Gibraltar figures importantly on the agenda for a Tuesday meeting scheduled in London between Foreign Secretary William Hague and Spanish counterpart Jose Garcia-Margallo particularly following on the recent fishing incidents and the long queues being imposed at the border by Spanish authorities.
Britain has anticipated it will tell the Spanish minister that the UK is committed to uphold the British sovereignty of Gibraltar’s territorial waters in spite of the reiterated incidents.
For Spain resolution of the fishing conflict via a return to the 1999 agreement position is the main objective at the talks and seen as a door to their retreating on oppressive measures against the Rock.
After the protracted standoffs on Thursday and Friday nights, (involving Guardia Civil patrol vessels, RGP and the Royal Navy) the weekend has seen less pressure on the border but a great deal of positioning by the various interested parties - from the top political echelon’s down to the fishermen themselves.
Whilst Garcia-Margallo declared that the solution lies in finding an “agreement through dialogue and negotiation”, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the Spanish conservative newspaper La Razon that reviewing legislation in Gibraltar could form part of a negotiated agreement but that the Spanish fishermen must respect Gibraltar law which means stopping their attempts to fish with nets at present.
In his interview with La Razon published on Sunday Picardo said that he is totally willing to continue negotiations with the fishermen and that Gibraltar wants a solution that is “legal and that any fishing takes place using legal methods.” He restated that the 1999 agreement breaches the 1991 legislation on the environment.
Asked if he was willing to change legislation to help an agreement Picardo said “We could accept that, but in the meantime they should not come here fishing. They must do so in accordance with our laws.”
Picardo added that Gibraltar would be delighted to go to the International Court to settle the matter but it is Spain that is reluctant to do so. “I am a lawyer and when I advise my client not to go to court it is because they might lose.”
Picardo said that he had not been surprised that the tripartite dialogue (UK, Spain and Gibraltar) was over as that was the ruling PP policy but he said it was Spain that was left out now because “there will be no bilateral agreement. Britain will not start and process of dialogue without Gibraltar’s permission.”
Picardo said he believes the fishermen are decent people looking for a living but that “there are people behind them trying to provoke a situation.”
Asked what would be legal Picardo said that the use of ‘palangre’ (long lines with multiple hooks) would be legal as opposed to nets.
Meanwhile, David Lidington, Minister of State for Europe and NATO, has told the Commons that Britain is concerned by the disruption to cross border travel between Spain and Gibraltar which is the result of detailed scrutiny by the Spanish authorities of vehicles leaving Gibraltar.
“We are aware that there have been delays of up to three hours for those crossing the border. We continue to receive daily updates from the Governor of Gibraltar’s Office and are discussing the situation with the Spanish Government. It is in the interests of communities on both sides of the border that the border functions efficiently,” he said.
Likewise this weekend Garcia-Margallo told reporters that “the best solution to the conflict would be that an agreement is reached through dialogue and negotiation that guarantees the right to fish for Spanish boats where they have always fished”. He said he would be asking Mr Hague to ensure a return to the 1999 agreement and highlighted that this was an agreement between Gibraltar and the fishermen.
The conflict is with fishermen from Algeciras and La Linea. The first town is ruled by President Mariano Rajoy’s PP and the second by Gemma Araujo from the opposition PSOE. Gibraltar reached an agreement with Ms Araujo but the Algeciras fishing vessels are been sponsored by the new hard-line approach towards the Rock from PM Rajoy.