Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Daily Telegraph: ‘An unequal union’

This editorial was published in yesterday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

It is the Euro-fanatic’s constant lament. If only Britain had been in at the beginning, we are told, all would have been well. We would have had a chance to shape the EU’s institutions, instead of having them biased against us.

There is a ready enough way to test this assertion, and that is to ask the following question: which country has done better out of EU membership – Britain, which joined in 1973 or Spain, which joined in 1986? The answer, whether we look at agriculture, fisheries, representation in EU institutions or the budget, is clearly Spain.

Consider, as a textbook demonstration, the case of Gibraltar.

On paper, Britain held all the negotiating cards. Being an existing member state when Spain opened accession talks, we were able to insist that Madrid recognise Gibraltar’s status as EU territory.

In practice, however, Spain has done no such thing. Its periodic frontier closures and its ban on cruise boats that have docked at Gibraltar are in clear violation of the free movement clauses in the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act.

Now, Madrid is challenging the right of Gibraltarians to vote in European elections. Brussels has taken no action against Spain for these breaches of EU rules. It has, however, vigorously enforced its jurisdiction on the Rock, not least in the fields of taxation and banking rules.

Gibraltar is thus expected to abide by the obligations of EU membership, but not to exercise the rights that go with it.

Our point is not that Madrid has no right to press its claim. Although we have long argued that there ought to be no change in Gibraltar’s status, we do not blame Spain for making its case – especially when successive British governments have seemed so keen to divest themselves of this embarrassingly patriotic speck of land.

Our complaint, rather, is against the EU’s lopsided approach to the issue. Other overseas territories – the Azores, French Outremer and, indeed, Spain’s own Moroccan enclaves – are treated as full EU members and have had European money lavished on them.

Gibraltarians, by contrast, get the costs without the benefits. Their touching loyalty to the British Crown, which New Labour finds awkward, is positively resented in Brussels. That is why they will always struggle to get a fair hearing.


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