Wary EU to watch Spain–Gibraltar border

The European Commission said on Tuesday it would send a team of monitors to the Spain-Gibraltar border in the face of the ongoing row between the two neighbours.

Wary EU to watch Spain–Gibraltar border
The EU will start monitoring Spain–Morocco border controls in September or October. Marcos Moreno/AFP

Spain defended its "irrevocable" right to carry out checks at its border with the tiny British outpost of Gibraltar in a meeting on Tuesday with Britain's ambassador to Spain, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Gibraltar had accused Spain of deliberately holding up cars entering the territory by searching every vehicle and creating delays of up to six hours during the last weekend in July.

Gibraltar argued that the heightened border checks were in retaliation over its decision to build a concrete artificial reef in surrounding waters, a move the territory says is aimed at stopping alleged incursions by Spanish fishing boats around the territory which Madrid claims as its own.

Read the Local's List of ten things you didn't know about Gibraltar.

Tiny Gibraltar, just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles) and home to about 30,000 people, overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

Tensions rose further over the weekend when Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo suggested that Madrid could introduce a €50 ($66) charge to cross the Gibraltar border in either direction.

The money raised from the new charge could be used to help Spanish fisherman who will suffer from Gibraltar's new reef, the minister said in an interview published in the Spanish newspaper ABC.

Spain's secretary of state for foreign affairs, Gonzalo de Benito, told Britain's ambassador, Gilles Paxman, at their meeting that border checks were needed since Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area — the passport-free zone of some mainland European countries with open borders.

"He explained that Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area. It is therefore obliged to carry out border controls. They are irrevocable. They are necessary in an area where there is a lot of smuggling," the foreign ministry spokesman said.

De Benito also told the British diplomat that the Spanish government "would continue to take all necessary measures to defend Spanish interests", the spokesman added.

Britain has held Gibraltar since 1713 but Spain wants it returned and refuses to recognize British sovereignty over the waters off the land known as "the Rock".

The European Commission said Tuesday it would send a team of monitors to the Spain-Gibraltar border to ensure that the controls are applied "proportionately".

The mission however will not take place until September or October, European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said.

The Spanish government's delegate in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia which borders Gibraltar, Carmen Crespo, said the border checks were "proportionate" due to the sharp rise in cigarette smuggling between Gibraltar and Spain.

The amount of cigarettes smuggled between the territory and Spain, where they are slapped with higher taxes, has soared by 213 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government "is open to permanent dialogue with Britain to resolve pending questions," she added.

On Tuesday, Gibraltar said it was planning a legal challenge against Madrid over the queues at the Spain–Gibraltar border.

Joseph García, deputy first minister of the British colony told the UK's Guardian newspaper that Gibraltar was now compiling data about Spanish border operations.

"We are collecting individual complaints in case we need to take action on the basis that an individual's rights have been infringed. The Spanish actions at the border are totally inhumane," García told the UK daily.

Former Socialist foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez said it would be a "clumsy mistake" for the government to try to distract attention from a corruption scandal rocking the ruling Popular Party by stoking a row with Gibraltar.

"On various occasions we have seen how certain issues are used to distract attention from other issues," she said.

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The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.