Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Spain argues against vote for Gibraltarians in EU Elections

Spain presented arguments yesterday in the European Union’s high court against a UK law that allows citizens of Gibraltar to vote in elections for the EU’s parliament.

Britain sent its top advocates to resist the claim and the European Commission also appeared in support of the UK defence.

Spain claims some Gibraltar residents are not citizens of the EU and should not be allowed to vote for members of the European Parliament.

Britain changed its laws in 2003 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled it had infringed Gibraltarians’ democratic rights by preventing them from voting in European elections.

However, Spain took the case to the European Court of Justice, saying the manner of enfranchising broke the EU’s founding treaty.

Both sides were putting forward their cases in yesterday’s hearing, but it is expected to take several months, at least six, before the court presents its verdict.

The case could be tricky for the court’s judges, because a verdict in Spain’s favour may suggest the EU’s treaty is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

According to the 1999 ruling by the human rights court in Strasbourg, France, the convention upholds the right of the Gibraltarians to vote.

Spain complains the British law breaks EU rules by allowing citizens of the British Commonwealth who are not citizens of the EU to vote in European elections.

It also says Britain acted illegally by including Gibraltar in the South-West England voting district for the European vote.

South West/Gibraltar Conservative MEP Neil Parish said:

“This is all very sad. Spain is determined to make life difficult over Gibraltar because the Spanish Government knows there is absolutely no chance of making progress on the sovereignty issue.

This would affect a handful of people in Gibraltar. But it could potentially disenfranchise a million people living in the UK.

The principle of being able to decide for ourselves the way we conduct elections is a principle worth fighting for. It goes to the heart of our democracy.

I support the British Government’s vigorous challenge to this case. I hope the ECJ will realise the implications of Spain’s move and reject this politically-motivated case."

Lib Dem MEP for Gibraltar and South West Graham Watson said that Spain’s decision to mount the legal challenge owes “more to political spite than to any rational examination of the issue”. Commenting on the matter Mr Watson said:

“Commonwealth nationals have always voted in European elections in the UK. All that happened in 2003 is that the same UK franchise was extended to Gibraltar.

It is curious that Madrid has not raised this complaint before given that they clearly feel so strongly about it now. Moreover, it is perfectly logical that the territory of Gibraltar should be included in the franchise because the Rock has been EU territory since 1973.”

Mr Watson added:

“As for the manner of the enfranchisement it should be noted that in March 1999 the relevant UK amendments to the EC Act on Direct Elections were blocked by Spain.

I am in close contact in this matter with the Leader of the Liberal Party Dr Joseph Garcia and my Liberal colleagues in Gibraltar, and will continue to campaign for democratic rights for Gibraltar’s citizens.”


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