Gibraltar slams Spain’s plan to end border chaos

Spain has followed EU recommendations on limiting traffic jams and queues at its border with Gibraltar by announcing it will introduce a pass system for workers commuting from either side.

Gibraltar slams Spain's plan to end border chaos
Twelve barcode readers and turnstiles will replace the border guard checking pedestrians’ IDs, speeding up the process considerably. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

Spain’s Tax Administration Agency announced on Tuesday it will spend €5.3 million ($7.1M) on 12 barcode readers and a ‘fast’ lane for workers who endure painstaking traffic jams every time they cross Spain’s border with Gibraltar.

The 12 barcode readers and turnstiles will replace the border guard checking pedestrians’ IDs, a move the Spanish government hopes will speed up the process considerably.

Six thousand Spanish workers in Gibraltar , a fifth of the average 30,000 people who cross over every day, will be able to benefit from the road privileges “before the summer of 2015”.

Gibraltarians who work in Spain will also be able to apply for the pass in the same way as Spaniards: by presenting residency documents and work contracts to Spain’s Customs Office.

The pass will have to be renewed on an annual basis and under EU law workers will have to declare not to carry declarable goods across the border at any time.

While the road works are being carried out, the Spanish Government’s daily Congressional Report (BOE) has explained that ‘border workers’ will be allowed to use the red lane, meant for people who have goods to declare, given that the green lane is usually more congested by drivers who don’t have anything to declare.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has expressed his disapproval at the news, arguing that “any proposed solution aimed at improving the free border movement must include EU citizens and other nationalities that aren’t workers, such as tourists and residents of either side”.

“Their right to free movement is being undermined by Spain,” Picardo was quoted as saying in Spain's 20 minutos newspaper.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister concluded that Spain “complicates transit for political reasons and arbitrarily” and that “the only thing Madrid should do is improve the flow of cars and people by using the red and green lanes efficiently”.

Although Gibraltar is part of the EU, it isn’t part of the Schengen Area or EU Customs, meaning non-EU citizens have to apply for a separate visa from that required for Spain and pay a substantial fee. 

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Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.