Trilateral talks continued late last night in Chevening, Kent as Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, and Jose Pons and Dominick Chilcott the respective Spanish and British diplomats leading on negotiations, worked to try and close a series of items that would allow talks at ministerial level to go ahead ?in the near future'.
The talks had been due to close in Chevening at lunchtime but early indications that much work remained soon proved true delaying Mr Caruana's press conference to this morning when there will be the first official statement on how far the talks have progressed. Spain and Britain have already stated they will not be making a statement at this stage.
The Foreign Office holding line was that they could not comment as talks were still ongoing but they also said that "it is important that we continue to move forward in the negotiations to hopefully reach a comprehensive agreement that will work for Spain, the UK and Gibraltar".
In the late evening it was unclear as to whether further technical talks might be necessary ahead of a ministerial meeting but the mood was understood to be upbeat and the delayed talks aimed at avoiding another round at this level.
The most important indicator of success will be when a formal confirmation is given of a date for ministerial level talks where Mr Caruana would, historically, sit at the same table as the Spanish Foreign Minister and not be part of the UK delegation as was the case under the Brussels process.
Earlier there had been indications that the Madrid delegation had arrived on Monday a little unsettled by the fact that Mr Caruana has called constitutional talks for this Friday and has made a number of public statements relating to Gibraltar aspiration to modernise the constitution with Britain setting out a twin track approach.
And Spain itself, in addition to the ?Odyssey' saga, has also been making its own noises about reclamation near the airport on what it has always considered land illegally occupied with a sovereignty claim distinct to that based on the Treaty of Utrecht. The pressure was upped on the Spanish side with an editorial in ABC yesterday saying the trilateral process is a grave error.
The teams had worked late into Monday night with a large list of some 40 items on their agenda to resolve. The key issues on the table are shared use of the airport, Spanish pensions, frontier flow and telecommunications.
The airport has many subtle areas to resolve in order to avoid conflicts over sovereignty. The way it is policed and accessed in relation to passengers, to and from Spain, is a significant one. Mr Caruana has made clear previously that an airport agreement would involve a lifting of the current EU exclusions. That would mean not only access to and from all EU airports but also the introduction of a string of measures applicable to Gibraltar and the airport.
And there are practical implications to for the runway, military interests such as the secure storage of munitions and traffic controls. Frontier flow easing is seen as an important element given that Spanish travellers would have a fluid access to the air terminal. And there remains the element of Spain's restrictive control over airspace currently affecting both civilian and military air traffic.
Although there are indications that Britain is willing to look at a once and for all settlement of the Spanish pensions, possibly with Madrid contributing, there would as yet have to be formal allocation of the funding which would require internal agreement in UK. The total bill is estimated at some 80 million euros.
An ABC editorial yesterday reflected the pressure on the Spanish Foreign Minister from opposition politicians.
Since the outset of the process the PSOE government has been under fire from the PP opposition. The statement on trilateral talks in 2004 was accompanied by Mariano Rajoy, PP Opposition leader, declaring that it was an "error and a stupidity" to giving Gibraltar an equal footing as a party to talks affecting the future of Gibraltar.
This was echoed in the ABC newspaper's editorial comment yesterday ?A vueltas con Gibraltar'. The ?headache' of the Gibraltar issue should not exist given that Britain and Spain are EU and NATO partners, it said in now familiar terms.
Britain, says ABC, did not seem to have much of a problem rationalising the rest of its empire. It should not continue to be a bilateral problem 300 years on and it adds that Sr Moratinos decision to allow Gibraltar to be a third party at talks "just adds unnecessary complexity to the conflict. Especially so when until recently it was bilateral." It says Mr Caruana has come on board clearly with his own agenda probably heading towards independence.
The move from bilateral to trilateral will, the ABC predicts, be shown to be a "grave error." It says that at the current talks it was clear that Mr Caruana was the protagonist. "This only serves to show that the complex nature that the conflict is taking has not only altered Spain's historic position but has also given to the colony a visible international standing that stimulates its particular interests and that it is not another party that represents Caruana."
From Dominique Searle, England- Gibraltar Chronicle