Spanish minister makes historic Gibraltar trip

22nd July 2009, Comments 0 comments

In the first-ever visit by a member of the Madrid government, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos maintains Spain would never waive its claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar.

Gibraltar – Spain's foreign minister arrived Tuesday in Gibraltar on the first-ever visit by a member of the Madrid government since the rocky outcrop was captured by English troops three centuries ago.

Speaking after holding talks with his British counterpart David Miliband and Gibraltar Chief Minister Peter Caruana, Miguel Angel Moratinos said Spain would never renounce its claim to sovereignty to the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) territory.

"The position of all parts is known, you know the position of Spain, which is that its claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar cannot be waived," he told a news conference, adding the question was not on the agenda of the meeting.

"We have come here to negotiate cooperation and dialogue because there is no other option than cooperation and dialogue," he said.

During their four-hour meeting, the three sides announced they had reached agreement aimed at boosting their cooperation in judicial, environment, security and customs matters.

It was the third meeting at the ministerial level of the so-called tripartite forum between Britain, Gibraltar and Spain set up by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero shortly after he came to power in 2004.

The previous meetings were held in Cordoba in southern Spain in 2006 and in London in 2008.

The forum avoids the issue of sovereignty and instead focuses on issues of concern to the 30,000 residents of the disputed territory.

Gibraltar has been a source of tension between Britain and Spain since English troops captured the strategic territory at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea in 1704.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London has said it will not renounce sovereignty against the wishes of Gibraltarians.

"Sovereignty is in the hands of the people of Gibraltar," said Miliband in a reference to Britain's long-standing position.

He said Moratino's visit to Gibraltar, which has been strongly criticised by Spain's main opposition Popular Party (PP), was "testimony to his wisdom and vision".

The PP called Moratinos's visit a "terrible mistake," arguing it could set a precedent for treating Gibraltar as a sovereign state.

"Moratinos should not have gone to Gibraltar because by doing so he is lowering the flag of a historic claim by Spain over the territory," the party's communication secretary Esteban Gonzalez Pons told Spanish radio.

Now a haven for tourism, shipping and offshore banking because of its favourable tax laws, Gibraltar's inhabitants overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a 2002 referendum.

Cooperation contrasts with the situation just a few decades ago. General Francisco Franco closed Spain's border with Gibraltar in 1969 in protest at a referendum confirming allegiance to Britain.

The border was not fully reopened until 1985, a decade after the death of the right-wing dictator.

Relations between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar have been strained in recent years over the docking of a damaged British nuclear submarine in 2000 and by visits to the territory by members of the British royal family.

AFP / Expatica

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