A clash of statements threatens to cloud the Gibraltar agreement to avoid a hard Brexit at the gate.
The text establishes that the Rock will be part of the Schengen zone and guarantees the free movement of people. But who will have the last word on who can access the territory?
The preliminary agreement between Madrid and London must now become a treaty. The European Commission has already received the text. “At the moment we are examining the agreement reached by Madrid and London on New Year’s Eve regarding Gibraltar. And we are working to obtain the mandate from the Council to start formal negotiations,” explained Daniel Ferrie, spokesman for the European Commission.
The negotiation can last six months. And according to experts, the devil hides in the details. Especially with regard to the presence of Spanish police in the port and airport of Gibraltar. A hard pill to digest on the Rock.
“While the parties negotiated discreetly, it was easier to find a solution. Now with all the parties pending, for Gibraltar to finally accept that the last word is going to correspond to Spain, as there is no other option, it will be singularly difficult”, affirms Jesús Verdú, professor at the University of Cádiz. “I think Gibraltar will accept it eventually, but it will not be easy. And it will need an exercise either of a certain make-up or compensation in the negotiating process.”
The bomb exploded when the main minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, affirmed through a tweet that “only Gibraltar will decide who enters Gibraltar and the Spanish will not exercise any control in the port or in the Gibraltar airport now or in four years’ time . “
He was thus responding to statements by the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, who in an interview with the newspaper El País stated that “the last word on who enters Gibraltar will be said by Spain.”
The solution goes through Frontex. The European agency could deploy its agents at the airport facilities under the EU flag. And the database could be controlled remotely by Spain.
“Everything seems to indicate that there is a Spanish desire to adopt a very discreet profile in such a way that the presence of uniformed police officers or the Civil Guard is not visible in the airport facilities”, adds Professor Verdú.
If the friction is overcome and the Treaty is approved, the border will cease to be at the gate to move to the port and the airport. And paradoxically, the territory of Gibraltar would be more intricate than ever in the European context.