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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 21:48 GMT
Scramble for Rock votes
Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar could become part of a UK seat in Europe
People in Gibraltar could be voting for politicians in London or the South West of England in 2004.

They are set to be given rights to vote in the European elections after a woman won a case at the European Court of Human Rights.

But with only about 18,000 voters on the Rock - as Gibraltar is known - the territory cannot have its own MEP.

Now its Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, has told South West MEP Caroline Jackson it would be absorbed into a UK constituency.

Peter Caruana
Chief Minister Peter Caruana revealed the plan
London and the South West are the current favourites, she reported.

Politicians are thought to relish the prospect of campaigning trips to the Mediterranean.

The move is not connected with current talks on the UK and Spain sharing sovereignty over the long-disputed Mediterranean territory.

The House of Lords narrowly rejected a move to give Gibraltarians the right to vote in the 1999 Euro elections, despite Lord Bethell saying denial was "unfair and unjust".

Only a month later, 24-year-old Denise Matthews won her case at the human rights court in Strasbourg.

Spanish objection

The judges said she should have the vote because people in Gibraltar - mostly British citizens - are affected by European Union laws.

With 18,000 voters, we are unlikely to change the outcome

Albert Poggio, Gibraltar government
The Spanish have resisted allowing them to take part in EU affairs because they consider Gibraltar to be part of Spain.

The Foreign Office in London said it did not have the right to "extend the franchise" without consulting other member countries - but the court ruling strengthened its hand on the issue.

Albert Poggio, the Gibraltar government representative in London, told BBC News Online: "It has been agreed by the British government that it should do this.

Taking soundings

"It has been reinforced by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons.

"I think the Labour Party is already touching base with a number of constituencies to see how their current MEPs would feel.

Gibraltar docks
Gibraltar has a strong maritime heritage
"The South West and London are two that have been mooted.

"From the Gibraltar point of view, it doesn't make much difference and I don't suppose we are going to get a choice.

"The vote could be symbolic because with 18,000 voters, we are unlikely to change the outcome, unless it is a very marginal constituency."

The South West constituency has more than 300,000 electors.

Both London and the South West share a strong naval and maritime heritage with Gibraltar.

London would have additional advantages as home to both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Gibraltar government office.

See also:

05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw accused of Gibraltar betrayal
04 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Divided by the Rock
20 Nov 01 | Europe
Head to Head: Gibraltar's future
30 Jan 99 | UK Politics
Lords block Gibraltar voting move
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