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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 13:16 GMT
Gibraltar shuns the big debate
Shop window shows shirt
Gibraltar lives well; many see no need to compromise
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Inside Gibraltar Catherine Miller

By Catherine Miller
BBC News Online's reporter in Gibraltar
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Amid the fervour of flag-waving here, the nitty-gritty of negotiations between Madrid and London on Gibraltar's future is rarely discussed.

There is little awareness of the details of the proposals and those who support a deal are unwilling to speak up publicly.

Joe Bossano
Bossano: Staying British is key
Opposition leader and former Chief Minister Joe Bossano, who has spent almost 40 years in Gibraltar politics stubbornly blocking any negotiation on sovereignty, says: "They have no business discussing my future.

"They tell us 'We're doing this for your benefit because you will have a glorious, prosperous future'... OK but we'd rather stay with Britain with a lousy future," he says.

He is not alone in his opposition.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana, who has refused to take his seat at the negotiating table, says: "It is right for there to be reasonable dialogue. But it is completely wrong for the UK and Spain to agree principles about our future, completely above our heads."

UK and Spanish leaders are tight-lipped about the final shape of the deal they are working towards.

However, the UK's Europe Minister, Peter Hain, has laid out the four "pillars" on which negotiations will proceed - respect for Gibraltar's way of life, greater co-operation, extended self-government and joint sovereignty.

There seems little there to tempt the Gibraltarians.

Greater co-operation is seen here as a euphemism for the lifting of restrictions by Spain - especially the easing of border controls.

Health care

These are considered by many to be an infringement of their European rights and a wrong which Spain should right in any case.

Four pillars
Respect for Gibraltar's way of life: Protection of British model of public institutions, English as first language
Greater co-operation: Easing of border controls, joint use of airport, telecommunications and healthcare access
Extended self-government: More decision making powers to Gibraltar's parliament and government
Joint sovereignty: UK and Spain share claim to Gibraltar, Spain gets more say over the rock.
In return for this, Gibraltar would most likely be expected to bring into force the airport agreement, signed in 1987 by Spain and the UK, which successive Gibraltar governments have refused to implement, considering it a concession on sovereignty.

Spain has indicated that access to health care and 100,000 phone lines are also on offer.

"I think what's on the table is what we've been getting anyway. Health officials in [Spain] have always been very helpful," said Joe Catania, director of services at the Gibraltar Health Authority.

Patients are already sent to local Spanish hospitals for treatment under the European E111 agreement for everything from scans and tests to dialysis, chemotherapy and neurosurgery.

Guy Olivero
Dissident: Guy Olivero says a deal could bring wealth
Why then should the people of Gibraltar - who have money in their pockets, a low crime rate and good health care - make concessions on sovereignty?

"We have to look at the economics. There's an argument that things are fine so why change. But is that sustainable?" said one supporter of a deal, who was unwilling to be named in the current, anti-agreement climate.

He believes Gibraltar, dependent largely on its VAT-free status, off-shore finance and local monopolies, cannot survive the joint wrath of the UK, Spain and the EU, all keen to shed what has been a thorn in the side to EU negotiations, particularly on single skies - the planned EU-wide air traffic control system.

"Let's negotiate a deal which protects our economic position," he said.

For local businessman and supporter Guy Olivero, an agreement has even greater potential.

"Gibraltar is sitting on a gold mine. At the moment we've got the problem with the border and Gibraltar is prospering. Imagine Gibraltar with an open frontier and an international airport. We could work together, the same as the rest of Europe."

Emotion

Peter Hain has warned Gibraltar it will be "left behind" if it doesn't come on board.

"They're going to make life impossible for us," said Mr Olivero.

"The financial centre will be hit, they will introduce VAT, everything they can do legally, they'll do it."

A recent local newspaper poll put support for a deal at around 18%. Unofficially it has been estimated as high as 30%.

Some people even believe that, if presented persuasively, a deal could even be approved in a referendum.

But it is a view few people are prepared to express publicly and politicians are currently happy to fuel popular outrage at an apparent sell-out.

"We're not going to be Spanish. And we will have more self-government. But nobody tells that to the people of Gibraltar," said Mr Olivero.

"There's too much emotion in Gibraltar," said the other anonymous supporter of the joint-sovereignty deal.

"People refuse to grow up and accept the world as it is. Sometimes I think people need more a psychologist than a politician to solve the problem here."

This is the last of Catherine Miller's series of articles from Gibraltar.

  Click here for Gibraltar's best friend in Spain

  Click here for the Rocky road to Spain

  Click here for Growing up on the Rock

See also:

15 Mar 02 | Europe
Gibraltar's best friend in Spain
14 Mar 02 | Europe
Growing up on the Rock
13 Mar 02 | Europe
The rocky road to Spain
22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Gibraltar row rumbles on
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
'Gibraltar wants to remain British'
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
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