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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 17:01 GMT
Q&A: Where now for Gibraltar?
The UK and Spain have agreed to work towards a "complete agreement" on the future of Gibraltar by next summer - to the fury of most of the Rock's residents. BBC News Online looks at Gibraltar's past - and its possible future.

Is Gibraltar being handed back to Spain?

No, although the Spanish still desperately want it.

What the UK and Spain have agreed is to work towards a "complete agreement" on the Rock's future by this summer.

Negotiations are taking place on four "pillars": respect for Gibraltar's way of life, greater co-operation, extended self-government and joint sovereignty.

The details are still being hammered out, but the shared sovereignty idea is proving among the most contentious issues.

The UK insists no change can take place unless Gibraltar residents vote for it in a referendum.

Will the residents buy it?

The majority of Gibraltar's 30,000 residents want to retain the status quo - full British sovereignty.

Many see the very fact that the British are discussing sovereignty as a sell-out.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana says a deal is being done over the heads of the Gibraltarians.

As things stand, it seems impossible that they would vote Yes to any move towards Spanish joint sovereignty.

But a declaration of principle between the UK and Spain rejected in a referendum would be, according to Mr Caruana, a "sword of Damocles" over Gibraltar.

What about the governments?

The Spanish insist that full Spanish sovereignty is non-negotiable.

Even a referendum "No" vote will not change the Spanish position, say ministers.

The UK appears to want a middle way - sharing ownership.

Both are now keen to resolve for good the centuries-old dispute which has become increasingly problematic in EU relations.

Some also say it would open the way for an Anglo-Spanish axis within Europe, to rival the Franco-German alliance.

The UK says any deal is subject to the approval of Gibraltarians in a referendum.

But an Anglo-Spanish declaration of principle could be enough to resolve the question between the two governments - regardless of what the Gibraltarians say.

So how has the process got bogged down?

Both the Spanish and UK governments have acknowledged that "real differences" remain over the way forward, despite their early declarations of optimism.

The UK wants any settlement to be a permanent deal, but Spain is refusing to give up its hope of one day regaining full sovereignty.

Spain is worried that accepting joint sovereignty now could, in effect, blight its chances of achieving full sovereignty later.

And a "no" vote on any change in sovereignty - which looks highly likely - could set Spain's hopes back for years.

Another stumbling block has emerged, over access to Gibraltar's naval and air base. The UK says it must retain full control over the military facilities, which Spain will not accept.

Mr Caruana, meanwhile, says residents might suffer a "loss of enthusiasm" for playing host to the military presence if their status was changed.

How long have Britain and Spain been squabbling?

The Rock has been fought over for centuries. First it was Spain battling Moorish invaders. Then, after several hundred years, the Spanish lost Gibraltar to an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704.

The Spanish - despite formally ceding it to London in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht - have wanted it back ever since.

More recently the battles have been political. In 1984 the two governments started talks, but the process eventually collapsed over Madrid's demands that the Rock should revert to full Spanish sovereignty after 50 years of shared control.

Under Franco, Spain cut Gibraltar off by sealing its frontier. The border was eventually reopened 16 years later in 1985, but delays remain lengthy for anyone wanting to cross it.

What's actually in Gibraltar?

It's a tiny area, less than six square kilometres (2.2 sq miles). The Rock of Gibraltar itself dominates the area, standing nearly 430 metres (1,400 feet) high.

Despite its tiny size, it is strategically important. It stands at the mouth of the Mediterranean, at the foot of the Iberian peninsula, and only 20km (12 miles) from the north coast of Africa.

It has a Nato base, including a port and airstrip.

Tourists enjoy the cheap alcohol and tobacco available because of the Rock's VAT free status.

And of course there are the famous apes... brought over from North Africa by British soldiers, and now roaming freely on the Rock.

How British are the residents?

Despite Gibraltarians' Mediterranean home and their use of the Spanish language for almost everything but education and administration, their "Britishness" remains central to their cultural identity.

The last time a referendum was held - in September 1967 - more than 99% voted to stay British.

Under a new constitution introduced in 1969, they do now have a large degree of self-government.

Only a few Gibraltarian voices in favour of Spanish sovereignty are heard.

But many admit that were it not for the counter-productive measures introduced by Spain, such as sealing the borders, they would be more ready to consider more co-operation.

Why is Spain sometimes accused of hypocrisy over Gibraltar?

Spain still holds two enclaves across the Mediterranean in North Africa.

Ceuta and Melilla are almost directly opposite Gibraltar and have considerable parallels.

Both were retained by Spain in 1956 when the rest of Morocco - formerly a Spanish protectorate - was granted independence.

Morocco wants them both but Spain is refusing to budge.

See also:

05 Jun 99 | Europe
Gibraltar: Rock of ages
20 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Gibraltar 'will have referendum'
17 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Gibraltar eyes uncertain future
08 Nov 01 | Europe
Clouds gather over Gibraltar
29 Oct 01 | Europe
'Deadline set' for Gibraltar deal
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