Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the United Nations on Monday that Gibraltar was ready to work with Spain’s new Socialist government for the mutual benefit of citizens on both sides of the border. This, he underscored, did not deviate from Gibraltar’s cast-iron position on sovereignty and the principle of self-determination.
“Although we will not deviate from our stated position that Gibraltar will never be Spanish, we reach out our hand in friendship and reiterate equally forcefully our desire to have a strong and positive relationship of cooperation with our Spanish neighbours,” Mr Picardo said.
Mr Picardo was addressing the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation – the C24 – in New York as the change of Government in Madrid continues to play out.
He drew a distinction between Spain under the governance of the Partido Popular and expressed his hopes for better relations and enhanced cooperation going forward under the new PSOE administration.
The session, the last before Gibraltar and the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the bloc, was also marked by a change in the leadership of the C24, with Ambassador Walton Alfonso Webson, from Antigua and Barbuda, replacing Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño, from Venezuela, as Committee Chairman.
In a speech updating the committee on political issues facing Gibraltar over the past twelve months, Mr Picardo renewed his call for the Committee to visit the Rock and see for themselves the real circumstances “of our modern reality”.
He explained that this would afford the committee an opportunity to see cooperation between Gibraltar and the neighbouring Spanish region grow. This, he said, has been facilitated but not delivered by the lowering of ‘anti-Gibraltar rhetoric’ in the change of personnel in the role of Foreign Minister in Spain.
“We sincerely trust that the political change in Madrid may allow the space for such future cooperation,” he said. “In that respect, the ball is in their court.”
“We will not be found wanting” and “we remain ready to work together in the mutual interest and to the mutual benefit of our people,” he told the Committee.
The Chief Minister’s speech was followed by a reply from the deputy Spanish Ambassador to the UN, Francisca Pedrós, which was notable for its measured tone and the absent of belligerent references to tobacco, tax and fishing that have marked Spanish statements to the UN in recent years.
Mrs. Pedrós confined herself to setting out Spain’s historic position on territorial integrity and sovereignty, alongside its desire for a return to bilateral negotiations with the UK in line with UN resolutions. She also highlighted Madrid’s willingness to engage in dialogue.
Following the session Mr Picardo said “We’ve seen Spain put a position today which is the classic position without the belligerence that we’ve seen on other occasions.”
‘We haven’t seen, as we might have all wished to see, a reference to the return to the trilateral forum, but we have seen a reference to dialogue.”
“We have seen a reference to the joint sovereignty offer which none of us would like to see still there but I think it’s very early days and it is a much better position for Spain to be setting out as a new government takes over than we might have seen if there had been a seamless continuation of the position from October [at the last meeting of the Fourth committee] to now…”
Having “judged the mood” and assessed that Spain would not present an “aggressive and belligerent” speech, Mr Picardo opted not to flag-up before the UN issues such as the impact of drug trafficking and tobacco smuggling in the Campo, and concerns about the shortage of resources to tackle them.
The Chief Minister also repeated calls he has previously made for feedback from the committee as to what it considers the effect of Gibraltar’s moves towards greater self-government in recent decades.
“Mr Chairman, our right to self-determination is clearly established and we will never cease to insist on its implementation.”
“Our wish is to be decolonised in accordance with the freely expressed will of the People of Gibraltar.”
“In recent decades, Gibraltar has moved progressively towards self-government, and in 2006 voted for a constitution that makes Gibraltar entirely self-governing other than in respect of defence and external relations.”
“We have repeatedly asked this Committee to give us feedback on what it considers the effect of our choice in a referendum of that Constitution means,” Mr Picardo said.
“Have we reached the “maximum possible level of self-government short of independence”?”
“We have had no feedback,” he said adding: “We once again seek your guidance in this respect.”