Like many journalists I am waiting to hear whether the next round of the Tripartite Talks between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar under the Córdoba Accord will take place on the Rock on July 20 – 21. If they do they will mark an historic event as when Spain’s foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos takes his place it will be the first time a Spanish government minister has visited Gibraltar in an official capacity.
Sadly I fear that we may have to wait a while for that historic day. Gibraltar’s chief minister, Peter Caruana, made it clear in Madrid last week after the technical talks that before the go-ahead for the ministerial meeting could be given important issues over Gibraltar’s waters had to be sorted out.
There are two key issues here. First the EU has given Spain responsibility for the waters of the Rock in environmental matters. Secondly there have been incursions by Guardia Civil patrol vessels into those same waters. Both these issues have to be sorted out to Gibraltar and Britain’s satisfaction. Here were have the crux of the problem for under the Treaty of Utrecht Spain argues that Gibraltar has no waters other than those of the harbour whilst Britain and Gibraltar insist that under international law it has a three mile limit.
There have been reports that the Guardia Civil were in Gibraltar’s waters again over the last weekend. This has led the Gibraltar Government to sternly state that only it and Britain holds jurisdiction there and if vessels are ordered to stop by the Guardia Civil or any other Spanish authority they should ignore the request and summon help by firing a flare.
Now step forward Senator José Carracao. He is a former mayor of Jimena, ex-president of the association of Campo de Gibraltar town halls but now has special responsibility on relations with the Rock so knows more than a thing or two about matters Llanito. On this issue he suspects he smells a ship’s rat.
Carracao is adamant that the Guardia Civil would only have entered Gibraltar’s water to pursue drugs or cigarette traffickers with the knowledge and agreement of the Royal Gibraltar Police. “I am sure of that. They have not acted to provoke anyone.”
Rather the senator believes that the heightening of tensions is a ploy by Gibraltar’s chief minister: “which shows that he has not had the same political courage that Moratinos has had with him. This is a strategy to halt the talks. With such an attitude it will be difficult to continue to open new paths. I hope there is still a margin to have an agreement. There is an international expectation that we should avoid incidents like the New Flame.”
Carracao, who is a socialist, believes that Caruana is feeling the heat from GSLP leader and former chief minister, Joe Bossano, who is also a socialist, on the territorial waters issue. He could be right but with any issue relating to Gibraltar nothing is ever simple and even if it is – somebody would find a way of complicating it.
Will the talks take place next week? I suspect not but your guess is as good as mine.