Tension escalates between U.K.-Spain over Gibraltar

There is a sudden spike in the Anglo-Spanish conflict over Gibraltar as Spain has threatened to impose border charges and close airspace which can turn into a form of economic blockade of the peninsula.

Where is Gibraltar?

Screenshot_5Gibraltar, less than six square kilometres, is a limestone outcrop at the mouth of the Mediterranean. The Rock- as it is popularly known – is a British Overseas Territory, although Spain, which it borders, also claims sovereignty. The people who live there are British citizens but they run their own affairs under a chief minister.

How Gibraltar is governed?

Gibraltar is a self-governing territory in all matters – including taxation – except foreign policy and defence, which are in the hands of the UK government.

Strategic Importance of Gibralatar:

It is strategically important as located at the mouth of the Mediterranean only 20km (12 miles) from the north coast of Africa. It has a NATO base, including a port and airstrip. 

What is the UK-Spain-Gibraltar conflict?

The conflict over the sovereignty of Gibraltar is not new but has been for centuries. It is this conflict which has manifested itself in the form of a dispute over fishing rights. Both Spain and Gibraltar have claimed jurisdiction over the waters off the Rock, and both sides have complained about breach into what they claim are their waters. Both nations have also invoked environmental laws in a bid to strengthen their claims.

The tension between the two sides escalated when Gibraltar – without prior notice- dropped concrete blocks into the bay to create an artificial reef to encourage sea life to flourish in what it sees as its marine reserve. Spain claimed that it has contravened its own environmental laws and damaged its fishing industry, because Spanish fishing nets were in danger of catching on the concrete reef blocks.

What Spain has threatened to do?

Spain has imposed more rigorous border checks at the crossing point between Spain and Gibraltar which led to extremely long traffic queues. Spain is also contemplating introducing a 50 euro (£43) fee to cross the border, which is at Spain’s southern tip and has also threatened to close its airspace to flights heading to Gibraltar. The Spanish tax authorities can launch an investigation into property owned by around 6,000 Gibraltarians in neighboring parts of Spain and the law can be changed so that online gambling companies operating from Gibraltar have to use Spanish servers if they want to operate in Spain, thus coming under Madrid’s taxation regime. Spain can also stop concrete and other materials being brought in through the border for the building of the reef.

Is fishing the only issue annoying Spain?

No. Apart from fishing there are other issues too. There is considerable traffic between Spain and the Rock, including people who cross the border daily to live and work, but Madrid alleges that the border is being abused. Other problems include Cigarette smuggling and circumventing of Spanish residency taxes as Spain see it a corporate tax haven which allows companies and wealthy individuals to avoid paying millions.

Is this conflict over Gibraltar new?

No. The conflict has continued for centuries. First Spain fought Moorish invaders. Then it lost Gibraltar to an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704. The Spanish, despite formally ceding it to London in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, have wanted it back ever since. Under Franco, Spain cut Gibraltar off by sealing its frontier.

In 1984 the Spanish and UK governments started negotiations, but the process eventually crumbled over Spain’s demands that the territory should revert to full Spanish sovereignty after 50 years of shared control. However, the border was reopened in 1985.

The Cordoba Agreement:

The Cordoba Agreement was signed in 2006 between the governments of Spain, the UK and Gibraltar. The pact included deals on issues like border crossings and access for flights. It also committed them to a tripartite forum for regular talks, but Madrid is not happy to abide by it.

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