Monday, January 17, 2005

Gibraltar and Campo must evolve together, says Juarez

La Linea’s Mayor Juan Carlos Juarez speaks to Dominique Searle With his municipality enjoying an unprecedented level of investment and growth - a new marina being built in front of a rising hotel/conference complex on the sea-front – Juan Carlos Juarez, La Linea’s Mayor states clearly that his priority is the welfare of his city.

“La Linea first, then party politics,” he says declaring an eagerness to support any measures that further the prosperity of the region including Gibraltar.

Sr Juarez has had his battles with the PSOE, particularly since his cross over to the PP. hen the new PSOE Government embarked on a new policy towards Gibraltar with a major emphasis on bridge building Sr Juarez was noticeably absent from the autumn’s Gibraltar-Campo encounters.

Sr Juarez regards his first term as having halted the ‘freefall’ of La Linea’s economy and that he has now created, through infrastructural investment, the basis for real investor interest in the zone. Tourism is the main industry but he is now focusing on the development of the port activities. He wants to stay on leading La Linea.

Asked for his feelings and response to the new process he asserts he is all for co-operation.

Well every one knows that there are two tables here. At the first, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar with the President of the Mancomunidad, which I think is very appropriate. It is a brave step. Although there has always been talk of parking sovereignty that is not what has happened. But it is a brave step by the new people in the Foreign Ministry.

The other table is the one where more doubts might arise in relation to the 300 year sovereignty claim; not only does the Rock sit there with a voice, but it sits there with a vote and veto. Some say it is because, ultimately, Gibraltar has always had a veto; because in effect Britain has never wanted to go against its wishes. So I have real doubts and I’d like to see how that all evolves.

If it is difficult to reach an agreement with three voices and two flags then, to put it one way, it must be all the more difficult with three voices and three flags. But I think it is inevitable that the affairs discussed at the first table, on local co-operation, will very quickly require us to move to the second table where sovereignty issues come into play.

I must give the whole process the benefit of the doubt. Certainly Spain cannot give up its claim and we will have to see how things go.

There have been gestures made over the past two decades to have co-operation that have not come to much.


Do you think that this time it will work given Madrid’s support?

Reaching agreements will be complicated. The important thing is to know where Gibraltar wants to take things. I think that Gibraltar is going through a critical moment in the context of its economy. That is significant. If Gibraltar has to look at new directions for its economy, because of the changes in the finance centre, then the natural way out is with the Campo. Gibraltar has not really needed the Campo in the past but this may well be the time that it does for its own economic development. That would be good for the Campo because Gibraltar has a great deal of ability and a quality professional class which could help us develop. It can bring investment to the region through its network of lawyers.


Do you think there might be practical co-operation, for example, at the level of emergency services?

We should have done that a long time ago. Equally there should have been cultural co-operation. It was a great shame that Spain failed, over the last fifty years, to provide a cultural base for Gibraltar. There should have been an Instituto Cervantes long ago.

It is a great tragedy that Gibraltar is losing the Spanish language; that has an impact on culture and I know that people in Gibraltar have an appreciation of the Spanish culture. It was the 1969 closure that broke the natural flow of things. I think that otherwise we might well have had some settlement of this issue already given that the Rock and the Campo would have shared their development.


Do you think agreement will be reached on the airport?

I hope so. I think the 1987 agreement was a reasonable one reached between Britain and Spain. What did that have? Well a terminal in La Linea and a co-management of the airport. That would be positive in parallel with a range of infrastructural improvements. Gibraltar’s is an unconventional airport and it has many limitations. So we would have to have the three governments putting substantial investment into this project. It needs this to be an international airport and to be a good joint arrangement for all it should have a terminal in La Linea.


How are your relations with Gibraltar?

The truth is they have never been easy. They were more fluid when we were part of the independent party but with my move to PP when it was in Government, they were not easy. With the PSOE in Government, I would not say they are difficult but they have not been as fluid as they might be. I think it is important to have policies that avoid confrontation and that bring the people from both sides together. After all Gibraltarians participate in La Linea life, its culture, restaurants, night life and the fair. There are also many Gibraltarians living in La Linea – Santa Margarita, Alcaidesa – that creates a common life where people are moving between the two places. The best that can be done is at ground level with development of the area rather than at institutional level.


What about the frontier? That remains slow at times…

I think there will be progress on that. It is not a matter in my hands but I favour maximum fluidity. It is not for us to impede that movement. Interfering with that fluidity leads nowhere good for anyone. One thing is to question the effect the finance centre might have on European interests but it is another to interfere with the development of the Rock’s economy. That is absurd. I was against the whole business of making difficulties for the cruise liners. Not only is it an error but it is not good for the Campo. We have to develop our economies together.

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