Spanish Foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo addressing parliament on Tuesday described the current diplomatic conflict with the UK as an ‘important fire’ and blamed it on three apparently minor incidents: Gibraltar authorities having dropped the agreement with Spanish fishermen a year ago; the recent dumping of cement blocks in the bay of Algeciras (Gibraltar) and the construction of a new reef.
Garcia-Margallo said he hadn’t gone to Parliament to discuss sovereignty questions but to discuss the implementation of EU laws referred to environment protection which has been entrusted to Spain. And for that same reason has appealed to dialogue as the only instrument to make friendship with the UK prevail.
Insisting that Spain does not recognize Gibraltar the right to legislate on waters claimed by the British colony, the minister nevertheless described as ‘good news’ information from Gibraltar referred to amendments to the local legislation for the protection of environment, particularly “if they benefit Spanish fishermen”.
During his statement Garcia Margallo criticized the Tripartite Forum which was launched by the former Socialist foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos which he said contained ‘significant errors’ referred to Gibraltar, anyhow he was convinced that his colleague acted with ‘the best of intentions’, but it was a mistake.
The conservative party minister went before the Lower House Foreign Affairs committee on his request to explain the extent of the six weeks of exchanges and accusations between Spain and the UK which have reached the European Commission that will be sending a fact finding mission to the zone in the near future. His request to report “on the latest incidents in relation to Gibraltar” was presented 12 August.
The latest dispute took off when Gibraltar decided to dump 70 cement blocks into the bay to build an artificial reef to protect the sea shelf. However Spanish fishermen complained it was directed to prevent them from continuing with their trade. Gibraltar had long claimed that fishermen did not abide by the Rock’s rules on conservation.
The incident was reported to the Spanish environment authorities who then informed the European Commission, and in the meantime the Gibraltar authorities complained of long control queues in the Gibraltar/Spain border imposed by the Guardia Civil.
Gibraltar took its complain to the UK and Spain informed that is was its responsibility to enforce controls at the border since the British colony was not part of the Schengen scheme and to ensure legislation referred to the traffic of people, goods and merchandise.
The complaints from both sides finally reached the European Commission that agreed to send a fact finding mission to the border to check on the long queues and later included contraband, following on a claim filed by Spain.
The conservative government of Spain is demanding bilateral talks with UK relative to the conflict, which could be expanded to include Gibraltar and neighbouring Campo de Gibraltar, with “the purpose of continuing good relations with UK but also in solid support of Spain’s convictions referred to the disputed territory”.
The Socialists, Spain’s main opposition party has advanced support for the government in the defence of legality and the country’s interests but has strongly criticized the way the conflict has been handled, which it described as “a major diplomatic blunder”.
Meantime the Foreign office in London reported that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke by telephone on Tuesday to Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria in relation to Gibraltar. “He reiterated the United Kingdom and Gibraltar’s commitment to ad hoc dialogue and confirmed that we were keen to discuss details of how we can take this forward”.