European Union sets Gibraltar mission as tensions simmer

BRUSSELS Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:12pm EDT

1 of 9. British Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Mounts Bay is towed towards the port after arriving at Gibraltar bay August 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jon Nazca

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is to send a fact-finding mission to Gibraltar to examine the legitimacy of border controls imposed by Spain in a growing dispute over the British Mediterranean enclave.

It broke out after Gibraltar's construction of an artificial reef using concrete blocks in the bay off the tiny territory. Gibraltarian authorities say the move was necessary to help marine life recover from overfishing.

Spanish fishermen counter that it hampers their access to certain waters. Spain, in turn, has toughened its border checks, leading to long queues for workers and tourists entering Gibraltar.

While Spain has threatened to take its claim on Gibraltar to the United Nations, Britain last week called on the Commission, the European Union's executive, to send in monitors to check whether Spain's controls breach EU rules.

And on Monday, as British warships arrived in Gibraltar on a previously scheduled, routine port of call, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spoke by telephone.

"They agreed that a Commission fact-finding mission should as soon as possible examine in loco the border control, movement of people and goods questions," a Commission statement said.

"President Barroso expressed his hope that Spain and the UK will address these matters in a way that is in line with their common membership in the EU."

The British Foreign Office declined to comment.

MATTER OF INTERPRETATION

A Commission official who asked not to be named said Spain is entitled to carry out border checks but these must be proportionate - a definition open to interpretation and that is what the fact-finders will investigate.

Britain, and therefore Gibraltar, is not a member of the Schengen open border agreement between many EU states. Spain is a Schengen participant.

Although British, Spanish and Gibraltarian authorities have said the navy's arrival at the British overseas territory was long scheduled, some in Spain regarded it as provocative.

At about 10 a.m. (4:00 a.m. EDT), the frigate HMS Westminster sailed into the port of Gibraltar flanked by two smaller ships.

It was followed an hour later by the auxiliary ship Lyme Bay, part of a task force of four warships and five other vessels that left Portsmouth and Plymouth about a week ago for exercises in the Mediterranean and the Gulf with various allies.

Spain lays claim to the territory, with a population of just 30,000, which it ceded to Britain by treaty 300 years ago.

As well as tightening border controls, Spain has threatened to charge tourists a 50 euro ($67) border levy, restrict the use of Spanish air space or block Gibraltar's lucrative ship fuelling business.

In the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Monday, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo accused the Spanish government of creating conflict to distract attention from corruption allegations against the ruling People's Party.

"In the 19th century, gunboats were used to do politics. "Today our aim is to improve the living conditions of our citizens by means of cooperation," Picardo said.

"Unfortunately, Spanish politicians are currently bringing the situation to a head and therefore making things worse for their own citizens in the surrounding regions."

(Additional reporting by Silvio Castellanos in Gibraltar, Michelle Martin in Berlin and Andrew Osborn in London, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (3)
Bob9999 wrote:
“It broke out after Gibraltar’s construction of an artificial reef using concrete blocks in the bay off the tiny territory. Gibraltarian authorities say the move was necessary to help marine life recover from overfishing.

“Spanish fishermen counter that it hampers their access to certain waters….”

In other words, the overfishing being done by fisherman from Span, who are now complaining to their government because they want to be able to continue overfish.

Aug 19, 2013 2:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Unbiasview wrote:
The surrounding waters around the Gibraltar belong to Spain under the treaty of Gibraltar. The artificial reef is in breach of the treaty of Utrech. The Brits want to seize the Gibraltar with force but the sticking point is that Spain has the reserve right to the Gibraltar . The artificial reef is an ecological man made disaster. The Spaniards have been fishing in those waters legally for hundreds of years and now like pirates the Gibraltarians want to also steal that from the Spaniards too.

Aug 19, 2013 5:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jupiler8912 wrote:
Brits will never swallow they used to run the waves , a long time ago , very long time ago…Now they just are a declining paper industry nation without any say in the new world…
Go home David , this rock is not along the Channel…

Aug 20, 2013 5:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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