Row over Gibraltar

The row between Spain and Britain over the British enclave of Gibraltar continues. A Spanish ship sailed on Tuesday through British territorial waters off the coast of the enclave - prompting an outraged reaction from the local government. British ex-Tory leader Michael Howard had previously said that Britain may act with the same resolve it showed during the Falklands War regarding Gibraltar. Why are Madrid and London bickering over the Rock?

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Observador (PT) /

More territorial disputes waiting to resurface

Spain has opened Pandora's box by claiming rights to Gibraltar, Observador comments:

“Oddly enough, Spain has decided to bring the 'Gibraltar skeleton' out of the cupboard at a time when it is itself facing several territorial disputes. These include the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla as well as several smaller places, among them five islands and two pieces of rock. And of course that permanent bone of contention with Portugal that goes by the name 'Olivença', [a piece of land covering 453 kilometres on the border between Portugal and Spain which belonged to Portugal 200 years ago and to which Lisbon still lays claim]. ... Spain's stance on Gibraltar puts Portugal in a difficult position. If we accept this claim we will be applying double standards regarding disputed territories. Why should we let our claim to Olivença rest if Spain revives Gibraltar?”

Contributors (RO) /

London's red herring

The British government is trying to divert attention from more pressing matters with the row over Gibraltar, political scientist Valentin Naumescu writes on Contributors:

“Theresa May and the Conservatives want to exploit the Rock according to the same strategy Thatcher used in the 1980s (back then it was a question of defending British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in a period of tense relations with Argentina). May wants to use the conflict to divert attention from the real problems resulting from Britain's exit from the EU. Of course it won't come to an armed conflict, as was the case in 1982 with the Falkland War. My impression is that London's current resolve regarding Gibraltar is meant to conceal the UK's vulnerability on the topic of integrity and the real risk of losing Scotland lock, stock and barrel.”

Público (PT) /

Europe's nationalisms are awakening

Público is shocked to see two EU member states fighting over Gibraltar:

“A warning that related to trade negotiations was enough to incite veiled threats of war against an EU member state. Gibraltar is nothing but a rock with monkeys where 30,000 people happen to live - and where a financial centre which is of interest for the UK operates. But the uncertainty regarding Gibraltar's future was enough to revive old problems. Europe's nationalisms are in the process of reawakening - but first they must destroy the EU. Perhaps we should remember that the next step could be the kind of wars and territorial disputes that dominated the continent's history for centuries. And which only the EU was able to stop.”

El País (ES) /

Problem solving instead of sabre-rattling

Instead of allowing the row over Gibraltar to escalate Madrid and London should focus on the practical problems plaguing the population there, El País demands:

“Even Prime Minister Theresa May found the phantasmagoric sabre-rattling and the talk about conspiracies absurd. … The Rajoy government reacted sensibly, resisting the temptation to turn the episode into a pointless confrontation over Gibraltar's sovereignty. All Spaniards should ignore this aspect of the row (without renouncing any rights) and concentrate on solving the concrete conflicts that affect Gibraltar. For the people of Gibraltar and neighbouring Andalusia it is essential that the conditions for border traffic and employment are improved, that economic development is boosted, and that measures are taken to crack down on organised crime, tobacco and drug smuggling and curb capital flight.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Confused threats from London

The reactions from London are entirely out of proportion, La Vanguardia comments:

“A cascade of declarations more typical of a Monty Python sketch than of Conservative Party politicians has ensued. Michael Howard, ex-leader of the Tories, took the biscuit with his threat: 'Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman Prime Minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country'. Howard's GP should change his medication because it appears to be making him confused. Back then the Argentinian military junta invaded the Malvinas [the Falkland Islands], while the Spanish government has merely pointed out that once Brexit is finalised Gibraltar will no longer be under the protection of an EU member state, so that any agreement will have to go through Spain.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Howard's comments illustrate EU's usefulness

Howard's words do have one advantage, writes La Libre Belgique:

“As unrealistic as his scenario might sound, it is astounding to hear a leading politician of an EU member state (which the UK still is) consider using force against another member state. Michael Howard hardly represents more than himself. Nevertheless his statement panders to the baser instincts, including those of the British tabloids, which have all rushed to consult experts about the capacity of the Royal Navy to defeat that of Spain. His words have at least one merit: they remind Europeans that despite its structural faults and the tensions that now dog it, for six decades the European Union has been the guarantor of peace between the states that form part of it.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Madrid wants to annoy London

Spain is less concerned about Gibraltar than about making the negotiations as difficult as possible for London, La Stampa suspects:

“London argues that Brexit applies for everyone and promises to include the government of Gibraltar in the decision-making process, or at least consult it. Yet it's clear that Spain is the European thorn in Britain's side. Apart from the row over Gibraltar Madrid has torn open an even more painful wound for the British: the future of Scotland. Madrid may not support Sturgeon's independence referendum - because that could encourage the Catalans to follow the Scottish example. But if Scotland does leave the UK it certainly won't be Spain that blocks Edinburgh's accession with a veto. Just two years ago Mariano Rajoy, Spanish prime minister then and now, described Scottish independence as a disaster that would lead to the collapse of the EU.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

The Spaniards' strange obsession

The fact that Madrid still lays a claim to the Rock although almost none of its inhabitants want to belong to Spain puzzles columnist Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph:

“When the view of the Gibraltarians was last sought 17,900 inhabitants voted to remain wholly British. Only 187 voted to change. ... So why would Spain want to grab a place where virtually no resident wants it? The same applies to Argentina's aspirations for the Falkland Islands. In Britain, we have many dark chapters in our colonial history, but I cannot think of a single modern example of trying re-colonise a territory where the welcoming party could not even fill a church hall. What is it in Hispanic culture that makes a romantic obsession with a piece of land ignore the wishes of the actual people who live in it?”