Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can Gibraltarians ever envisage a Spanish Gibraltar?

Can Llanitos... Gibraltarians, ever envisage a Spanish Gibraltar? There's a question to ponder!

Personally, I don't think so. For ANY Gibraltarian, certainly of my generation, the possibility of a Spanish Gibraltar is anathema... it's simply unthinkable!

My question arises following recent comments apparently made by Peter Montegriffo, the former GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) minister, in an interview with the Campo de Gibraltar newspaper, Europa Sur.

I tried searching for this interview but was unable to find it in Europa Sur online. I can only assume it was only carried in the offline version.

I did however, find some 'third party' comments on this interview. Gibraltar's Panorama online carried an article on it yesterday and my colleague, Sancho, blogging over at Tilting at Windmills also made some interesting comments.

Peter Montegriffo is a lawyer and partner in Gibraltar law firm Hassans. He was Minister for Trade and Industry, with responsibility for economic development and financial services, in the first GSD Government, (deputy to Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister), between May 1996 and February 2000, when he resigned from politics to 'pursue other interests'.

Whilst Montegriffo comments on political matters from time to time, he has officially been out of politics since his resignation from government. Many however, believe he is merely biding his time until the present Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, steps down. It is thought that he will then 'throw his hat' into the GSD leadership race that will ensue.

In his blog comment, Sancho said:

Given that when the two big beasts of Gibraltar politics, Caruana and Bossano, step down the leadership of the Rock will be in a state of flux, it would be a brave man (or woman) that rules Montegriffo out of the top job. His views should be listened to.

Sancho may be over dramatising this... but he may have a point. Montegriffo certainly seems to have the attention of a few influential people in political circles... and not just in Gibraltar but across the border too. Montegriffo has long been the secretary of 'Mar del Sur', a Spanish socio-cultural association which seeks collaboration between the two sides of the frontier. The group is thought to have links with the PSOE party in Spain.

Anyway... it appears, that in this interview with Europa Sur, Montegriffo said that the time was not ripe for a sovereignty solution. He backs the Tripartite Forum, which he says is "making greater headway to remove the distrust that still exists between those on either side of the frontier". I would agree with him wholeheartedly on that as I also support this view.

Montegriffo, however, then added a surprising and intriguing comment. He said that "adequate conditions must first be created before embarking on sovereignty talks".

Asked if there is a solution to the sovereignty issue, he replied:

"Of course there is.

I have always thought it is possible to find a solution in the context of the European union, applying the democratic principles and of mutual respect that unite us."

Hmmm... well maybe if Spain ever grows up and allows their 'democratic priniciples' to mature... and maybe if they actually start to respect the democratically expressed wishes of a people... exemplified in at least three referenda over the last forty years... this may be so at some time in the future... but then again, pigs may fly!

Moving on... Montegriffo added:

"I think that at present the conditions are not there in Madrid or in Gibraltar to tackle an agreement on this topic, as there is still too much distrust as neighbours.

It will be premature at present to seek a solution, which is not urgent anyway."

Not urgent... no, or desired, at least by me and I am pretty sure, neither is it desired by the vast majority of Gibraltarians!

Sancho, in his post, summarises the situation succinctly:

I am curious by what the former GSD minister says in an interview with Campo de Gibraltar newspaper, Europa Sur. If he is quoted correctly he stated the time is not ripe for a sovereignty solution. He says that adequate conditions must first be created before embarking on sovereignty talks...but then goes on to say he believes that a future agreement on sovereignty can be reached.

I should add that he fully backs the tripartite process and closer links with the Campo de Gibraltar. However co-operation is one thing – sovereignty is quite another.

So why future talks?

Unless I am wrong, and I frequently am, the Spanish Government’s position is clear – it believes that Gibraltar should be an integral part of the nation and even joint sovereignty would only be a stepping stone on the road to that eventual goal. All the major parties are agreed on that stance.

In contrast the people of Gibraltar have indicated in two referenda that they totally reject any sovereignty deal with Spain. Hence we have two set positions – surrender and no surrender.

If Spain’s ambitions for Gibraltar and Gibraltarians ambitions for the Rock are totally at odds with each other - surely there is nothing to discuss.

Therefore unless Gibraltarians collectively are willing to go along the Spanish route talks can achieve nothing. Indeed you can’t have talks on sovereignty when sovereignty for Gibraltarians isn’t an issue.

Spain, or rather its government, isn’t going to change its stance – so is Gibraltar?

Curious Sancho?? You and me both! Curious as to what Montegriffo is up to! But... the question Sancho raises, is an interesting one... one that has been on my mind for some time too.

Frequent readers of my blog will know how I feel about Gibraltar's sovereignty. I have stated it quite clearly at the start of this post. For me... and for many Gibraltarians, at least those of my generation I'm sure, this is not an issue that is 'up for grabs'! I consistently maintain this:

Gibraltar belongs to the People of Gibraltar. It is neither Spain's to claim nor Britain's to give away!

But... Montegriffo's comment and Sancho's understandable question, bring up the issue, as I say, that is often on my mind these days. Will Gibraltar ever envisage the possibility of being Spanish viable?

Montegriffo, in his statement, seems to imply, that whilst conditions may not 'be there' in Madrid or in Gibraltar, to tackle an agreement on sovereignty now... they may be in the future?

Actually, I disagree with him with regards to Madrid. The right 'conditions' certainly seem to me to exist in Madrid. Sancho clearly also sees it this way.

Only last week, the foreign affairs committee in the Spanish 'Congreso' (parliament), in a rare display of unity, the ruling PSOE and the PP opposition parties came together and urged the Spanish government to renew their demands and talks over the sovereignty of Gibraltar. Futhermore, the demand for sovereignty over Gibraltar to be returned to Spain, is officially included in every Spanish legislature! So I cannot agree with Montegriffo on that point.

Now... as for Gibraltar... the right conditions are certainly not there now... but will they ever be??

I think most Gibraltarians of my generation would not think so. As I say, the question is anathema. Gibraltarians have been harrassed and bullied for decades. Many experienced the 12th 'siege' when the frontier was closed in 1969 and commercial, military and air travel restrictions were imposed on the community for the best part of twenty years. This dictatorial behaviour by Spain, which lasted long after Franco's death, has left huge scars on generations of Gibraltarians, who I may add, are little pacified by Spain's continued belligerent critical attitude and demands towards Gibraltar even today. A very strange policy for consistent Spanish governments to pursue and one that, only in recent years, has seen any softening, following the Cordoba Accord and the ongoing Tripartite Forum process.

Since the border was reopened in 1986, however, younger generations of Gibraltarians have been enjoying a different experience. These days there is wide cross border interaction, for shopping, travel and many other leisure activities. Young Gibraltarians are mixing more and more with their counterparts across the border, in a way which would have been unthinkable some years back... and of course, impossible through the late 70's and early 80's. Some Gibraltarians have even started choosing to go to Spanish universities, as opposed to the United Kingdom, (as has always been traditional), for their further education.

Of course, their new experience does not necessarily mean they are more easily disposed towards Spain, but I do sense a slight shift in the traditionally entrenched views.

Whether this means younger generations may be more disposed to look at the possibility of a Spanish Gibraltar, I would doubt it. But... if the penny were to finally drop with Spanish politicians... to take a more seductive, perhaps more mature and sensible approach to their politics towards Gibraltar... who might say what could be the result.

Are these the 'conditions' that Montegriffo has in mind for possible future talks? Quite possibly.

Generations of Gibraltarians have consistently said an emphatic NO to Spain in referendum after referendum. IF... (and this is a very big IF) Spain were to take a more relaxed approach, a more conciliatory and friendly... perhaps even more helpful approach towards Gibraltar, maybe even taking away those hateful intrusive border restrictions.... who knows what result a future referendum on the sovereignty of Gibraltar might throw up??

During my lifetime... I have seen the longed for but unimaginable happen. The collapse of Communism and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The taking down of the Berlin Wall. The end of sectarian killing and the coming of a (hopefully lasting) peace in Northern Ireland. I still live in hope of similar in the Middle East, Gaza and Israel.

A Spanish Gibraltar? Well... it's simply unthinkable, undesired... and complete anathema to me and my generation and all older surviving generations. Will this remain the same for future generations?

Perhaps... this is what the wily political lawyer is getting at! Whose to say what's round the corner?

For myself, I hope Spain continues their belligerent stance, pissing off all Gibraltarians... old and young, as they have been doing for centuries! Gibraltarians can live with that... we've been doing it for years. The alternative, at least for me... doesn't bear thinking about... and I very much hope the younger generations of Gibraltarians continue to see it this way... in perpetuity!

Update - 22nd March 2009 16:40:

Readers interested in this topic, may be interested to view/participate in this Poll I've set up, following a request from Forum member:

Discussion Forum > Poll: Will Gibraltarians ever envisage a Spanish Gibraltar?

You will need to be a Registered Member in the Forum to participate. Registering is easy and a simple process that only takes about 5 minutes of your time.


Giselle said...

thought provoking!

A Gibraltarian woman said...

The comment to a Spanish media by Peter Montegriffo about the Tripartite Forum where he says it is "making greater headway to remove the distrust that still exists between those on either side of the frontier" will have full backing from the majority of Gibraltarians.

What people in Gibraltar want most of all is to be allowed to carry on living their lives in peace and normality and to continue enjoying the links that they've enjoyed with Britain for the last 300 years.

There is absolutely no desire in this society (young or old) to change anything and there will not be in the forseeable future, or even in the distant future.

Peter Montegriffo may have his views but I can assure readers that he is in the very very small minority of people who think that maybe one day Gibraltarians might be inclined to change their sovereignty.

Anonymous said...

Spanish Gibraltar... sounds terrible to me. So would the Spanish want to see a Moroccan Ceuta and Melila? I guess not :)

Double standards...