The agenda has been frantic and the times, demonic. Just 12 hours before Brexit materialized in Gibraltar, Spain and the United Kingdom closed a principle of agreement called to integrate the Rock into the Schengen zone.
Not even two days have passed since the announcement and the main minister of the Rock, Fabian Picardo (Gibraltar, 1972), has to appear again, now to decree a severe confinement in the face of the increase in coronavirus infections.
The head of the Government of Gibraltar arrives at his office just after his intervention. He can hardly hide his fatigue, nor his joy at such a historic pact for the area that aspires to create a space of free transit on a border that, every day, 30,000 people usually pass, 15,000 of them, community cross-border workers.
You were the first to speak of the Schengen zone as a way out for Brexit in Gibraltar, do you feel like a winner in this agreement?
I feel that Gibraltar and all its surroundings can take a great step forward and, at all times, I have asked for an agreement in which all parties were winners and no losers.
There is a very English saying that says that “the devil hides in the details”, is there room for surprise in these six months that start now to close fringes?
If we are going to try to resolve an issue that has divided us for 300 years, I think there will be many demons in many details of the prosperity treaty, which is what I would like to call it, that we will try to close. Those demons will become angels that save us the opportunity that has been opened to us so that the main axis is the agreement.
How have the negotiations been? Dizzying. We have arrived at dawn on New Year’s Eve. But the same thing happened also on Good Friday in Ireland [which ended the Northern Ireland Conflict in 1998]. Big deals require tough negotiations. We should be proud of having completed the job before the goal is reached.
Was it hard work to overcome sovereignty discrepancies? The negotiation began because Pedro Sánchez and Minister Arancha González Laya said to put aside the question of sovereignty. It is something that the PP Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, already did previously when he spoke of “solving irritating issues.”
Therefore, we were able to make the withdrawal agreement. The one on New Year’s Eve has been possible because Sánchez said that he left aside the everlasting issue of sovereignty. There are things that are practical but that impact sovereignty, jurisdiction and control.
We have had to be careful that none of the parties, even if I try to put it aside, does not go beyond the most exquisite problems that diplomacy may have on one side or the other. We can and must all be tough in defending our positions, but with the desire to reach an agreement.
The Spanish Foreign Minister commented this Saturday in EL PAÍS that the last control of the borders at the airport and port of Gibraltar will correspond to Spain, was this what most bogged down the negotiations?
I still do not want to open Pandora’s Box on the subject of negotiations. Gibraltar accepts that entry into the Schengen zone corresponds to its authorities and that the agent of the Schengen authority in Spain is the Government of Spain.
That responsibility for its database rests with it, but only once Gibraltar, which has primary control, has allowed entry. We have reached an important scale that allows both parties to have security and control of their respective borders. There is not one, there will still be two: Gibraltar and Schengen.
Before being able to cross the European border, the person must have crossed the Gibraltarian border. Then you will arrive at the community border where the Frontex agents will be who will have access to the database that Spain will maintain.
Do you think it is feasible that, in the period of four years announced to review the agreement, there may be Spanish police officers in Gibraltar who are not in that remote way?
In four years there is an opportunity to see what will happen. I hope that by then Spain has already grown in confidence in the work to be carried out by the agents of the Gibraltar Border Agency and that it realizes that the controls can be carried out by the Gibraltarian agents.
That would imply that the Spanish operators who, remotely, are now going to give information to Frontex, would give it to a Gibraltarian agent and not to Frontex, for example. But if we cannot reach an agreement on how we will operate the border after those four years, the pact would end and it would be a shame.
We must work for the agreement to last beyond this initial period. Shared prosperity will come with more force when you know what will happen after that time, when investments can be certain.