Saturday, March 12, 2005

Estrella urges relationship of ‘mutual trust and mutual respect’

Caruana would welcome Spanish consular office • Airport and telecommunications progress turns on technical issues

The way ahead for Gibraltar and Spain is in an atmosphere of “mutual trust and mutual respect”, Rafael Estrella, PSOE spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Congreso, said yesterday in Gibraltar on a 48 hour visit meeting a broad sector of the community.

Stressing that the visit is private “but not without political implications” he signalled optimism that solutions can be found on areas such as the airport and telecommunications including roaming. “The political will now exists,” he said suggesting that practical progress is possible under the new process.

The visit was welcomed by Chief Minister Peter Caruana who received Sr Estrella at No. 6 yesterday afternoon where they observed a minute’s silence at 5pm paying respect to the M-11 victims.

The PSOE MP highlighted the positive impact that receiving condolences from Gibraltar shortly after the incident last year had made in Spanish circles.

After the meeting Sr Estrella made a beeline for the Voice of Gibraltar Group (VOGG) who had stood outside No 6 in protest during the hour long meeting with Mr Caruana. He chatted with them briefly and heard their well known views.

Although it was recognised that Sr Estrella is not here representing the Spanish Government, he meets with more local representative groups today, he has attended Anglo-Spanish talks touching Gibraltar.

Mr Caruana recognised that Sr Estrella’s views cannot be “a million miles away from the thinking of his Government” allowing Spain to explore ideas without its Government being bound.

Taking up Sr Estrella’s remark to the Chronicle mooting the possibility of a Spanish consular office in Gibraltar and a Spanish House for cultural purposes Mr Caruana said that a consular office as once existed in 1969 and the Gibraltar Government would be “perfectly happy to make that suggestion”.

“We would be very happy to have a consul here so that non EU Nationals resident in Gibraltar can get their visas and as a point of contact here in Gibraltar.”


He also was happy with the idea of some Spanish cultural representation such as the Instituto Cervantes. “We are not going to make art, culture and language prisoners of political dispute,” said the Chief Minister stressing that the way forward “in this civilised corner of the world” is on the basis of respect and normality despite differences.

Chamber

Earlier Sr Estrella had met with the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses (GFSB) members, as well as the Jewish and Hindu communities, the Gibraltar Liberal Party and later Joe Bossano Oposition Leader.

Sr Estrella thanked Ana Leon, president of Mar del Sur, and Peter Montegriffo, the organisation’s secretary, for organising the visit which he reiterated was private but with political implications.

Sr Estrella said this was a very important moment for the people of Gibraltar given a new process which, he said, respects the positions of each side but enjoyed support that could lead to a normalisation of relations through dialogue and co-operation.

Sr Estrella recalled that it was three years ago that the Casino Calpe had invited him to talk to them – he was in Opposition at the time. There was no doubt that sovereignty issues continue to divide the sides.

“It would be a bad Gibraltarian who changes their position and a bad Spaniard who changes theirs”


But by looking for paths of dialogue other issues can be tackled.

Speaking to journalists he highlighted the new will in the Spanish Government to foster understanding. He also recalled that three years ago the Chamber had stated its stance on sovereignty clearly but nonetheless described how uncertainty affected the lives of people on the Rock and was an issue of concern to them and he had been impressed by that perspective.

“There were attempts in this period to advance on sovereignty and for various reasons these did not bear fruit. In the new process, having set out the sovereignty positions – Britain, Gibraltar and UK are talking about co-operation,” he said.

Practical Issues

Sr Estrella recognised that many issues had been around for a long time and that even those such as ferry services could be revisited. He pointed to the airport visit to Geneva as an example where solutions to technical issues might open the way forward.

Frontier fluidity especially for workers from the Campo and Gibraltarians going into Spain is an issue being given attention.

Another area he pointed to was the ports of the Bay which he said will soon face competition from the super-port being built in Morocco. He said they should aim at a common strategy to develop this sector of the economy for the benefit of both sides.

On the airport he said the issue was that the status quo remains which means Spain continues in it’s non-acceptance of UK sovereignty over the isthmus. But at the same time it is a fact that the airport is under control of the British and Gibraltarian authorities “when you come in its not a Guardia Civil, it’s a bobby.”

Noting the changes in EU aerospace laws he said that other airports like Geneva this week visited by experts could be models for a workable solution. In Geneva, for example, people could leave France and go directly to the airplane.
“Neither Gibraltar nor Spain should see any arrangement as an advance on sovereignty for either side,” he said. That view was echoed by Mr Caruana who said that “neither side should make concessions and neither should gain advantage on sovereignty.”

Sr Estrella was equally optimistic that Gibraltar would have use of an additional 100 telephone lines in Spain to ease congestion and that the roaming issue could be resolved through technical means too. For Mr Caruana this would be an acceptable interim arrangement but its objective remains to persuade Spain that recognition of 350 would not be a concession on sovereignty. Some sovereign states don’t have their own code and some other territories and colonies do, Mr Caruana said.

Responding to the comments by the La Linea Mayor Juan Carlos Juarez, Sr Estrella rejected his remarks on the airport saying that the Brussels Agreement was not being compromised but that the situation is that Gibraltar and UK have effective control of the airport irrespective of Spain’s continued position and that Spain had never taken the land back by force. The alternate headline, he said, would be that the La Linea Mayor thinks there are Civil Guards on the airport.
But he did feel that the La Linea Mayor and other mayors of the Campo should have more of an input in the talks between the Mancomunidad and Gibraltar. He said that depending on the issues different authorities should also have a place in these. In the case of health and education it would be the Junta (de Andalucia). But he warned that there must be flexibility.

“Everyone has to have their own space or their will be distortions,” he said.
Sr Estrella rejected further representation in the tripartite talks. The objective, he stressed is to work for the benefit of both sides. He said the process is “between UK and Spain in the presence of Gibraltar with its own voice.”

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