As published on chronicle.gi, Thursday 18 June, 2020.
The European Parliament on Thursday reasserted its position that Gibraltar should not be included in any UK/EU agreement on a future post-Brexit relationship, and that Spain should first agree any separate deal for the Rock.
The position was set out in a recommendation agreed provisionally by the European Parliament on the negotiations for a new relationship with the UK, and followed an amendment tabled by Spain’s Partido Popular MEPs.
The document stated that the European Parliament “reiterates its support for the negotiating directives, which provide that Gibraltar will not be included in the territorial scope of the agreements to be concluded between the EU and the UK, and that any separate agreement will require the prior agreement of the Kingdom of Spain.”
In the document, the Parliament also “emphasises the importance of implementing the provisions of the Protocol on Gibraltar regarding frontier workers, taxation, the environment and fisheries; calls on the Spanish and the UK Government to ensure that the necessary cooperation is put in place to deal with those issues.”
The process of negotiating the recommendations adopted yesterday started in January and has been closely scrutinised by the Gibraltar Government via its office in Brussels overseen by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia. That included lobbying MEPs from different countries to ensure Gibraltar’s position was properly understood.
During that process, a number of amendments on Gibraltar were tabled, primarily by the PP’s MEPs and including some explicitly referring to Spain’s sovereignty aspirations.
But while two clauses were included in the provisional text re-stating the EU’s negotiating mandate on Gibraltar as agreed in 2018, the ones referencing sovereignty were voted down and dropped.
The document took stock of the EU-UK negotiations on a new partnership so far and acknowledged the negotiating parties’ call to intensify talks in July.
MEPs regretted that no real progress had been achieved in the talks after four negotiating rounds, and that differences remained substantial.
They also emphasised that a comprehensive agreement was in the interest of both parties.
However, having the UK side “cherry-pick certain policies” and push for access to the single market after Brexit was “unacceptable” for the EU, the text said, expressing deep concern over the British government’s insistence on only wanting to negotiate what the EU says are only interests of the UK.
The report also reiterated the European Parliament’s “full and unwavering” support for the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, in his talks with the British negotiators.
The development came after Gibraltar figured on numerous occasions during debates in the European Parliament on the wider issue of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Earlier this week, the PP opened a new front in its efforts to derail the tax treaty for Gibraltar and Spain, accusing the Rock of unfair tax competition and calling on the EU to “take measures” during its negotiations with the UK on the wider future relationship after Brexit.
The PP had already attempted to block the treaty during its first debate in the Spanish Parliament recently by supporting a motion tabled by the far-right party Vox, which was ultimately rejected by a government-led majority in the Congress.
But while the treaty continues the process of parliamentary ratification in Madrid promoted by the ruling Socialist government, the PP has now taken its objections to the European Parliament, urging the EU to raise objections as part of already-strained discussions with the UK.
On Wednesday, Jose Manuel Margallo, the PP MEP who became notorious while serving as Spain’s Foreign Minister for his abrasive, obsessive stance on Gibraltar, spoke out against the treaty in a bid lobby EU support for the PP position.
He repeated the PP’s well-known position on the Rock, whose fiscal framework he said undermined EU tax and state aid rules.
In doing so, he used the opportunity too to take a swipe at the government of Pedro Sanchez in Madrid.
“The Spanish Government might ignore this situation, but the European Union cannot tolerate it, and must make this clear in the forthcoming negotiations,” he said, addressing a debate in the European Parliament hemicycle attended by just a handful of MEPs.
“And it would be welcome if, in these negotiations, we all complied with international law on the matter of decolonisation as a union of the rule of law which we are.”
Mr Garcia-Margallo’s address was later given wider distribution in a statement issued by the European People’s Party Group [EPP] in the European Parliament, which brings together conservative political parties from across the EU including, until recently, the UK’s Conservative Party.
The statement was issued by the Spanish member of the group - that is, the PP - and does not necessarily reflect the joint position of the EPP.
It also added comments that had not figured in Mr Garcia-Margallo’s address to the empty chamber, including a thinly-veiled criticism of the UK’s departure from the EU.
“We are all worried that there will be a Singapore in the west of Europe [for the UK], but the Sanchez government seems intent on accepting a Cayman Islands on the southern frontier,” the statement said.