Tourists walk past a broken road sign pointing to the border. REUTERS
While the Gibraltar conflict is gradually slipping from the national headlines, the friction continues with an exchange of statements from both sides of the border.
On Tuesday Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo criticised the “outstretched hand” approach of the previous socialist government with policies that, he claimed, “had obtained no results whatsoever”.
Margallo put the recent conflict, sparked by concrete blocks being put into the sea to create an artificial reef, down to Gibraltar’s continual breach of European legislation regarding the environment and stressed that Spain would take any matters in which it considers that the Rock violates legislation to the EUand international tribunals.
He had no qualms about stating that the Rock acted as a tax haven, questioning how such a small territory can be fourth in the world in terms of income per capita.
Nevertheless García-Margallo did stress the Spanish government’s willingness to talk with Gibraltar on certain subjects. Sovereignty, however, is an issue that Spain would only approach with the UK.
The minister also welcomed the Gibraltar government’s changes to nature protection legislation that would allow Spanish fishermen to fish in disputed waters. The Gibraltar Government has stressed that this change to permit sustainable fishing has been planned for months and is not a consequence of the current conflict.
The Gibraltar government has also reacted strongly to Spanish ministers’ claims that the Rock does nothing to control tobacco smuggling, as a way of justifying the long queues caused by stricter controls on the Spanish side of the border.
“ This is completely untrue and a distortion aimed at further misleading the Spanish public about the reality of Gibraltar,” said a statement from the Government.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo is taking legal action against the Spanish organisation Manos Limpias, which recently complained to the EU that he, as the representative of Gibraltar, breached community legislation and the UN law of the sea convention.
Picardo accuses Manos Limpias of making defamatory statements regarding the Chief Minister’s attitude towards smuggling and money laundering.
Meanwhile tension continues at the Gibraltar frontier as residents, workers and visitors queue to cross. On Wednesday a Spanish Guardia Civil officer was run over by a motorbike that was trying to avoid the customs control, reported the Ministry of the Interior. The officer sustained minor injuries.
A similar incident occurred on August 6th when a car carrying “several cartons of illegal contraband cigarettes” failed to stop at the border controls.