The Gate between Spain and Gibraltar is set to become a hard border as of January 1, according to diplomatic sources, if a last-minute three-way pact is not reached between Spain, the United Kingdom and the European Commission. It will be the outer limit of the EU, but also of the 26 countries (22 EU countries, plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein) of Schengen, the European area without borders. Although the 15,000 community citizens who work in the colony (almost 10,000 Spaniards) will have a system to speed up their passage, controls on other passers-by and merchandise will be tightened, which can cause long queues at customs and seriously damage the economy. both sides of La Verja.
Technicians from Spain and the United Kingdom (with Gibraltarian representatives in the British delegation) have been negotiating since last June to avoid that the end of the Brexit transition period, on January 1, represents a return to the times when La Verja was a impassable wall between the Rock and its surrounding region, from 1969 to 1982. Once the misgivings that dominated the relationship under the PP governments were overcome —the Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, agreed to meet with the main minister of La Roca, Fabián Picardo , in Algeciras, on July 23rd— both parties have insisted that the final divorce between the United Kingdom and the EU causes the least collateral damage in the south of the Peninsula.
However, difficulties in reaching a global agreement between London and Brussels on their future partnership are delaying the pact that, on a much more modest level, should regulate Gibraltar’s relations with the EU, via Spain. Madrid managed to have the right of veto over the content of the latter and has carried the weight of its negotiation, but it is up to the European Commission to sign it and it is not going to deal with a secondary issue until the main one is resolved: the signature of a commercial agreement between the United Kingdom and its former partners.
Even if London and Brussels managed to close the treaty on their future relationship in time – solving such thorny issues as the access of the Community fleet to the British fishing grounds or public aid – it would be a minimum agreement and there would be very little time left for finish off the pact on Gibraltar, admit diplomatic sources. It would be necessary to carefully analyze to what extent, and in what terms, the agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom is applicable to the Rock and what specificities can be given. So both parties are already preparing for the worst.
Of the four Gibraltar memoranda that Spain and the United Kingdom signed in November 2018 (environment; tobacco; police and customs cooperation; and citizens’ rights), only the last one will remain in force on January 1. The remainder will decline at the end of the year and both parties are considering extending them provisionally, although tobacco has already had its greatest effect: an increase in the price of the pack so that the difference between a tobacconist in El Peñón and another in La Línea does not exceed the 32%; and thus subtract incentives for smuggling.
The agreement on citizens’ rights grants cross-border workers (65% Spanish) the same rights as local employees, including social benefits, without discrimination between them, as already established in the United Kingdom’s withdrawal treaty , in force since last January.
So that they can cross La Verja daily without problems, a procedure has been agreed according to which the Gibraltarian authorities will keep a register of cross-border workers. As of December 1, those affected will be able to consult on a website if they are on the list and, as of January 1, they will be able to request a letter proving their employment status. To identify themselves, they will have to provide their Spanish ID or passport or from another EU country.
This procedure should speed up the passage of cross-border workers, but not that of other residents in the area or tourists, who must meet the documentation requirements required to enter the Schengen area. Until now, an identity card was enough for them; From now on, they will need a valid passport and may be questioned about the purpose of their trip.
Products entering Spain from Gibraltar will also have to be inspected to ensure that they meet all European standards, from tax to phytosanitary. Unless the global pact is agreed otherwise, the Rock will be expelled in 40 days from the internal market (which implies the free movement of people, goods, services and capital), which will force to multiply border controls.
The Government of Gibraltar has already issued several “technical notes” in which it warns its citizens about the new conditions that will apply from January 1 if an agreement is not reached before; including the impossibility of entering Spain (the EU) with certain foods. And he has asked them to prepare their transfers in advance, as some procedures to cross the border will be “inevitably more cumbersome and bureaucratic.”
Aware of this situation, Spain has proposed formulas so that Gibraltar can remain not only in the internal market of the EU, but also in the customs union and even in Schengen. As states and not territories participate in this space, Spain has offered to take responsibility for controlling the external borders of the Rock by providing its customs officers; a possibility that for Picardo goes beyond all his “red lines”, although he insists on promoting a “zone of shared prosperity” on both sides of La Verja.
For now, it is enough to avoid disaster: 18.5% of Campo de Gibraltar’s GDP depends on its relationship with the colony, but the closure of the border could subtract up to four points of GDP from the Rock, according to a study by the Royal Institute Elcano. 96% of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Minister González Laya, who on the 12th had a telephone conversation with her British counterpart, Dominic Raab, plans to make her first trip to London before the end of the month to try to mitigate the impact of Brexit in one of the areas with the highest rate of unemployment in Europe.
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