Gibratar´s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo called for reconciliation with Spain in a speech made in Madrid, arguing that it could only bring benefits for the region.
"The times are a changing," Picardo said, quoting Bob Dylan to an audience of 200 people including The Local, at Madrid´s Palace Hotel on Tuesday morning. “If Obama can do it with Cuba, isn´t it possible that an agreement can be reached on Gibraltar?"
Gibraltar chief Fabian Picardo, meeting and greeting after his speech in Madrid. (Photo: Jessica Jones/The Local)
The 42-year old lawyer challenged Spain´s government in its treatment of its neighbor, the tiny British Overseas Territory at its southwestern tip, asking how it could ignore EU legislation when it comes to Gibraltar.
"We are all in the EU, it is inconceivable to blatantly ignore EU rules," he said, in reference to Spain´s tactics at the border and airport. "In this globalized world, it’s incredible that such a lack of cooperation exists between neighbours."
But he said he remained optimistic that the future would bring an opportunity to resume the tripartite talks between UK, Spain, and Gibraltar that were abandoned when the PP government coming to power.
Emphasising that the soverignty of Gibraltar was not up for discussion, Picardo said: "The UK and the Gibraltar government continues to remain committed to the tripartite agreement made by the previous Spanish government. Dialogue is a positive thing," he said.
He took the opportunity to highlight the positive economic role Gibraltar plays within an area of Spain that has been hit hard by the crisis providing employment to thousands of Spanish residents working on the Rock each day.
But while Picardo delivered his message of dialogue and cooperation, to an audience that included politicians from the Socialist and United Left (IU) parties, on the streets outside the hotel a small group of far-right protestors staged a demonstration.
"Keep calm and Gibraltar Español" sign. Photo: Jessica Jones/The Local
Waving fascist party flags around a dozen protestors gathered on the street outside the hotel. One held a poster with the words: "Keep Calm and Gibraltar Español".
Mr Picardo had been invited to speak at the New Economic Forum but the event was cancelled last week reportedly after pressure was applied by Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
So instead, the Government of Gibraltar organized and funded its own event, inviting many of the same guests including journalists, politicians, intellectuals and businessmen.
The snub that led to accusations of denying freedom of speech stirred up a three century old diplomatic row over the Rock which has escalated since Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy came to power two years ago.
During that time Gibraltar has reported a surge in the number of incursions by Spanish military vessels in its territorial waters and "inhumane" conditions at the border as a result of Spain imposing retaliatory border checks in response to a dispute over fishing rights.
Asked what would be so bad about Gibraltar forming another autonomous region of Spain, Picardo quipped: “It would be as bad as Melilla and Ceuta forming a part of Morocco.”