Friday, February 27, 2009

Gibraltar territorial waters and sovereignty once more under threat from Spanish bullying

In an alarming move over Gibraltar territorial waters, the European Commission has apparently accepted a Spanish request to designate an area of Gibraltar waters as an EU environmentally-sensitive site under Spain’s responsibility.

Reports in the media say officials in Brussels did this even though much of the area included, historically, are British territorial waters and had already been listed by the UK as a European protected site nearly three years ago.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, which entered into force in 1995, set a new standard of 12 nautical miles. Most countries, including member states of the European Union, are signatories to the Convention. It applies to Gibraltar.

Spain added a comment regarding Gibraltar at the time of its adherence to the Convention which is of no legal effect in modifying the terms of the Convention. It does, however, record the view taken by Spain on this point, a view which no other signatory to the Convention accepts or accedes to.

Under the Convention, Gibraltar generates its own 'Territorial Sea' of 12 nautical miles, or out to median lines where other states' coastlines are under 24 nautical miles distant from Gibraltar.

The image, (top left - courtesy of, shows the current position to the North West and South of Gibraltar but not to the East/South East. This is because, although Spain and Morocco each have claimed the 12 nautical miles of the Convention (although Spain refuses to accept part of Morocco's calculation of the median line to the West), Gibraltar has not yet extended its legal jurisdiction from 3 to 12 miles, so part of the waters to the East/South East remain international waters, though it is open to Gibraltar to annex these waters to its jurisdiction in accordance with its rights under the UN Convention.

Now, the move by the EU officials, prompted by Spain, at the very least, is bound to create a messy legal overlap and threatens to spark yet another row over the jurisdiction of Gibraltar waters.

Both the British and Gibraltar Governments have yet to publicly react to the development, but the GSLP/Liberals Opposition last night insisted this could not go unchallenged. "This situation represents an escalation of the Spanish position in relation to Gibraltar’s territorial sea," the Opposition said.

"Madrid was initially content simply to restate their political opinion and to protest at the Eastside project or the exploration of the wreck of HMS Sussex.

This takes the dispute a step further and the UK cannot continue to look the other way at a time when Gibraltar’s sovereign rights are being challenged in such a blatant manner!"

The Spanish designation, known as Estrecho Oriental, (see image right) covers the waters off the east side of the Rock and south of Europa Point. This is precisely the area included in the EU list by the UK in 2006.

The Spanish move was also criticised yesterday by the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS ), which also urged the Gibraltar and British Governments to take swift action to clarify the matter.

In a statement, GONHS said it was "astonishing" that the UK had either failed to spot the Spanish designation, or chosen not to challenge it.

The Spanish designation in effect gives Spain legal obligations and responsibilities over Gibraltar waters in relation to nature protection. That includes responsibility to undertake assessments and monitor these areas for wildlife, threats, and other activities with environmental implications. For GONHS, this position is unacceptable.

Let me say... for this Gibraltarian, and I am sure I echo the sentiments of ALL Gibraltarians... this position is also unacceptable to me too!

This afternoon, Gibraltar's Progressive Democratic Party also issued a statement, saying that "the designation of Gibraltar waters by Spain, as if they belonged to it, is simply part of Spain’s continuing campaign against the rights of the people of Gibraltar".

Noting Spain's current somewhat surprising belligerent mood, the PDP said:

"These instances are now becoming so common that the whole idea of a 'new' attitude prevailing in Spain (towards Gibraltar) has fallen badly into disrepute.

No-one in Gibraltar can surely believe the protestations that Spain has adopted a more modern attitude of respect to Gibraltar when the examples of Spain obstructing or attacking our rights are occurring on an almost daily basis."

The PDP make an emphatic call on the Gibraltar Government, to take this issue up in its talks with Britain and Spain. They said that the Government "needs to emphasise to Spain, in no uncertain terms, that this guerrilla warfare on all things
Gibraltarian, outside the Cordoba process, is unsustainable and will inevitably sour any prospect of an enduring climate of respect between our two communities".

In a note of sharp rebuke, the PDP ask:

"What is the point of the pretence of cooperation and respect, when outside the Cordoba talks Spain behaves in a completely different manner?"

The PDP say this latest act is "a purported assertion of Spanish sovereignty over our waters", adding that one of the issues of most concern is "that the information annexed to the particular Commission decision was 'based on data proposed, transmitted and validated by Spain and the United Kingdom' among other States". The PDP quite rightly ask:

"Why was this not spotted beforehand by the United Kingdom or Gibraltar Governments?"

Apart from making a political or diplomatic protest, the PDP are calling on the Gibraltar Government "to make representations at the highest level" to ensure that "the EU itself does not adopt the Spanish classification in its reference documents, as this, in effect, threatens our sovereignty".

The PDP statement concludes by saying that the Government should "take legal advice as to whether there are any legal routes open to it to remedy this matter".

To my mind, they should not lose any time in focussing on this. They certainly shouldn't wait for the UK to show any initiative... as I think, what with turning a blind eye to Spain's machinations in the EU in respect to Gibraltar, the falling apart of the economy and chasing banker wankers' pensions (another matter which they should not have allowed to occur in the first place!)... the Brit Government... is otherwise engaged!

When WILL Spain ever stop banging on about the sovereignty of Gibraltar?!!