Monday, July 11, 2005

Tripartite talks move for an airport agreement by the end of 2005

Tripartite Dialogue Forum between Gibraltar - UK - Spain * F Oliva reports from Albufeira, District of Faro

A Basle inspired, technically imaginative, one shared terminal airport agreement appears to be taking shape as the strongest – albeit still hypothetical – way forward to unblock the long standing restrictions on the development of the Gibraltar airport.

At the end of the two day talks in the impressive luxury of the Sheraton Pine Cliffs Hotel, the concept of one airport terminal that can be of benefit to the two communities – Gibraltar and the Campo – was gathering momentum.

However Chief Minister Peter Caruana, who was reticent to be drawn to the detail of the discussions, revealed that the new arrangements “would avoid Spanish travellers having to cross the frontier with their bags on a trolley to board their flight.”

In respect of customs and immigration controls, Mr Caruana advanced that the system to be introduced would be “different to what we have at present.”

Albufeira, one of southern Europe’s leading tourist resorts was the unlikely setting for the second round of the tripartite forum where the UK, Spanish and Gibraltar delegations examined the complex airport issue but also an extensive range of matters such as the frontier/fence distinction, (frontera/ verja) more of a deep-seated political discrepancy than a mere semantic variation, Spanish pensions, the possibility of additional telephone numbers and a roaming agreement for the Rock, and other areas of cross-border cooperation.

Choice of Venue

Regarding the choice of venue Spain’s director general for Europe Jose Pons denied that the matter had ever been one where Spain was refusing to come to Gibraltar for the talks. He said there was no document or verbal agreement stating that there was strict rotation of venues where meetings would be held in Spain, in London, or in Gibraltar.

Sr Pons said the criteria to be followed was one for the convenience of the ministers and there is no rigid established system. Therefore, he continued, Portugal had been agreed as the location this time, “and this has been an excellent initiative.”

Mr Caruana reiterated that the choice of Portugal was for reasons of proximity but assured with confidence that one day “when it is our turn,” the talks will be held in Gibraltar.

He said it was not the same for the Gibraltar Government to travel to Spain for talks, as it was for Spain to come to the Rock at this early stage of the process.

Mr Caruana invited Spain to Gibraltar to participate in a meeting, “when Madrid feels politically comfortable to do so, and it is Spain that has to decide the moment. But we have to walk before we can run,” he declared.

For his part Sr Pons agreed with Mr Caruana’s exposition and said that Spain did envisage participating in the forum with Gibraltar as venue. He said Spain believed in the work they were doing within the current diplomatic process.

“We are sure that the time will come when we will all feel very comfortable in any of the venues,” he declared.

Likewise, Britain’s F&CO epresentative Dominick Chilcott said they were very relaxed about Spain’s attitude toward the venues for the forum, and expressed hope that in the future with greater all-round confidence there would be a meeting in Gibraltar.

It is understood Britain, at an unspecified date, will be the next location.

Airport

On the airport Mr Caruana said it was very difficult to be specific on details since the basis of talks was on the now customary “nothing is agreed until all is agreed,” and to make public any partial information in respect of the whole picture, could be “misleading.”

The three sides agreed advances were being made but also that there would be no official statements until a comprehensive declaration could be made on airport progress.

Mr Caruana reminded the press that each of the sides present in the talks defended their respective positions but noted the “courage and will on all sides to arrive at a viable, workable solution for the three.”

Further pressed by Chronicle questions, on how a plane load of Spain-bound passengers landing in Gibraltar but heading for a Spanish destination would be treated, in terms of customs and police controls, Sr Pons said that this was one of the complex areas of the agreement.

Sr Pons explained there were already European norms and that depending on the origin and the destination of passengers, they would have to receive the appropriate treatment. He also noted “the different situations of the territory of Gibraltar and Spain in so far as the traffic and free circulation of passengers and citizens in Europe is concerned at present.”

Mr Caruana added that it would not be appropriate to speculate on the range of formulae that could be applied, because these were details that had not even been discussed yet, let alone agreed.

For his part Mr Chilcott stated that they had spent a lot of time on this subject over the past couple of days, and he was encouraged by the “seriousness with which we are treating some pretty tricky issues.”

He said a good spirit had prevailed in the discussions and they were making good progress. However, in his view, it was “better not to go into details until we are there.”

As regards the military considerations that could potentially affect an airport agreement, Mr Chilcott said that although these were important, they would “not impede a settlement,” although this by its very nature, “would have to be acceptable to all, which means acceptable to the British Government and its military concerns.”

Autumn appears as the prospective period for an agreement to be finalised.

Spanish Pensions

Mr Caruana said this was a complicated issue that was in the hands of the EU and being dealt with at the tripartite forum and other places.

Each side, he said, had its own position while all sides had discussed the matter in great depth, accepting the sensitivity of this issue for many people who were of an advanced age.

The Chief Minister said the solution had to reflect the entitlements of these persons, but commented that this had not yet been established in law. There were claims by the pensioners, technical and legal problems, legal and political procedures to be followed, which did not facilitate the achievement of solutions “round the corner."

He said there were demonstrable difficulties and expressed surprise that the case was being treated politically as something new, when it dated back at least 15 years.

Mr Caruana said patience was required and there was political goodwill at the forum.
He said the matter was viewed with urgency now because of the Spanish domestic political agenda, while the other two parties had to respond as best they could.

Meanwhile Sr Pons said the Spanish pensions was “a priority for us from the start,” even if it had been lying dormant for some time, and that he recently met the pensioner association to prepare this meeting and give them “a guarantee that their aspirations, concerns and demands would be placed at the negotiating table today.” “We have mobilised all our efforts to work ceaselessly toward a speedy solution, but this cannot be achieved from one day to the next,” he declared.

Nuclear Submarines

The ever present issue of submarines predictably surfaced in questions from Spanish newsmen, particularly the row regarding whether Britain would provide Spain with written assurances regarding the cessation of repairs to nuclear submarine components in Gibraltar.

However it emerged that the subject was not even discussed and will be reserved for bilateral discussons between Britain and Spain.

On behalf of the British Government Mr Chilcott said that already in Malaga there had been a “good discussion” on what he described as “a complex issue,” and they had taken with them “some homework that we are still doing.” Mr Chilcott said:

“We want to make sure that what we do does not cut across important consideration for our Ministry of Defence but we also want to arrive at a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.

This is not going to be done quickly but I am confident that we are on the way to arriving at a satisfactory arrangement, although we are not quite there yet.”

Monaco


Prince Albert of Monaco a member of the International Olympic Committee
An unexpected side issue that drew some press attention was the surprise remarks by Prince Albert of Monaco a member of the International Olympic Committee, who had quizzed Spain as to the reasons for Madrid’s objection to Gibraltar’s membership.

Mr Caruana reminded journalists that the case of Gibraltar’s application to join the IOC was at present subject to litigation in the Court of Sporting Arbitration in Lausanne. He said it would therefore be inopportune to comment at this stage.

Mr Caruana declared the three sides were working for the benefit of their respective populations, with the rider that these benefits would have to be achieved within the ‘space’ afforded by the defence of the important issues that each side considered as fundamental. He cited the example of the right of self determination for Gibraltar, and the sovereignty claim for Spain.

For his part Sr Pons expressed his Government’s criticism of the Prince’s remarks and had asked for an explanation via diplomatic channels. He said the Spanish Foreign Ministry (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores MAE) considered this a sensitive matter, and had already made public its “surprise and stupor”, making clear that Madrid did not consider this a Gibraltar issue but one to be dealt with by Monaco.

Llanito Questions

Local Panorama editor Joe Garcia put a touch of humour during the press conference when he asked the participants whether the questions should be addressed in English, Spanish or Llanito, to which Mr Caruana replied that the choice of language would be free all round, and that he himself always replies in the language the question was made in, as long of course as it was a language he understood….

Pontius Pilate

As in Malaga, where he did not even speak to the press, UK representative Dominick Chilcott once more appeared as an innocent bystander in proceedings. At one stage given his non-committal answers, Mr Caruana quipped that he was “washing his hands like Pontius Pilate….”

Voice of Gibraltar

Led by Paul Tunbridge, a contingent of around a dozen activist of the political pressure group (Voice of Gibraltar Group (VOGG)) made their presence felt outside the Sheraton Hotel in Algarve, reiterating their message of no political concessions to Spain, and critical that the meeting had not taken place in Gibraltar, “because of the Spanish Government’s refusal.”

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Faro Tripartite Talks - Joint Statement

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