Spain and the United Kingdom rush the 2020 calendar to reach an agreement that will save Gibraltar and the Spaniards who work on the rock from having to cross the imminent external border of the European Union twice a day, starting on January 1. “It is being negotiated fiercely,” says a source close to the Rock. On a virtual negotiating table, both parties finalize a consensual decision that would lead Gibraltar to be part of the Schengen zone, a status it did not even enjoy when the United Kingdom was part of the club of 27. The pact, independent although subject to the general information on Brexit, would represent a historic advance for the 9,200 cross-border workers in Campo de Gibraltar, conditioned by a step that is highly sensitive to any political shift on the sovereignty of the territory.
The Cádiz-born Eva María Norton has been crossing the Gate that now centers the debates for 11 years. Oblivious to negotiations and tired of so much uncertainty since Brexit materialized in 2016, this self-employed domestic worker prefers to focus on day-to-day life, marked by the lines of people on a border that, before the coronavirus crisis , recorded 30,000 steps. “Yesterday I caught the queue when I left and from January I don’t know what will happen. I’m looking for work in Spain, just in case ”, says the 40-year-old from La Linea. It would be one of those affected by the measure that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya, called “an area of shared prosperity.” The last time he did it this past Thursday, in an interview with CNN.
Neither González Laya nor his team have officially verbalized how the idea is carried out in an unequal border territory, since 18.5% of Campo de Gibraltar’s GDP depends on its relationship with the Rock, according to a study by the Elcano Royal Institute. The option in which the negotiating teams have been battling for weeks is to reach a pact whereby, despite not already being part of the European Union, Gibraltar could enjoy the free border transit that the Schengen Area guarantees. It is just the possibility in which the main minister of the Rock, Fabian Picardo, has abounded this Friday in an interview on the Ser chain and that he already proposed publicly for the first time in 2016, shortly after a Brexit materialized with which he showed his disagreement 96% of Gibraltarians.
A few weeks ago, the Foreign Ministry rescued this idea that, in practice, would mean that the EU’s external border controls were established at the Gibraltar airport or its seaport and not at the border with Spain. However, the negotiations hit a red line for Gibraltar when it was proposed that Spanish customs officers take on the task. In recent days, the negotiating teams have found a plan b not disclosed to this proposal, but that seems to please the Rock. “We are a few short sentences away from a historic agreement. I ask for legal rigor and intellectual pragmatism, ”said Picardo this Friday. Both Foreign Affairs and the United Kingdom Embassy in Spain, when asked by EL PAÍS, prefer to remain silent. “Cautela”, they warn from González Laya’s cabinet.
The agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom is independent, although linked to the general post-Brexit relations that the English country must sign with the European Union and which hastens its last days without an agreement. If Brussels and London manage to bring their positions closer together, the Gibraltar pact will further pave their way. “It would be easier,” point out Gibraltarian sources familiar with the negotiation. In order to unblock the agreement regarding the Rock, González Laya’s predisposition to put aside the disagreement over the sovereignty of the colony has been fundamental. “This is not going to change,” the minister acknowledged last Sunday in an interview with the British network. Sky News.
John Isola, director of the 300-employee Anglo Hispano hospitality and beverage import company, was one of the Gibraltarians who was delighted to hear those words from the minister: “The main thing is that you master your common sense; if not, it would be a shame. That there is fluidity at the border for everyone, not just for cross-border people ”. For now – and pending the agreement – Gibraltar has already created a registry of workers to guarantee their passage. Appearing in it will allow the 15,000 European cross-border employees who live in the area – 9,300 of them, Spanish – to pass the controls only with their DNI. However, this would not cover the rest of the border users or guarantee a smooth passage, since Gibraltar and Spain would have to collate document by document in greater detail than is now being produced.
If the Hispano-British negotiations fail, Gibraltarians with a second residence in Spain or who visit it to consume, tourists, domestic workers who are not registered or the self-employed like Eva Norton who provide services in La Roca could be blocked, because only they could resort to stamping their passports at a narrow border crossing. Without a legal framework to prevent it, the Gibraltar Gate would be forced to become a “hard” external border of the EU, with stricter controls that would also affect goods. That will translate into long lines with unpredictable employment and financial consequences. To ensure that this is not the case, a few days ago the Ministry of the Interior has undertaken works worth more than five million euros to expand and modernize the facilities of the National Police and Civil Guard. “It is a reality that, whatever happens, the step must be speeded up,” said Gema Araujo, a Socialist deputy in Congress and former mayor of La Línea.
The 30,000 daily users – 15 million a year, according to Picardo estimates – are too many for a single comprehensive control border. The foreseeable chaos as of January 1 would be saved in the agreement, but also with the mere intention of reaching it, because while it is being negotiated, it is possible to agree not to apply measures that hinder the solution.
John A. Gaggero, president of the shipping company and tourism resource company MH Bland, is another of the Gibraltarians who attends the negotiations with tension. With his businesses reduced by the pandemic, the businessman is only encouraged because he sees “that there is a will to protect the rights of citizens and maintain fluidity at the border.” You have already assumed that outside the EU, only good will can save you from disaster. “There is a vaccine against covid, but not for Brexit,” added Gaggero, resigned.
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