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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

See you in Court? UK-Spanish dispute over Gibraltar rumbles on

The HMS Westminster leaving Portsmouth for Gibraltar
A week on there appears to have been no progress on the Gibraltar front - the Gibraltarian authorities are still not budging over the artificial reef, the Spanish are maintaining their additional burdensome controls and the UK is still "considering" a legal challenge under EU law.

As we have argued, neither a challenge on free movement rules nor one on "proportional" border checks carries a guarantee of success due to the ambiguity of EU law. Equally, the Spanish feel they have a strong legal case against the artificial reef based on the very specific wording of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht - meaning a retaliatory case is not out of the question.

An alternative could be an individual or collective challenge by Gibraltarians (or even Spaniards working in Gibraltar) to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, but that could take a long time.

Since then, tensions have escalated with the dispatching of several Royal Navy vessels to Gibraltar (reportedly as part of a long planned manoeuvre) and claims in the Spanish media that the country could from a united diplomatic front with Argentina, which of course has its own axe to grind with the UK. Although we think a diplomatic solution is still the most likely outcome, if none of the sides are willing to back down the UK may be forced to actually initiate legal proceedings, most likely under a 'fast-track' arrangement, as it will by then not have many other practical options.

While initiating a legal challenge may itself force all the sides to resume negotiations, should Madrid still not back down and should the ECJ rule in its favour, this dispute may have more fundamental repercussions on the UK's future in the EU.


jon livesey said...

"... this dispute may have more fundamental repercussions on the UK's future in the EU."

Yes, and as Lenin was fond of saying "The worse the better."

Politics is all about perception, and if the EU and/or the European Court produce a ruling that seems to impinge on UK sovereign territory, that will be a very powerful boost to the "out" vote.

And all the middle class pseudo-intellectual nit-picking and logic-chopping in the World won't help.

Rik said...

This looks like Jon mentiones to turn into a PR disaster for both Spain and the EU.
Just some points.

1. It brings up the Catalunya issue again, which was nicely asleep. Now one of the main independence parties there have seen it as an event that could them bring back in the media's attention again. A serious attempt for independence there will tank Spain simply look at debt, GDP per capita and tax revenue all will tank big time.

2. Simply shows to the better informed parts (including markets) of the world that Spain is clueless. At least they will see that as a very likely explanation of what is happening. Combined with having robbed the local pensionfunds to the max and banks facing an EU stresstest (basically the present deficit financing in considerable danger).

3. Will be considered very negatively by the UK population. Pure nationalism for a part but also as further proof of the dysfunctionality (and ultimately usefulness) of the EU.

4. Anyway it looks time for 'Referendum Dave' again. Likely a referendum will get a result Stalin and Co would be proud off and looks good on 'Dave' in more than one way. And awful on Spain.

5. As said earlier the EU should have killed this long ago. They are hardly waiting for another PR disaster, while this clearly has potential to become one.
Not only in the UK, it is very unlikely that it will be received positively in especially the North. This is simply not the way people in the North like things to be solved. And Spain and Co to be closer to themselves by further EZ integration.

6. A courtcase is from a PR perspective the worst that can happen. Very likely it will bring the issue up again at a time where otherwise things very likely would have been forgotten. As far as media attention goes you get 2 problems iso now one, whatever is the outcome of the case.
It is not as OE seems to indicate only in case of a UK negative ruling (that would however bring it to a next level) it is happening anyway, simply because of media attention.
Anyway even a loss would have its positives: opens a lot of possibilities re borderprotection against eg a 'Balkan invasion'.

7. Spain clearly doesnot look to have an exit strategy on this. Very unlikely they will get their way. So basically it is mainly hoping that the media find other things to report upon. Which is a very unsafe bet imho. The UK press in general picks these things up as they are highly popular by its readership. Combined btw with the fact that the UK press is the source for non-financial news of much of the financial world.
On the homefront this might be slightly positive although a lot of people will think that it is desparation and 'if they donot have other priorities like youth unemployment'.
But having to back off one way or another is very likely to be the reverse and mainly playing with the now pros and much less with the others. Clearly not a zero sum game but a clear negative one. People donot like to back a loser and Rajoy is likely simply confirming with a back off that image. Which could make backing off lateron even worse in PR respect.
As said simply looks desperate and in need of a distraction.

8. There always will be a referendum before giving it back would be even close and as said earlier extremely likely with East Block outcomes. After which unless you want to be seen as totally undemocratic any support from real outsiders would be unrealistic. And simply require Cameron or any other PM to to do a Thatcher and draw a line in the sand. It is simply not going to happen

JMR said...

Why, if Spain truly wishes to have Gibraltar "returned" to it, does it not try wooing the Gibraltarians instead of continually antagonising them? One suspects that it is all play-acting; with a virtually independent Gibraltar in Spain, what is Cataluña going to do? And the Basque country? From Madrid that doesn't bear thinking about. And might not a currently fairly quiescent Morocco start making a bit more of a fuss about the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla? The idea of Spain and Argentina getting together at the UN to complain about British colonialism is puerile.

Anonymous said...

The Spanish aspirations on the Rock are simply not negotiable. They are acting like brats to divert attention from their current domestic problems. They are damaging the interests of a large number of their citizens who enjoy employment in Gib. They seem to forget that we could retaliate by demanding Menorca back etc. They are sinking to the base level of Argentina whom they even seek to team up with.It would save a lot of trouble if they dropped their impertinence for good. They are out of order.

Anonymous said...

Has Spain even considered the impact on tourism (surely one of the only economic positives that Spain has)?

Many of my friends (myself included) will not be going back there anytime soon, especially if they attempt to 'partner' with Argentina on this matter.

Anonymous said...

The link with Argentina is obvious Argentina tried to take the falkland isles because it had huge domestic economic problems, Spain only mess with gibralter under the same conditions. the eussr if it had any other idea than a huge power grab would have intervened without the need to ask, but it doesn't care about anything other than how much money can it screw out of the nationals, it is ony there for the benefit of politicians anyway.