Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Watson urges Gibraltar to ensure EU funding flow

Graham Watson MEP
Gibraltar must work to ensure that it continues to receive European Union funding under a new five-year financing programme currently being prepared, or risk losing it to new EU members.

Countries in central and eastern Europe that joined the EU last year are changing the demand patterns on EU funding, which means regions that receive money now could miss out in future.

That was one of the key issues raised by Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat Member of the South European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar during a visit to the Rock yesterday.

Gibraltar qualifies for three types of EU funding, including funds available for training purposes and for cross-border projects.

But it is the third area of funding, known as Objective 2, which would perhaps be most felt locally if it were to be withdrawn in favour of new EU members. Within the current programme of EU spending, Objective 2 funding is worth £8.75 million to Gibraltar. This money has been used on many local projects, including the re-development of John Mackintosh Square, which Mr Watson visited yesterday accompanied by Joe Holliday, minister for trade, industry and communications.
With the new financing programme that comes into effect in 2008 and runs to 2013, the maps of the areas of the EU that qualify for funding will be re-drawn. “Some of those areas which currently qualify for Objective 2 will no longer qualify, partly because there will be a much greater demand on those funds from the central and eastern European countries which joined the European Union last year,” Mr Watson told reporters.

“It seems to me that Gibraltar has a particular case for continuing to qualify, which is linked to its peculiar political and geographical position but also to the opportunity and the need for a much wider-scale development of the whole of the bay area.

That is a case that I will be happy to push in Brussels.”

The discussions are still open in Brussels but Mr Watson, who is also leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, said it was important “to get in there” to make sure that Gibraltar continues to receive funding.

Mr Watson has already raised a number of issues in the European Parliament since he became one of seven MEPs now representing Gibraltar in Brussels and Strasbourg. He has asked parliamentary questions on the Spanish cruise ban, gay rights issues, Spain’s objection to the way the UK enfranchised Gibraltarian voters and other issues relating to Gibraltar’s absence from certain EU institutional bodies.

The MEP said that he hoped to push a number of Gibraltar-related issues forward during the current six-month UK presidency of the EU.

“And I don’t mean to set up conflict with Spain [because] that’s not always the most productive way forward,” Mr Watson said.

“I mean to recognise that there is more than one political issue in Gibraltar, that not all issues are sovereignty related and that much can be done on a number of issues affecting Gibraltar without touching the issue of the sovereignty of the Rock."
Within this context, he highlighted environmental matters, immigration and the battle against international crime and terrorism as key areas “where Gibraltar’s voice has to be heard…and where its interests have to be upheld.

“Hitherto, Gibraltar has had no voice in those matters, and now it has seven MEPs and I hope between the seven of us that we can properly represent the territory and its interests in these debates,” he said.

Mr Watson conceded that his latest visit to Gibraltar, in line with previous trips, was still about getting to know this new part of his constituency and its constituents.

Yesterday, he met members of the local Liberal Party and also had his first face-to-face meetings with local constituents who had written to him seeking assistance with a number of concerns.

They range from questions about EU funding for elderly citizens, to a man who was denied entry into Bristol Airport, part of the southwest region, after an immigration officer there refused to recognise his Gibraltar ID card.

“These are very similar to the kind of issues I would get in my constituency mail bag back home and I am more than happy to help with that,” Mr Watson added. “It’s what I’m paid for.”

The local Liberal Party leader, Dr Joseph Garcia, and Steven Linares, opposition spokesman on education, were both present at yesterday’s press briefing and reminded the public that they can contact Mr Watson through the Liberal’s offices in Irish Town.


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