMay

@RoyGeoffreyWaters Do you really think that is a practicable solution, when the Gibraltarians almost unanimously want to remain British? Do you think it is in any way workable? No, I thought not, just another excuse for a bit of Brit-bashing.

Pluscachange
Pluscachange like.author.displayName 1 Like

No the Treaty of Utrecht did NOT include the isthmus.  Britain claims squatter's rights there.  I understand the U.K. has taken this opportunity to stage maneuvers off southern Spain. Very conciliatory indeed. 

Gotta love how slanted this reporting is, so typical of TIME.  Don't bother mentioning the smuggling going on from Gib to Spain, of cigarettes (tax-free) among other things.  Don't mention the money laundering done there. Don't mention how much revenue Spain loses by having an anomaly like Gibraltar to its south.  How many other EU countries colonize their fellow members?


JoannaMay
JoannaMay

@Pluscachange And you don't mention the fact that the Spanish have imposed border restrictions, clearly related to the latest spat (which is supposed to be about fishing rights), which are intended to impose a stranglehold on the Gibraltarian economy. Many Spanish people commute to Gibraltar daily, and I have seen some of them interviewed on television complaining about the actions of the Spanish Government. The Treaty of Utrecht is open to interpretation, and there should be sensible talks about reaching a compromise, involving the Gibraltarians themselves. You also talk about smuggling and money-laundering, but these go on all over Europe, and there is no need to single out Gibraltar. In addition, freedom of movement means that, for example, the British Government loses money by people "popping over the Channel" to by drinks and cigarettes in France, where taxes on these things are much lower. The British have said that the current naval manoeuvres have been long in the planning, and are not related to the current argument, and Spanish officials have stated on our national radio that they accept this is the case.

Pluscachange
Pluscachange like.author.displayName 1 Like

The Treaty of Utrecht is so "open to interpretation" that the isthmus has been annexed and its waters have developed fishing rights.  That's very opportunistic indeed. 

The smuggling of cigarettes from Gibraltar targets Spain, not other countries. The Spanish do not need to move to have fast boats move goods to Spanish territory.  That's how it works, you see. I've been to Gibraltar, and as the British on the Costa del Sol are fond of saying, "It's a tip."  Have you noticed that Gibraltar is at the southern tip of Spain?  Its main money-laundering clientele are Spanish wishing to avoid taxes.  This is a specific situation, understand, and not part of the "everybody in Europe does it" generalization you employ.  By the way, some of us believe in ethics.

Don't worry.  The Spanish government is aware that Spanish workers cross into Gibraltar, as are most of us. 




JoannaMay
JoannaMay

I am British, and think that this spat should be sorted out by immediate tri-partite talks about the reefs issue. Sovereignty is not up for discussion, given that the Gibraltarians are adamant in wanting to remain British. In addition, I do not think that the Gibraltarians should be excluded from the discussions, as the Spanish have decreed.  I have seen the Gibraltarian PM on television talking about this dispute, and he has his own strong views on the matter. As for fishing rights, I would point out that  Spanish fishermen have long roamed the seas around Europe, including Britain, taking fish that other nations felt belonged to them.  It seems churlish to deny the Gibraltarians some fishing grounds of their own. The Gibraltarians claim that the Spanish have created their own reefs round their coasts, including those near Gibraltar, and the Gibs are now just doing the same. Actually, most commentators in Britain think that this spat is being blown up as it is a convenient distraction for a Spanish PM facing domestic difficulties. In addition, although the position of Gibraltar results from historical factors, so does the position of most of the world. The vitriol hurled by some at Britain as a one-time colonial power ignores the fact that numerous other countries, including, of course, Spain itself, were all once substantial colonial powers. Spain has territories in N. Africa, which it refuses to cede to Morocco. France retains all sorts of distant overseas territories. Both North and South America were colonised by Europeans and others in the modern era, ousting the earlier inhablitants from their native lands. There is hypocrisy everywhere in this argument.

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just another point--following your argument all people in the EU should be asked what they are adamant to become or remain. The experiment would result in an interesting, maybe surprising mosaic, don't you think so?  

JoannaMay
JoannaMay like.author.displayName 1 Like

@MdF Well, we are having a referendum on proposed Scottish independence from Great Britain, and will abide by the result.  I could also raise the issue of Spanish regions, such as Catalonia, that have indicated that they want to break free from Spain. You see, there are two sides to the points you make. As for your point about slavery, I think that is complete nonsense, and you have completely lost the plot!

Pluscachange
Pluscachange

Bad comparison indeed. Gibraltar was Spanish until the 1700's, very much the modern era.  It's only been in British hands for two or three centuries.  Scotland British? 

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

Moreover, what you call 'historical factors' included exclusive rights for the UK to control slavery in Spanish America. Should the UK go back to that too? After all it was all in one pack cooked by the 1700s powers.

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

And the biggest hypocrisy is not to consider the conditions in which that outrageous Utrecht Treaty was established. Please, let's go back and revise it. Let's revise so many illegal (under present legal considerations) European positions still kept in the world--starting with the UK. 

Pluscachange
Pluscachange like.author.displayName 1 Like

Yes.  You are very British.  You listen to British news sources, which are of course completely impartial.  You are scandalized by Spanish fishermen.  How despicable!  The Spanish get what they deserve when the British take anything from them.  Why, they should be grateful and thank the Brits! 

Ordesa
Ordesa like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

A quite good article.  The history of Gibraltar shows that it was taken by force from Spain and once the Spaniards fleed for the terror of the British Army, they "occupied" the territory moving British people from other places.  That is occupation and will always be so.  A completely different story is the situation of the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, that have been Spanish many centuries before Morocco existed.  Anyway, I consider that Spain should have plans to give those cities back to Morocco, among other things because of the cost for Spanish taxpayers.  Among so many differences between the two cases, in Ceuta and Melilla there is no money laundering, no companies around the world using the place to evade taxes, etc. etc.  Gibraltar is a stupid "British Empire" anacronism, causing problems to the EU, the NATO, etc. etc.  The excuse of Gibraltarians not wanting to be Spaniards is stupid also, as Spain would accept that they remain British whereas the territory is Spanish (something that happens in Majorca, where in many places most people are Germans, but nobody considers Majorca to be German territory).  Gibraltar is the bully that steals more and more territory to Spain any time they feel Spain has problems (Civil War, political crisis, etc.).  Shameful and unnaceptable.

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

Not so good an article. Like most writing lately in TIME it is pittifully biased. Once you see the amount of space dedicated to THE baby it is all said. The old fair and critical articles of TIME are something of the past to be searched for in newspaper libraries.

humanrightsgibraltar
humanrightsgibraltar like.author.displayName 1 Like

The Spanish are so hypocritical. The Moroccans argue that the Spanish territories, Ceuta and Melilla, in Northern Africa should be handed over to Morocco, but the population groups in those two territories prefer to stay part of the Spanish state. Thus Spain should respect the self-determination of Gibraltarians if they are to be consistent in their international relations

MdF
MdF

First it should be analyzed whether those arguments from Morocco are right historically or not. Maybe Algerians, or other people in the area, have something to say too. Maybe we should go back to the Roman time.  

Sophie5
Sophie5 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@humanrightsgibraltar The problem here is not who is the owner of Gibraltar, In fact, Gibraltarians were asked if they wanted to return to Spain or stay with Great Britain, and stay with Great Britain was their decision. The problem is, and I quote (it can be read under the picture of this article) “Workers throw concrete blocks from a Gibraltar tug into the sea in a area where Spanish fishing boats usually seal around, OFF GIBRALTAR’S COAST” “The Gibraltar government said the blocks were intended to create an artificial reef” If creating an artificial reef was their intention, it would have been communicated to the government of Spain and to the European Union because that water is OFF Gibraltar’s. And furthermore it is an attack against nature, if you want to create an artificial reef there are loads of options such as ReefBalls TM , BioRock TM, EcoReefs TM  etc. But not 1.5 cubic centimeters of concrete blocks with spikes of iron coming out of them. That is the only problem not to who does Gibraltar belongs.

MdF
MdF

Thank you for a reasonable comment. But of course the latent problem is how it all started. It can hardly be left out.

lucio
lucio

Let them fight; Spanishs and Englands them deserve.

What think this the Frenchs ?

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

The French got rid of the Louis XIV times long ago, luckily for them.

samielamusic
samielamusic like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@TIME @TIMEWorld Who really loves their land and waters not throw concrete blocks in it. So I think that Gibraltar is just business for UK.

stowevt024
stowevt024 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Great Britain's once mighty dominance of the world, where the sun never set on the British Empire, is over.  It is a shadow of its former self.  G.B. is a country that because of its imperialistic and colonialist past and enslaving a huge portion of the world at one time is causing it to  implode from within.  Sharia law will soon be the law of the land and the white population will no longer exist. G.B. is getting what it has been giving.  Churchill would have planted the Union Jack on a moving sand bar if it stayed in one place long enough. 

johndeed
johndeed like.author.displayName 1 Like

@stowevt024 At which particular University did you gain your degree in stupid or did it just come naturally. Brits have been living on Gibraltar since 1713 a full sixty years before the declaration of independence by the United States. By your logic you should all leave and hand control of North America back to the native Americans. Lands are colonized, borders are moved and new races born. Do you advocate relocating all people back to their ancestral origins.

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

Your argument is not sound, Hong Kong went back to China. Gibraltar was part of the Iberian peoples around much longer--be those the Romans, the Arabs or the Christian kingdoms. It was taken by force in a dubious treaty and it should be returned once and for all.  

tuibaraka
tuibaraka like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

British should give up Gibraltar back to Spain and Falkland back to Argentina...their practice on colonialism, inhumanity, slavery and scavenging is obsolete and should be over.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@tuibaraka

and here's why you're wrong:

co·lo·ni·al·ism  (k-ln--lzm)

n. A policy by which a nation maintains or extends its control over foreign dependencies.

seeing that the vast majority of gibraltar's citizens are british nationals, they aren't foreign dependencies. gibraltar is a territory, not a coloy

MdF
MdF like.author.displayName 1 Like

With that mindset Algeria is also part of France. Should the French claim it back?Or perhaps the UK should also get back Menorca...boy they would love to, to practice 'balcony' happily!

stowevt024
stowevt024 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Mere semantics.  Tell all those british nationals to get the f##k out.  There were a vast majority of british nationals in the American Colonies, that is until they were thrown back into the sea.

RVB
RVB like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@stowevt024 Your argument shows a complete lack of logic.  The  colonists in America  themselves decided to end the Colonial system in North America.    Your argument should have been that the native Americans were the ones who threw out the colonist if you wanted to draw a parallel in Colonial America which by the way did not happen.