Spain seeks one-on-one talks with Britain over Gibraltar

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 20, 2013 2:59 AM
Spain seeks one-on-one talks with Britain over Gibraltar

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain wants to resume bilateral talks with Britain as soon as possible over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

A diplomatic war of words over the British Mediterranean enclave began in July when it built an artificial reef in disputed waters using concrete blocks, which Spain says restricts access for its fishermen.

Spain lays claim to the territory, with a population of just 30,000, which it ceded to Britain by treaty 300 years ago. Spain has recently tightened border controls and threatened to take further action, including a 50 euro ($67) border levy.

The European Commission said on Monday it will send a fact-finding mission to Gibraltar to examine the legitimacy of the controls.

"Since the beginning of the current legislature, the Spanish government has urged the UK to resume bilateral negotiations as soon as possible on issues of Gibraltar's sovereignty, which have been on hold for too long," Garcia-Margallo said.

Opposition parties in Spain and Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo have accused Spain's ruling center-right government of using the conflict as a smokescreen for a corruption scandal involving senior politicians.

Garcia-Margallo reiterated Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's demand for Britain to remove the blocks used for the reef. He said Spain was open to creating ad hoc forums with other authorities, like the Gibraltarian government and the local government of neighboring region Andalusia.

"The dialogue must be bilateral and respect international, European and national laws," he said.

Spain has threatened to take its claim on Gibraltar to the United Nations.

Long queues have built up at the border in recent weeks as the rift has escalated. Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen open border agreement between many EU countries, meaning Spain is entitled to carry out proportionate checks.

Garcia-Margallo highlighted Spain's concerns about the British territory, including Gibraltar's opaque tax regime and said Spain had initiated proceedings to denounce bunkering, or refueling ships at sea.

The minister said smuggling was also a worry as European Union excise duties do not apply on the rocky outcrop.

($1 = 0.7490 euros)

(Reporting by Clare Kane; Editing by John Stonestreet)