Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spanish harassment of Gibraltar could easily backfire

In an ideal world, Spain should respect the people of the Rock, and let them freely determine their future. While it is highly unlikely they would ever choose to join Spain, there is no reason why economic cooperation could not increase, something which would first and foremost benefit the Spanish side. Unfortunately, Franco's heirs are just following the old man's approach, and keep trying to choke the Rock, in what amounts to a self-defeating policy, since Gibraltar is not surrendering.

In addition to appearing once more before the world as a rogue state, “Europe's North Korea” many people are now calling Spain, Madrid is playing a most dangerous game. One of the ways in which it is trying to pressure the Rock is by forcing long queues, up to seven hours long, in the land border. Furthermore, the latest reports point out that Spanish authorities are now forcing cars into two queues, one for Spanish nationals, and another one for Britons and others. In addition, Madrid insists it is pondering a 50 Euro-fee for crossing the border. Needless to say, all of this is absolutely contrary to EU law, and clearly shows that Madrid's alleged concern with smuggling is just an excuse for punishing the people of Gibraltar for refusing to be Spanish. This is Spain's way. No attempt to seduce or convince, instead reprisals against anybody refusing to be part of Spain. 

The problem for Spain, apart from the cost in terms of image and the corresponding economic impact, is that by blockading the territory of a fellow EU member state and considering crossborder fees, she is setting a most dangerous precedent. Catalonia is leaving, no serious observer is questioning that, and guess which export routes Spain depends on to access European markets... Now, when we take into account the billions that Spain has stolen and is stealing from Catalonia, it is no wonder than quite a few Catalans may find it an interesting proposition to make Spaniards pay 50 Euros every time they want to travel to Europe. A fee could also be collected for each truck … the possibilities are endless and would bring a nice stream of revenue. 

Now, Catalonia is obviously not going to do any of this. Catalonia is a serious country, a real country, not a joke like Spain. Catalans, once free, will fully comply with their duties towards the international community. All duties. When NATO is fighting a counterinsurgency campaign, they will not look the other way while playing cards in their ghetto bases. When pirates threaten the freedom of the seas, they will not pay them ransoms so that they can go on and hijack more ships. When the US is pivoting to the Pacific, and the maritime democracies are joining forces to confront aggression and guarantee freedom of navigation, they will not devote their fleet to harassing a fellow NATO member state.

However, what Catalonia will do, not on her own, but together with the United Kingdom, Gibraltar, and other Allied nations, is to put an end to Spain's harassment against the Rock. Once Catalonia is free, and Spain no longer has the hand in her till, Spaniards will be forced to concentrate on what they should have been doing all along. That is, on working hard not just to get their country out of the current depression, but to take it into the XXI Century. Once their energies are devoted to that noble pursuit, they will have no time left to threaten and bully anybody, be it Gibraltar, Catalonia, or whoever else refuses to be Spanish. Then, and only then, will they be considered a serious Allied nation. However, should they persist in their old ways, even after Catalonia leaves, they will be courting disaster, since by setting a precedent within the EU, they are now open to exactly the same reprisals they are employing. People who live in glass houses … should not throw stones.

Alex Calvo is a Professor of International Relations and International Law, Head of the IR Department, and Postgraduate Research Director, European University (Barcelona Campus). An expert on Asian security and defence issues, he got his LLB from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London) and is currently doing an MA in Second World War Studies at the University of Birmingham. He is a former teaching and research fellow at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan).

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