Thursday, August 04, 2005

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

Spain seeks management role in Gib airport * By F Oliva

No relationship with Gibraltar will ever be possible if the Gibraltarians do not want us, that is the frank admission made by Spain’s Director General for Europe Jose Pons, and contained in an exclusive article published in today’s Chronicle.

In his article Sr Pons points out that we are at an important historical crossroads and have a unique opportunity to build up a different future that is “mutually beneficial” and can unfold “in a spirit of openness.”

However Sr Pons acknowledges the pitfalls along the way and that there will be resistance to change, “attacks and even sabotage” from those on both sides who would wish to cling on to the prejudices of the past, and use History as “an instrument of separation” so as not to move forward.

“The easy bit is always to demand that it is others who should change, that others come round to my way of thinking while I close down the doors of the castle.”

And Sr Pons expresses the conviction that “if this door closes it will not be easy to re-open it.”

Sr Pons reflects on the improved climate of cross border relations since the Tripartite Forum was set up six months ago, and contrasts it to the situation exactly a year ago today when “there were drums of confrontation in the air,” as Gibraltar prepared to celebrate the Tercentenary of “the British occupation” of the Rock.

Sr Pons says that none of the sides have made any concessions in the forum, but all believe it is possible to work in a productive manner to come to mutually beneficial agreements.

He further describes it as a process of dialogue in which “Gibraltarians can take part in a climate of confidence” that allows for rapprochement to take place.

“We want to reach an agreement for the joint use of an expanded airport, to solve the problem affecting the Spanish pensioners [ex-Gibraltar workers], and a satisfactory solution to the Rock’s telecommunications difficulties,” writes Sr Pons.

On the very complex airport issue Sr Pons states that he gets the impression that
there are those who prefer to portray themselves as “victims of History” rather than face the future.

He argues that many of Gibraltar’s economic development projects have little future without an airport deal, and that this will require concessions from all sides. “This is how we work in the European Union nowadays.” he declared.

Sr Pons says that Spain cannot be expected to assist in Gibraltar’s economic development through an airport agreement, but at the same time accept that Spaniards are denied entry or presence in the airport’s daily management systems. “The airport is built on disputed territory [the isthmus] and it will have no future without a full agreement with Spain,” he declared.

Meanwhile Sr Pons has taken up Joe Bossano’s comment rejecting airport joint use, and the Leader of the Opposition’s retort regarding whether Spain would accept shared use of Algeciras airport. The Spanish diplomat said that there were huge legal differences between the two but that the idea in itself was not bad.

“This is the difference in approach. We are prepared to discuss port cooperation for mutual benefit, but at the moment, what we have is the port of Gibraltar’s taking advantage of its tax privileges within the EU, in competition with Algeciras.”

Sr Pons states that Spain does not wish Gibraltarians any harm, or that [we lose our] quality of life or social system by cooperating with us, and notes that there is already a strong relationship borne out by the thousands who cross the border every day to work or live on the other side.

“Now we have to develop trust, achieve tangible and mutually beneficial results, forget the past, and the prejudices of the present. No one has the monopoly of reason on his side.

It is time for courageous action and also time for hope,” he adds.

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