Friday, March 27, 2009

Montegriffo comments on the question of a 'Spanish Gibraltar'

In a blog post just over a week ago, I asked the question... Can Gibraltarians ever envisage a Spanish Gibraltar?.

My question arose following comments I read in one of Gibraltar's daily newspapers, Panorama online and in my colleague Sancho's blog Tilting at Windmills.

These two articles carried comments attributed to Peter Montegriffo, the former GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) minister, who recently gave an interview to the Campo de Gibraltar newspaper, Europa Sur.

In this interview, Peter Montegriffo was quoted as saying that "the time was not ripe for a sovereignty solution" for Gibraltar and added, "adequate conditions must first be created before embarking on sovereignty talks".

Well, this really intrigued me!

When asked, in the Europa Sur interview, if he thought 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."

In our articles last week, both Sancho and I expressed a curiosity about the basis on which future talks on the sovereignty of Gibraltar could possibly be founded. Sancho put it in a nutshell:

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?

Sancho summarises the situation very well... which is why I was even more curious as to what Montegriffo was up to.

Well... my curiosity was answered... sooner than I thought! Peter Montegriffo got in touch with me and he very kindly clarified (corrected) a number of the points that were quoted, both here and in the other media sources. His comments make for interesting reading.

Anyone who is tired of the usual entrenched positions of "Gibraltar Espanol" on the one hand and "British we are... British we stay" on the other (as I am), and perhaps who is looking for a middle ground or alternatives to these stalemated positions, will be very interested in Peter Montegriffo's views.

In an exchange of emails with me, Peter firstly corrected the Panorama quote:

"In the Europa Sur article, what I actually said was that I personally do not think that the time is right for us to address the sovereignty issue at all. I did not incidentally use the word "ripe" as reported by Panorama."

On the question I raised, about whether Gibraltarians can ever "envisage a Spanish Gibraltar" and my curiosity as to what Montegriffo was up to, he said:

"I can assure you that I do not hold the view (and never have) that Gibraltar should become Spanish. But I do believe we can arrive at a Gibraltarian Gibraltar (namely a micro-State within the European Union), that deals with and neutralises (that does not mean gives in to) the Spanish claim."

Well... that's clear enough... and I for one am very interested in exploring this possibility of a 'micro-state within the European Union' or as others are calling it, 'the Andorran model'.

Following my blog post last week, I also opened a topic (and subsequent Poll) on this subject in Gibraltar News Online forum

When I asked if he would like to comment, either on this blog or in the Forum topic, in the hope of encouraging more debate on this issue, (something I am keen to do), Peter Montegriffo said:

"I am very happy to join any debate but given that no-one in Gibraltar (certainly not myself) is suggesting a Spanish Gibraltar, why run a poll with that question?

That sort of 'enquiry' in my view simply distorts the discussion that should be had about our future. It is not a choice between British or Spanish sovereignty which is what the debate is often reduced to."

Fair comment... and one that I very much agree with. However, in my own defence, I explained that when I created the topic, my intention was precisely to shake people's thinking on the issue of sovereignty... which was raised in the Europa Sur interview.

In our exchange, Montegriffo added:

"But what I have always had in mind is a Gibraltarian Gibraltar, which both Britain and Spain will come to accept.

This is what the poll should be asking and is a more proper reflection of my views.

Not a bad idea Peter! In fact, one that I welcome very much. My intention and hope is the same as Peter's... and that is to encourage and generate debate on these issues... in particular, and indeed as is happening.. to move on from these old, entrenched views.

In the event, that is exactly what is happening in the Forum topic, as subsequent comments have moved the conversation in the direction of a 'micro-state'... discussing, as one poster commented, "thinking out of the box" on the way ahead for Gibraltar.

But I am happy to accept Peter Montegriffo's suggestion for a future poll to encourage debate on this issue... and I have asked him to suggest what the question should be. I am hopefull that he accedes to my request... as his suggestion for a Poll question (and discussion on this point) would make for very interesting debate, I think.

My thanks to Peter Montegriffo, for the courtesy he has extended me to date, in clarifying and expanding on his views.

Montegriffo's future in Gibraltar politics

Since his resignation from Government in February 2000, Peter Montegriffo has officially been out of politics. However, as can be seen from these articles, he does comment on political issues from time to time.

As for the future, Peter has recently been described as "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.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, whilst I had his attention, I asked Peter, if this is the case... and if it isn't, what exactly is his political agenda for the future?

As I write, I am still awaiting his response... but I have a feeling he may be playing a little coy on this one!

Peter Montegriffo

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'.