Gibraltar government welcomes EU 'concern' and offer to facilitate talks on problems at the Gibraltar - Spain frontier - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Gibraltar government welcomes EU 'concern' and offer to facilitate talks on problems at the Gibraltar - Spain frontier

Monday, 26 November 2012
The Gibraltar government has warmly welcomed an offer from the European Commission to facilitate technical talks between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK on the practical operation and resolution of lengthy delays frequently experienced at the border with Spain.

It is the first time in many years that the Commission has publicly expressed “concern” at the delays and at the “clear inconvenience” which is being experienced by many people on both sides of the border. Yet, a Commission source is quoted by a Spanish journalist for the news agency Europa Press this weekend saying “in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Commission has no motive to doubt that Spain is taking the necessary measures to guarantee that EU rules are being properly applied and that controls are based on factors such as an evaluation of risk, as set out in customs legislation”.

The Commission’s offer comes shortly after a delegation led by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia travelled to the European Parliament in Strasbourg for a series of meetings with Gibraltar MEPs Sir Graham Watson and Ashley Fox as well as Algirdas Semeta, the European Commissioner responsible for the Customs Union and Taxation.

In that meeting, Dr Garcia presented detailed statistics showing the average and maximum delays to traffic for every day of this year and also presented photographs of queues of pedestrians and vehicles. Afterwards, Sir Graham Watson saidI think Commissioner Semeta has taken ministers' views on board and will keep the Gibraltar Government informed on developments”. Sir Graham also used a one-minute speech in the European Parliament to call on the European Union to intervene to bring ‘sanity’ to the situation.

The Gibraltar Government has submitted a dossier to the Commission in which it was made clear that the delays occur primarily as a result of the Customs procedure that Spain implements at the border. Explaining that this means vehicles are often stopped and searched in the green channel, in a way which causes tailbacks to traffic, instead of being pulled to one side.

The government accepts that “one side of that border is in the Customs Union and the other side is notstating thatthis is beyond dispute. However, the practical layout and procedures on the ground need to be reassessed with a view to improving the lives of many thousands of EU nationals from Gibraltar, Spain and elsewhere who cross that frontier on a daily basis”.

Around 8,000-12,000 people (many of them Spanish citizens) cross into Gibraltar every day to work and these people are being forced to endure hours of queuing both into and out of the territory. Current delays at the frontier exceed five or six hours and if deliberately imposed constitute a breach by Spain of the EU principle of freedom of movement of persons.

The government has also taken the decision to set up a video livestream of the frontier queue online 24 hours a day every day to allow people who want to go to Spain to monitor the state of the queue and also to gather further evidence of the delays.

Commenting on his first trip to the Parliament in Strasbourg, Dr Garcia said: “The visit to Strasbourg has proved to be very useful. A number of matters now need to be followed up. This was the product of an excellent programme which was prepared for the Government at very short notice by the office of Sir Graham Watson and I am very grateful for this assistance and support.

The delegation met with Ashley Fox MEP on the matter of on-line gaming and the EU’s objectives in this field since Mr Fox is the Parliament’s rapporteur. The delegation also a separate discussion with the former rapporteur, German Liberal MEP Jürgen Creutzmann.

Ashley Fox, together with his Conservative colleague Charles Tannock (remember the 'Gibraltar, Español!' incident?), have recently tabled a Parliamentary question (P-010225/2012) to the European Commission asking it to investigate “whether these allegations are a deliberate attempt by Spain to make life more difficult for Gibraltarians and therefore constitute economic sanctions against the territory of another Member State (the UK)?”.

Similarly, Conservative MEP Julie Girling took the matter direct to the Foreign Secretary William Hague and asked what he was planning to do about the latest outrage with the corvette “Vencedora”. “His reply was straight forward; he said that we will respond robustly as we must do in this case making it clear that he would be summoning the Spanish Ambassador,she reports. “This is of course very welcome but I do wonder how long we can tolerate this constant pushing of the boundaries by the Spanish and what the long term answer is.

She also revealed she and Giles Chichester have accepted the invitation of the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and will visit Gibraltar in February.

UPDATE 30/11/12:

Axel Voss MEPIn a politically interesting development, a German MEP that sits in the same political group as MEPs from Spain’s ruling Popular Party, has tabled a parliamentary question asking the European Commission to investigate the “disproportionate manner” in which Spain has stepped up checks at the border with Gibraltar.

Axel Voss, a member of the Christian Democratic Union, tabled the question after learning that German tourists had been caught up for hours in a nightmarish queue last October 14.

Even though Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area or the EU customs union, these measures appear to be unreasonable,he says in his question dated 29 November, asking: “in general, what is the Commission’s view on border checks at an external border of the EU where every car is inspected rather than spot checks being carried out? What opportunities does the Commission see for improving the situation?

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