EU Court of Justice confirms Spain has a listed nature site in Gibraltar waters
British Government has lost a crucial appeal before the European Court of Justice [ECJ] relating to Gibraltar’s territorial waters. Britain was seeking to overturn an earlier judgement dismissing its legal challenge to the European Commission’s approval of a Spanish EU nature site in British waters.
According to a report from the Gibraltar Chronicle, the latest court decision follows the Gibraltar Government’s defeat before the ECJ last August in a separate case on the same issue.
By ruling on two separate occasions against the UK and Gibraltar, the ECJ has in effect ensured that Spain continues to have a listed nature site in Gibraltar waters. Britain and Gibraltar are now liaising closely on their response to the latest developments.
“We will give urgent consideration as to our next steps,” said a spokesperson for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
“We are clear that this ruling has no impact on our position on sovereignty of Gibraltar, which we have expressed consistently and publicly.”
“We continue to explore all further legal and political options in consultation with HM Government of Gibraltar.”
The British Government said it was “disappointed” by the latest ruling but added that it was made on technical grounds that did not touch on the substance of the British position, which is that Spain has no jurisdiction in Gibraltar waters.
The Gibraltar Government issued a brief statement saying it was not surprised by the decision to dismiss the UK’s case on technical grounds “given the composition of the Court dealing with this matter”.
No 6 said that the ruling had ignored the substance of the matter in the decision on the UK case as much as it did in the Gibraltar application.
“The decision changes nothing of substance either. The waters around Gibraltar are exclusively British Gibraltar Territorial Waters under British Sovereignty. The Government is liaising closely with the United Kingdom on this matter and considering appropriate action.”
Much of the legal argument hinged on whether the European Commission should have known that the Spanish site overlapped with an existing British one, and what steps it should have taken to consult Britain before approving it.
The British Government said that, irrespective of the ruling, it did not recognise Spain’s listed site in Gibraltar waters.
“We remain deeply concerned that Spain should have sought to list an area of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters as a Site of Community Importance under the EU Habitats Directive, and that the European Commission should have accepted such a proposal,” the FCO spokesman said.
“The UK is the only Member State competent to propose an SCI listing in respect of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and had already done so before the Spanish submitted their Estrecho Oriental listing.”
“In contrast to the open and consultative approach taken by the UK when submitting our listing in respect of the Southern Waters of Gibraltar, Spain submitted its listing without undertaking any prior consultation with the UK or HM Government of Gibraltar.”
Gibraltar’s three Tory MEPs reacted with dismay to the Thursday court decision condemning the ruling as “a blow to common sense”.
In a joint statement, Giles Chichester, Ashley Fox and Julie Girling said: “Spain is once again here insidiously trying to extend its influence into areas where that influence does not belong.”
“It craftily set up this area under Spanish protection in the hope nobody would notice it had swallowed up a significant stretch of Gibraltar’s waters. It is a blatant move to grab control of part of our seas.
“To add to the offence, much of the area in question was already under the environmental protection of an SCI granted to the UK some time ago and called The Southern Waters of Gibraltar. “Sadly, the force of the UK and Gibraltar’s argument has been not recognised and this is a blow for common sense.”