What price Shengen? Maybe nothing.
As 2020 petered away and Gibraltar looked a hard Brexit in the face, with all the woes that entails, the vision, determination and ambition of the GSLP/Liberal Alliance Government came to the fore. Churchill made the point that at times of national stress, politicians who simply court popularity fail and those that do the right thing, seeing the sun through the clouds, succeed.
Whilst there is no point in celebrating too early and all political and other commentators are absolutely right, that the devil is in the detail, the principles that appear to be common to Gibraltar, UK, and Spain do create an unprecedented road map, not just to the survival of our economy and social fabric, as we have come to know it, but so much more.
They are of course those doomsayers and glum inward-looking commentators who through the mediums of social media are so quick to decry the progress as ‘traitorism’, the “foot in the door brigade,” who assume that any agreement with Spain, EU or UK means progress for Spain’s archaic sovereignty claim. They are of course entitled to their view but even they should have the good grace to await the treaty negotiations and details before they cry wolf.
Not only can our Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister boast a long and constant history of rejecting all Spanish ambition on sovereignty but by their side, or even over their shoulder, sits Sir Joe Bossano who has spent 60+ years defending Gibraltar through its darkest days. The idea that any of them would be willing to compromise, in a way that sacrifices Gibraltar’s principles, or ambitions of self-determination, is as ridiculous as it is perverse. Sir Joe’s GBC interview on the 31st January 2020 can leave no one in any doubt that he will prefer to see a closed frontier to material sovereignty concessions.
It is worth reflecting, before the details are known, on the extraordinary vision and imagination so far to secure possible solutions, without sacrificing principles. Fabian Picardo and his team have managed to convince, all the relevant actors that Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory of 35,000, should form part of a Schengen family of circa 400 million. This even though the UK, who are responsible for us on EU matters, only 4-5 years ago rejected the European family in an unprecedented way. Very few politicians would have had that ambition, vision, and pragmatism, even the audacity to hope on such a concept, and what fool would bet against him to deliver. It seems almost unreal that we should see ourselves in that Schengen family, despite not being sovereign. If politics is the art of the possible, this is very much the beginning of a political masterpiece.
I imagine that many of us hope that the details will follow the principles and what we will have in Treaty form between the EU and the UK will give way to mobility of people, perhaps goods and services. Of course, it will come with a price, in terms of standards and equivalence, but given 96% of us voted to remain in the EU, these are challenges we can work with and compete.
This agreement of principles, all parties recognise, has at its heart, a recognition of the opportunity, not just for Gibraltar, but also the neighbouring area. It recognises the benefit to the wider EU family of allowing the benefits to EU citizens, outweigh other political interest. Opportunity for Gibraltar to provide the economic engine room and the Campo the infrastructure for joint prosperity, is extraordinary. Working together, without an immediate compromise on historic claims, allows for the unlocking of incredible potential for us all and the “us” here, includes residents of the entire area, possibly as far as Cadiz and Malaga. If today the fact that Gibraltar employs circa 15,000 EU citizens (apart from our people) and makes a 25% contribution to the Campo’s GDP has an impact, what will this opportunity deliver in 5, 10 or 15 years? With that comes responsibility and further real soft power and leverage. Why would any political force in the EU and in Spain want to upset so many EU voters for the pursuit of an archaic claim that has no merit, either in law or morality.
This possible agreement will not only deliver security for our people, their lives, and their livelihoods, in terms of our economic and social development, but I believe with it, political evolutionary inevitability, that will see an end to the Spanish claim, in all but name short term, and more later. My answer to the “foot in the door brigade” is to reflect on this reality. If the compromise is to have an EU border agency, Frontex populated by EU officials (including a pro rata proportion from any EU member state), then so be it. We can hardly be so arrogant and naïve to expect Schengen membership and demand that the entire Schengen family pay homage to our sensitivities. If we are not a Schengen sovereign state (and we are not) then policing of Schengen borders must be by those who are, albeit of course they can work cooperatively with our own BCA.
This possible Treaty and its benefits also and importantly create the landscape and breeding ground for those, such as me (and certainly anyone involved in the PDP project such as Keith Azopardi) to pursue, in the future, from a position of strength, total de-colonisation through the full recognition of our sovereign rights as a people to our land. Our inalienable the right to self-determination, be it through free association, or other bespoke model can find its foundations in the economic, political, and social impact of this possible Treaty.
I for one welcome this in principle agreement and pray the details respect the architecture.