Monday, August 08, 2005

Bossano says vast majority of Gibraltarians are happy outside Spain

Reply to Pons article * Spain needs to give up “inferiority complex” caused by loss of Gib

Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano has declared that “the vast majority of Gibraltarians are happy the way we are outside Spain’s jurisdiction and do not want to change.”

Responding to the statements by Spain’s Director General for Europe Jose Pons who wrote an exclusive article in the Chronicle last week, Mr Bossano reckons that Sr Pons’ conclusions are even less likely to be correct than those of his more vocally hostile predecessors.

Mr Bossano also states that the arguments used by Sr Pons “are reminiscent of those used by Peter Hain in 2001 and 2002”.

“Then, as now,” says Mr Bossano, “everyone who didn’t agree with doing a sovereignty or airport deal was living in the past or standing in the way of progress.”

Mr Bossano argues that history shows that Gibraltar prefers but does not need a friendly neighbour to prosper, and that it is Spain rather than Gibraltar, that needs to give up their “inferiority complex” caused by the loss of the Rock “which makes them feel they have to be given reparation by compensatory concessions.”

A GSLP/Liberals statement said:

“Sr Jose Maria Pons Irazabal, Director General for Foreign Policy for Europe and North America, who is Spain’s representative on the Tripartite Forum has written and published what is, in his opinion, the nature of the relationship between our country and his and in the process commented on the views of the Opposition.

Firstly Mr Pons says that the Spanish Government has been bitterly criticized by backward looking sectors of the Spanish Opposition who prefer to have confrontation and permanent hostility with Gibraltar. He than adds that the Gibraltar Government has similarly been criticized by comparable sectors in Gibraltar.

Mr Pons should identify which are the sectors he claims have bitterly attacked the Gibraltar Government over the two meetings of the Forum that have taken place.

When asked recently in a Canal Sur radio interview Joe Bossano limited himself to saying that all that had emerged after each of the two meetings was a tripartite statement, one of whose signatories is Mr Pons, saying what a jolly, friendly meeting he had held with Mr Chilcott from the Foreign Office and Mr Caruana (Chief Minister) and that these results did not warrant a reaction from the Opposition.

Mr Pons says as a general comment that all innovative ideas always find tough resistance from those who want nothing to change because they are happy as they are.

This is of course reminiscent of the arguments used by Peter Hain in 2001 and 2002 when the previous negotiations with Spain were taking place.

Then, as now, everyone who didn’t agree with doing a sovereignty deal or an airport deal was living the past, being a dinosaur, or standing in the way of progress.

However Mr Pons is right about one thing, the vast majority of us are happy the way we are, outside Spain’s jurisdiction and do not want to change.

Whilst it is true that the new Socialist Government in Spain has adopted more conciliatory language than any of its predecessors, one needs to analyse the issues independent of the tone used in the language.

Mr Pons is wrong in thinking that we are all suffering in Gibraltar from the aftermath of the 1969 closure, which incidentally helped us strengthen our sense of identity as a people and forged a determination to overcome Spain’s hostility and prosper.

So if the policy advice of Mr Pons to his Government is coloured by his view that we are suffering from a dark inferiority complex considering ourselves victims of past hostility requiring reparatory payments, then regrettably his conclusions are even less likely to be correct than those of his more vocally hostile predecessors.

We are not against the joint use of the airport because we are still affected by the trauma of the closure of the land frontier in 1969, as Mr Pons seems to believe.

Incidentally Gibraltar flights to Madrid continued after 1969 with Franco in power and no joint use of the airport.

Whatever Spain may want to say now, the facts are very simple. Gibraltar was a regional British airport in the European Union from 1973 to 1987. In 1987 it was excluded to get Spain to lift its veto blocking progress on air liberalisation throughout the EU.

Sir Geoffrey Howe first condemned Spain’s position and then capitulated and signed up to it.

The people of Gibraltar marched up Main Street led by all the elected members of the House of Assembly in a demonstration rejecting any deal to share the airport with Spain. If Spain had not stopped Gibraltar’s airport from continuing to participate in the EU liberalisation there would have been flights from Spain to Gibraltar since 1987 as there are to any other point of the EU.

There is nothing innovative in first putting up barriers depriving Gibraltar of its EU rights and then seeking compensatory concessions to remove these barriers. This was the policy initiated by Franco in 1954 after the Royal Visit. It seems, it is the Spaniards that need to give up their inferiority complex caused by the loss of Gibraltar in 1704, which makes them feel they have to be given reparation by compensatory concessions.

Indeed, in the case of the revaluation of Spanish pensions, the root cause was of course the decision to close the frontier and remove the Spanish workforce. The problem is not complex at all, the Spanish Government in 1989 was told that Spanish pensions were being frozen and raised no objections. It is not a tripartite matter. This in fact is entirely bilateral. Sir Geoffrey Howe gave them the pension commitment in 1985, the UK froze the pensions in 1989, they discontinued payment in 1993 and restarted it in 1997. Spain was kept fully informed of all this throughout by UK and it’s a matter to be sorted out between the two of them.

Finally, the other thesis defended by Mr Pons is that Gibraltar’s prosperity is dependent on an airport deal. Mr Hain similarly argued in 2001 that our prosperity depended on a sovereignty deal with Spain. He was wrong and so is Mr Pons. Gibraltar prefers to have a friendly neighbour but does not need one to prosper. Our history proves it.”

Related Article:

04 August 2005 - Pons calls for a new future of “open doors” in cross-border relations


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