Countries, Decolonization, Security & Defense

Interview with Sir Graham: Gibraltar, Brexit and Territorial Dispute

Last week, I had the honour of meeting Sir Graham Watson, former MEP, and ask him questions about Gibraltar a few days after the Brexit had been announced. I also had the opportunity to ask him about the dispute with Spain, a territorial disagreement which is far from being resolved. You will find some of what the former leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament shared with me during the interview below, in italic. I have tried to complement his arguments with others found in the press and provide additional background information when deemed necessary.

Sir Graham, former MEP for South England between 1994 and 2014, was appointed in October 2014 by HM Government of Gibraltar to lead “the lobbying activities of the Government in the EU capital which includes advising and guiding the Government in connection with the implementation of strategies for the promotion of Gibraltar’s interests within the European Union.” The Representation Office of Gibraltar to the European Union was opened on 27 May 2015, thus confirming Gibraltar’s eagerness to further participate in the EU decision making.

Gibraltar joined the EU (the EEC at the time) alongside the United Kingdom, of which it is an overseas territory, in 1973.

In Gibraltar, EU treaties apply, as outlined in Article 355(3) of the Consolidated Version of the Treaty On the Functioning of the European Union, but VAT, customs rules and excise rules do not.

Although Gibraltarians are obliged to follow EU directives, they had no say in it until 2004, after which Gibraltar was added to the South West England constituency for European Parliament elections. Gibraltar was considered by the UK to be too small to have its own MEP.

Amidst the results of the EU referendum, Gibraltar has made it back to the headlines. The Rock’s future would be uncertain if it had to leave the EU along with the UK, but Spain insistence on getting the territory back to Spain is increasing tension in the region.

Can the dispute between the UK and Spain about Gibraltar be considered as a frozen conflict?

“It cannot really be considered as being frozen because it is alive. There are daily incursions of Spanish vessels and of the police into Gibraltar territorial waters. Spain justifies this by invoking the preservation and environmental zone whose responsibility was given to them by the European Commission. Of course, no shots are being fired, but there are frictions every day. The issue could then be assessed as frozen conflict, with melting edges.”

Sir Graham was referring to the Estrecho Oriental a 69-square-mile marine conservation area site which englobes “all but one small segment of the British zone –  two square miles in the north-western corner.”

Why is it that Spain has relentlessly tried to regain control of Gibraltar since they lost it and the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713?

The Peace of Utrecht, or the Treaties or Utrecht, were signed in 1713 between France and other European powers, and between Spain and other nations. They marked the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  Spain, among others, lost Gibraltar and Minorca to Britain.

Sir Graham explained Continue reading