BIG NEWS: inspectors rule no evidence of Spain breaking EU law at Gibraltar border - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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BIG NEWS: inspectors rule no evidence of Spain breaking EU law at Gibraltar border

Friday, 15 November 2013
The team of officials that travelled to the Gibraltar/Spain border on 25 September have delivered their report - there is no evidence that Spain broke EU law by imposing tight controls at its border with Gibraltar.

In a statement during the daily news briefing on 15 November 2013, European Commission spokesman Michele Cercone said that although management of the border was "challenging" there was no evidence that "checks at the crossing point have infringed relevant provision of the union law".

On the basis of its observations during this technical visit and of the information provided by both authorities, the Commission has not found evidence to conclude that the checks on persons and goods as operated by the Spanish authorities at the crossing point of La Línea de la Concepción have infringed the relevant provisions of Union law,the Commission statement read.

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The report calls on Spain to streamline border crossings by expanding the infrastructure, and demands that both countries work together more to combat cigarette smuggling, with the UK asked to share more intelligence on the issue with Spain.

The report gives both sides six months to respond to the recommendations, and the European Commission "reserves the right" to revise its view on the legality of Spanish action and "pay another visit" to the Spain-Gibraltar crossing point if necessary. Many residents of Gibraltar reacted angrily to the news. Tony Evans, on Twitter, wrote: Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson couldn’t believe the report. In a statement he said: "I am deeply disappointed in the European Commission's conclusion there has been no breach of EU law in Spain's checks at the border. I completely disagree."
"It sounds to me as if Spanish officials have succeeded in nobbling this report. As the editor of Private Eye once said, if that's justice then I'm a banana."
"I will continue to press the Commission on this issue and have requested a meeting with the relevant Commissioners next week. I will do all I can to press them to ask the right questions as they continue to monitor the situation."

Gibraltar is not part of the European Union's Schengen passport-free area, so travelers between Spain and Gibraltar are subject to passport and customs checks. Last month Sir Graham suggested that it was time that Gibraltar joined the Schengen area.

The three Conservative MEPs for the region, Giles Chichester, Ashley Fox and Julie Girling issued a joint statement in which they describe the findings as "deeply disappointing and questionable". They said:
"It seems likely that Spain has effectively behaved itself for the time the inspectors were there. This is not surprising... the law rarely gets broken when the police are around. Of course the conclusion is deeply disappointing and we do not believe that this questionable report reflects adequately what has happened there. In effect, this inspection has failed. We now insist that the Commission must continue monitoring what happens at this crossing, but in future we believe the inspectors should work discreetly and unannounced."
A spokesperson for the UK government was similarly disappointed, adding that Spain is still acting "unlawfully" at the border with Gibraltar by imposing "disproportionate" checks. The spokesperson said: “We remain confident that the Spanish government has acted – and continues to act – unlawfully, through introducing disproportionate and politically motivated checks at the Gibraltar-Spain border. The fact that the Commission has not found evidence that EU law has been infringed is not the same as concluding that Spain has not acted unlawfully. The border operated significantly more smoothly than normal during the Commission visit.

However the opposite view was taken in Spain. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría is quoted by El Pais as saying: “the executive is satisfied because Brussels said Spain is not violating community regulations. It has proven us right.

The Gibraltar government said it also still considered the checks to be unlawful, but said the recommendations made by the commission represented progress:

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