Madrid, London and Gibraltar to resume talks on an ad hoc basis

Andalusian regional government representatives will also be involved in discussions

Atunara beach in Spain, with The Rock in the background.
Atunara beach in Spain, with The Rock in the background.claudio álvarez

Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar have agreed to set up a new, ad hoc forum to discuss matters relating to regional cooperation, leaving to one side the thorny issue of the British Overseas Territory’s status.

The new arrangement comes two years after the current government refused to accept the presence of Gibraltar at talks. Since then, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has taken a tough stance over the territory.

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Last summer saw tensions flare over the activities of Spanish fishing boats in waters that Gibraltar says are under its sovereignty. Seemingly in response, Gibraltar dropped more than 70 large concrete blocks in the disputed zone to create an artificial reef, thus preventing Spanish fishing boats operating there. In response, Spanish police at the border crossing have been carrying out exhaustive checks on vehicles coming in and out of Gibraltar, creating delays of up to seven hours.

The agenda will address Spain’s concerns over fishing, bunkering” and tobacco smuggling

Diplomatic sources say that aside from Spanish, UK and Gibraltarian officials, representatives from the EU will be present, as well as from the regional government of Andalusia and the seven Spanish towns within the Campo de Gibraltar. No firm date has been set for the first meeting, but it is expected to take place later this month, or early in November, in Brussels.

The Spanish delegation will be led by Ignacio Ybañez, the Foreign Ministry’s foreign policy director general, and Britain’s by Jill Morris, head of the Foreign Office’s Europe division.

The agenda will address Spain’s concerns over fishing and “bunkering” (refueling of ships at sea), as well as tobacco smuggling. Britain and Gibraltar say they want an end to the lengthy border delays.

Diplomatic sources say that the first meeting is unlikely to produce any major agreements

Diplomatic sources say that the first meeting is unlikely to produce any major agreements, but welcome all parties’ willingness to resume contact.

The ad hoc approach, whereby meetings are held to address specific issues of mutual interest, was proposed by the then British Foreign Secretary William Hague in April 2012, a suggestion that Madrid accepted. But no progress has been made since then, says Spain, due to Gibraltar’s First Minister Fabian Picardo insisting on maintaining the Tripartite Forum, which was set up in 2005, whereby the governments of the United Kingdom and Spain agreed to allow the Government of Gibraltar equal representation in a new open agenda discussion forum, but which has not met since 2009.

Some observers have expressed surprise that Picardo agreed to new talks before next year’s elections in Gibraltar, but he now appears to have reached agreement with the UK on attending the ad hoc contact meetings.

Agreement at the UN

M. G. Madrid

Spain's election to a two-year seat on the UN Security Council, which begins in January, has also helped to pave the way for a resumption of contact with the UK and Gibraltarian authorities. During the campaign to garner support for its candidacy, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo took a softly softly approach, later suggesting that London backed Spain in the vote.

London and Madrid are currently putting the finishing touches to a joint resolution to be presented to the UN General Assembly recognizing the need for a “definitive solution” to the Gibraltar question, and one that “takes into account the interests and aspirations of the people of Gibraltar in accordance with international law.” It is not clear whether the resolution will recommend resuming the Tripartite Forum or will build on the ad hoc approach.

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