Gibraltar: a bone of contention with Spain


Gibraltar est un territoire de 6,8 km² seulement, pourtant il est au coeur d’un conflit diplomatique profond entre le Royaume-Uni et l’Espagne depuis plusieurs décennies maintenant. Les rebondissements, à propos de l’appartenance de cette enclave britannique au sud du territoire espagnol, se sont accélérés ces derniers mois à cause de la construction d’un nouveau complexe touristique sur le Rocher, ce qui a entraîné un regain de tensions entre les deux États membres de l’Union Européenne.


Gibraltar is a rock in the Mediterranean Sea, in the south of Spain that belongs to the UK. In fact, the little area of Gibraltar stopped being Spanish in 1704 when the British and the Dutch army conquered it and King Felipe V signed the Utrecht treaty in 1713, which recognized that Gibraltar was Britain’s. During World War II the airport, built in 1938 (one of the 5 most dangerous airports in the world), was expanded. There was a referendum in Gibraltar about its sovereignty, to switch from the British to the Spanish sovereignty in 1967, when Franco ruled over Spain. But the result confirmed Gibraltar was to go on belonging to the UK.  Two years later,  in 1969, Franco closed the border between Gibraltar and Spain. It would only reopen 13 years later.

Since 1984, the date of the Brussels declaration about a discussion between Spain and the UK, the sovereignty of the rock has been an uninterrupted discussion which ultimately led 98,97% of Gibraltar’s inhabitants to claim both sovereignties, according to a 2002 survey.

Tensions between Spain and Gibraltar have been rising this year and July 2013 is now regarded as the beginning of a new climax. On July 25th the Gibraltar government threw 74 concrete blocks into the sea near the Algeciras coast. It argued that it was a necessary environmental measure. Yet, Spaniards disagreed and thought it a form of provocation. In fact, this area is where Spanish fishermen are used to fishing. The blocks are a threat for them: they will not be able to sell fish if the area is polluted.

As a consequence border incidents have become more numerous, which in turn have caused troubles: the Spanish government now requires the population to queue up to enter or leave the rock. Gibraltarians say it is a disgraceful reaction that affects people who just need to go to work and are not responsible for anything. Chief Minister Fabian Picardo even compares the Spanish government’s reaction to Franco’s behaviour. Cameron and Hague, the foreign secretary, said they will “always stand up for Gibraltar”.

On September 25th, while Spanish President Mariano Rajoy was delivering a speech before the UN Assembly –saying that the conflict and the UK’s reaction is ‘anachronistic’– the European Commission was checking the border. The goal was to make sure that the problem was over.

Why is Gibraltar so important for both Spain and Great Britain?

Three centuries ago, Gibraltar used to be a strategic place of control. Nowadays, it is a strategic economic area. As Spain is still suffering from a crisis that leads to 30% unemployment and a mere 0.5% GDP growth, Gibraltar is doing very well. Growth reached 8% last year and the average wage is near 3, 500 € per month. Spaniards are thus drawn to the rock. What makes it even more appealing is that Gibraltar is a tax haven where firms can easily launder money



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