This has been day 1 of Brexit for Spanish workers crossing the Gibraltar border

There is a narrow line that separates two worlds diverse and at the same time symbiotic, on the southernmost isthmus of the Iberian Peninsula, it is the border that divides the towns of La Línea de la Concepción, Spain, and Gibraltar, United Kingdom.

Economically, the first has about 60,000 inhabitants and an unemployment rate that is close to 40%, the second has half the inhabitants and 1% unemployment. Geographically, the former can isolate – or give access to – the latter to the rest of the continent.

Nail 30,000 people they cross this border every day, more than half for work reasons such as Alfredo Valencia. Monday, January 4, was not a day like any other, it was the first working day with Brexit in force.

Valencia has been working as a deliveryman in Gibraltar for 12 years and these days he is wisely celebrating the preliminary agreement that will “raise the gate” between the two locations, as announced by the Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya, last Thursday.

“Hopefully it will also put down the diplomatic conflicts with Gibraltar that, unfortunately, abound a lot, between Gibraltar, Spain and England,” Valencia tells Euronews minutes before crossing the gate, simply showing his ID to the agents in both parts of the post frontier.

A fast, daily and uncertain transaction until González Laya’s press conference, four days before.

A few meters from him, a group of half a dozen journalists await the irruption of workers to interview, who arrive with a dropper.

“We hope that the things that remain to be clarified are qualified, as who controls the passage ”, adds the worker, originally from La Línea.

Cross-border workers like him argue that the relationship between the two cities transcends geopolitics and goes back to a long history in common.

As an example, the statue inaugurated in 2003 that represents a man who walks with a bicycle on his way to the border, a tribute “to the thousands of Gibraltarians” who went to earn their livelihood on the Rock, says the City Council of La Línea.

It is also the story of the Valencia family. Before him, his father worked on the Rock, as well as a brother of his who already has more than three decades with a contract on the Gibraltarian side.

For this reason, he highlights the “thousands of direct and indirect jobs created thanks to Gibraltar”: “we have had, have and will have ties of friendship with Gibraltarians because in these cases emotional situations have no borders. The bad thing that happens to them affects us and vice versa ”, he points out.

More measures to improve life in La Línea

Despite the result of the British referendum in 2016, the number of Spaniards and Europeans with contracts on the Rock of Gibraltar has not ceased to increase, it is more it has gone from 12,000 to 14,000 in the last four years of uncertainty.

The area returns to resume its pulse and breathe – after seeing the threat of turbulence in the form of hard Brexit recede – with the pre-agreement reached in extremis on December 31 between the United Kingdom, Spain and Gibraltar and that places the latter within the Schengen area.

But cross-border workers and unions are now calling for steps to be taken to ease of passage and special tax advantages to attract investment and more employment.

For Valencia, “no government to date has been able to respond to La Línea and a Campo de Gibraltar with 35% technical unemployment.”

“So now the Government of Spain has to put the batteries and activate income under budget to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of La Línea and the rest of the Campo de Gibraltar “he comments, regarding the promises to establish a “zone of shared prosperity” with the new Schengen zone.

“We are suffering not only from the conflict with Gibraltar but also due to the situation of COVID-19 that we have to also, unfortunately it is affecting all sectors ”, he emphasizes.

Both the Rock and the neighboring region of Campo de Gibraltar – where 300,000 people live – are under confinement these days due to the worsening of the contagion figures and the appearance of the British strain.

The mandatory closure for many establishments and the restriction of movements for health reasons has meant that the influx through the gate is being minimal.

The worker affirms that the population of the area is fed up with broken promises.

“There was talk of creating a special tax zone for our zone. None of that has been done. It could be activated through financial aid, or tax cuts, something that can alleviate the pressure that businessmen in Campo de Gibraltar are suffering ”, he concluded.

“150 years of neglect”

“Our members have received the agreement quite well,” says Salvador Molina, president of the Socio-Cultural Association of Spanish Workers in Gibraltar, based in La Línea. Your first reaction is to remember “The great queues suffered for many years” on the gate.

Molina thus hopes that this problem of fluidity will be resolved thanks to the incorporation of Gibraltar into the Schengen area. “It’s great for entering and leaving the Rock and for La Línea and Gibraltar to continue being, as we have always been, sister peoples”He comments.

Moreno hopes that these new circumstances will create commercial and industrial opportunities for La Línea, especially if they are accompanied by fiscal measures. Add in this regard that “In Gibraltar the space is minimal, here we do have so that projects can be carried out”.

One of the most important aspects in the fine print of the future agreement to be developed is that the contribution in Spain and the retirement pension are resolved. “I have retired colleagues who started working in Gibraltar in 1986 and charge 400 or 500 pounds, which is 600 euros in exchange. A pensioner in Spain charges a minimum of 1,200 euros, ”Molina emphasizes.

The representative defines La Línea as a city of services “abandoned since its creation 150 years ago” by the different governments: “it is not only worth working in Gibraltar, we have to find ways for Gibraltarians to invest here and facilities for Spaniards who have business on the Rock halfway with Gibraltarians ”.

“The agreement in principle provides a crucial respite”

Union organizations on both sides of the border have welcomed the agreement. Of course, cautiously waiting to know more details.

For Manuel Triano, secretary in the Campo de Gibraltar of the Spanish union Commissions Workers, there would have been “a real economic drama” for this region if the approach of New Year’s Eve had not been reached.

“A new scenario opens in which many possibilities for complementary development can fit”, exposes.

Triano agrees that the Rock be integrated into Schengen territory and the customs union, since he argues that the eventual disappearance of that physical border can enhance “legal security that attracts many investors.”

In this regard, the Spanish Labor Commissions Union (CCOO) is also in favor of the establishment of a special tax regime for Campo de Gibraltar “to compete in a balanced way in the geographical area in which we operate, in which there are four different tax systems ”. Triano indicates that “our system is the one that presents the most disadvantages with respect to Ceuta, Morocco and Gibraltar”.

On the flat side – as Gibraltarians are popularly known – the Unite union has also welcomed the preliminary agreement. However, they indicate that they will study all the final details for a final position. “The agreement in principle provides a crucial respite to fully negotiate the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU, while avoiding the catastrophe that would have been a no-deal and a hard Brexit, “they said in a statement.

Rise in employment

Despite the outcome of the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the number of cross-border workers from Gibraltar has continued to grow. In fact, of the 12,361 employees (of which 7,153 are Spanish) that crossed the gate every day in that month has gone to 14,402 (9,248 Spaniards), according to the latest data published by the Government of Gibraltar.

Now, the social and economic agents in the area ask that Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar continue to increase these figures on both sides through the announced zone of shared prosperity to remove any new economic cloud completely.