Wednesday, September 07, 2005

No clash between talks and self-determination, says Caruana

Interview with Caruana * Planned agreement ‘would give Gibraltar airport full EU rights’

By Dominique Searle

Caruana repeats British sovereignty of Gibraltar including the airport remains undiluted and intactAs Gibraltar prepares to don red and white for National Day this Saturday, Chief Minister Peter Caruana has declared that there is no clash between Gibraltar’s assertion of self-determination and the current process of trilateral talks in which the Government is engaged.

In an interview with the Chronicle he says that any airport agreement would have to include the existing suspension of Gibraltar airport from EU measures being lifted.

Mr Caruana, set to give the key note speech at Saturday’s now traditional political rally, has also attacked what he says are a minority of detractors trying to make mischief when the Government’s position is clear and well known – British sovereignty of Gibraltar including the airport remains undiluted and intact.

Mr Caruana also makes a scathing attack on the Opposition and says that the airport agreement being contemplated is far safer for Gibraltar and better than one he says the GSLP (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party) Government tried to negotiate.

He reiterates that having Spanish police or customs on Gibraltar airport is not on the cards.

As regards Constitutional reform, Mr Caruana makes clear this will continue with Britain in parallel with the current trilateral talks process.


Q. You have a Trilateral Process well underway at the moment and we have National Day on Saturday. Aren't the things you say on Saturday naturally going to conflict with that Process?

No. Absolutely not. Those people in Gibraltar that try to manipulate public opinion, to confuse the two things, are just opportunistic.

There is no conflict between National Day and all it represents on the one hand, and the trilateral forum of dialogue and all it represents on the other.

National Day is about our right to self-determination, the promotion and defence of our political rights as a people. It is about unity in Gibraltar and about celebrating everything it stands for and represents.

The trilateral process of dialogue has nothing to do with any of that. It is a process of dialogue for co-operation between neighbours and anybody who thinks that the trilateral process deals with things that clash with everything that National Day stands for and Gibraltar’s political rights in terms of sovereignty or self-determination, has simply chosen to ignore everything that I have said for the purposes of trying to induce people into believing that somehow, sitting down with your neighbours to talk about telephones, and things that you can do without prejudicing your political position on any issue, is somehow wrong.

It is particularly galling when it is done by people who themselves, when they were in office, tried but failed to establish a process of dialogue with Spain on terms which were much less good and much less safe for Gibraltar than the ones that we have secured for Gibraltar at the moment.

Q. The focus of your critics is on the Ariport discussions. Admittedly we, the Public, do not know the detail. Bossano says we are ot seeking anything from Spain, is that the case?

It is not a question of seeking anything from Spain.

The airport is something which I have made perfectly clear does not touch on or impinge on exclusive British sovereignty or Gibraltar control and jurisdiction. Or any of the red herrings being thrown up.

There is no point in people trying to mislead public opinion by pretending that these things are not publicly known.

I gave an interview to El Pais, carried in the Chronicle, at the end of the Faro talks in which I made it perfectly clear what I thought of any suggestion that there should be Spanish customs and police officers on the airport. I said it was not on the cards. So why there are people now speculating mischievously that that might be what the Gibraltar Government is about to agree to, and pretending that there has been silence by me on that point - when I have been explicit on that point I do not understand. It is not something that I can explain, but people should not be duped by these machinations by self-appointed political commissars.

Q. So you don't fear a 'Trojan Horse' element to the Airport?

No. Because the airport agreement is not about sovereignty. It is not about anything other than the way we can make Gibraltar airport more useful in practice to our neighbours without detracting from the fact that it remains Gibraltar Airport. That has been said repeatedly. If there are one or two individuals in Gibraltar who are determined to try and scaremonger on the basis of ignoring the facts that the Government has made clear repeatedly, then I think people should ask themselves what the ulterior motive for doing that is.

Q. Are we talking about a Trilateral Airport Agreement or is it an Eu Airport Agreement?

We are talking about an agreement which is trilateral in the sense that it would be agreed to by the three in the context of a political framework, much as the previous GSLP Government, sought, negotiated, but failed to arrive at an airport agreement, presumably protecting Gibraltar’s sovereignty as we are doing, and protecting Gibraltar’s jurisdiction, as we are doing.

I don’t remember that at that time they were issuing daily bulletins giving a blow by blow account of their discussions. So why they demand it from us now, when they did not do it when they were in government is yet another question that people should be asking themselves.

Governments do not conduct their business with other governments on the basis of day by day, blow by blow accounts.

I think this government in Gibraltar, as seen over ten years, and particularly in the last three years, knows how to defend Gibraltar’s interests and uphold Gibraltar’s political situation. These discussions are not an exception to that. They fall into the same category. We will, with a huge amount of satisfaction if it means that we will have succeeded where previous governments of all parties have failed, do an airport agreement that makes Gibraltar Airport socially and economically more useful for Gibraltar and the Campo, if it can be done in a way that does not prejudice our sovereignty, and if it does not prejudice the fact that this airport is in Gibraltar.

If we can’t do it on those terms then we can’t.

I think most people in Gibraltar know that that is the Government’s position, trust the Government and don’t expect the Government to behave, in the words of one local commentator ‘as politicians behave in other countries when they don’t have any protocol’.

Well, if they accuse politicians in Spain of blurting things out because they do not have any protocol then why are they inviting the Government of Gibraltar to incur the same lack of protocol.

But to answer your question. An airport agreement of any nature that did not result in a normalisation of Gibraltar’s participation in EU aviation measures is not even contemplated.

That is why the parties are working together in good faith to arrive at such an agreement that protects the fundamental positions of all the sides.

Spain has fundamental positions that she wants to protect as well in delivering that.

Neither UK, Spain nor Gibraltar is even contemplating an agreement that does not allow flights from everywhere. In other words one that did not deal with the lifting of the suspension of Gibraltar airport from EU aviation measures.

Q. Although we have British support, in the sense of MPs here for National Day, we don't hear a great deal these days from Blair and Straw...

Whenever the Government achieves anything which others before us have failed to achieve, the Opposition and some of its satellite organisations go into overdrive to try and tarnish the achievement.

If we introduce for the first time ever a new bus service, then it transpires that the buses are too big.

If we build a new hospital then it is too expensive, the doors get jammed with a Coke tin and a seagull got stuck in the down-pipe.

If we build a new sports complex then ‘why does Gibraltar need another sports complex’.

This is another example. Here is a situation in which Gibraltar has never been in a position where it is today on dialogue. A much better position than all previous governments including the immediately previous government were willing to settle for. When has Gibraltar ever had a situation where we are in a process of discussion which is open agenda, not a negotiation on sovereignty, where we are present with our own voice and on the same basis as the other participants and where nothing is agreed unless we agree to it as well. That is a hugely advanced and improved position for Gibraltar to be in.

UK as well as Spain have agreed to it in recognition, I believe, of the simple political realities that Gibraltar demonstrated in answer to the joint sovereignty debacle. That is that this community and this government have demonstrated that Gibraltar is able to win a political battle against the UK and Spain, in the UK press and in places of that sort. We earned for Gibraltar a degree of political respect and recognition that we have never enjoyed before.

I think that is the answer to your question as to where Britain stands. That is now Britain’s approach to dealing with Gibraltar issues.

Gibraltar is a vital interlocutor, a vital part of any discussion about any issue affecting Gibraltar and that there is no point in Britain and Spain pretending otherwise. That itself is a huge achievement.

I think Britain’s position remains fundamentally the same. I think that they would like a solution to the Gibraltar issue and they know that our position is that the political future of Gibraltar can only be decided by the freely expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar which we call our right to self-determination.

Britain respects that that position is not going to change. It is now going about things the right way as it should have gone about them much sooner.

And Spain is now on board on that approach as well.

Q. But we saw the display of Military activity at the Airport last weekend - Years after they said they were holding the last Air Show. Isn't the message that they also have a stakeholder interest?

Of course the UK has a stakeholder interest in Gibraltar and the MoD remain an important part of our relationship with Britain and a welcome member of the community.

Q. Do you think Spain is seeking to have a stakeholder interest in Gibraltar?

Well, Spain has no stakeholder interest in anything that happens in Gibraltar be it on the civilian side or the military. We have made that clear.

The Gibraltar Government has made that clear publicly when, for example, there are calls from political quarters and other quarters in Spain that Gibraltar should not be used for nuclear submarines. That is an internal matter.

Of course, as a neighbour, Spain has got the right to express its views just as France might about what happens in the neighbouring parts of Belgium or something like that.

Gibraltar Government would not engage in any process that had the effect that you describe in the question.

What we are working at, for the benefit of Gibraltar and the Campo, is a process for achieving as much as can be achieved within the parameters of having Gibraltar and Spain with diametrically opposed positions on matters such as sovereignty and issues of self-determination. That is the territory that we are moving in. All sides are engaged in good faith in that initiative and I think it can only be of benefit to Gibraltar.

That is not going to be stopped by one or two individuals who become uncomfortable and suspicious the moment Spain says that she wants to deal with us a little bit better.

When Spain is nasty they complain about Spain being nasty. And when they (Spain) say that they want to stop being quite so nasty to us and engage us in a process, those same people worry about Spain not being so nasty.

Look, people have to get over that psychosis.

What we have to do in Gibraltar and what the Government is doing is; firmly defend and protect our political rights as a people, our sovereignty and rights to self-determination and beyond that have the best possible neighbourly co-operative working relationship with Spain which is what I think the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians want the Government to be doing.

Q. Do you think Spain has really changed? Has it changed sufficiently to cope with issues like Constitutional Reform?

As I said, this process has nothing to do with the constitutional reform proposals and you will recall that you yourself carried an interview with Bernardino Leon a few months back in which he said he fully understood that the people of Gibraltar wanted constitutional advancement with UK and that this was not a problem for Spain provided it did not alter Gibraltar’s international status or words to that effect.

We don’t agree with that last bit but at least it demonstrates that the Spanish Government is not against constitutional reform per se.

From our point of view we have made it clear that the trilateral process, which is about neighbourly co-operation, clearly has nothing to do with the constitutional reform proposals in the sense that it does not displace or contradict this.

The Gibraltar Government would not accept a process of dialogue about co-operation and bridge building with Spain on non-sovereignty or political rights issues if it came at the expense of having to freeze our political relationship with Britain into a 1969 colonial mechanism. We have said that publicly and Spain and UK know this.

These things are simply not hostage to one another.

The constitutional reform process will continue in parallel with the dialogue process.


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