Monday, 3 December 2012

Picardo and Governor to meet Lidington after Spain purports to pass law controlling British Waters.....

The Spanish Government on Friday, passed legislation banning land reclamation and the offshore storage of fuel in Gibraltar waters, in a move that threatens a serious clash between the UK and Spain over jurisdiction.


 The bans form part of a wider legislative initiative approved by Spain’s Council of
Ministers to upgrade the status of a Spanish EU-approved nature site that covers the entirety of British Gibraltar territorial waters.

Britain says Spain has no jurisdiction in these waters but Madrid is shielding itself behind the fact that the European Commission approved its site and that the European Court of Justice has dismissed two separate challenges to that decision. In unveiling the law Spain’s vice prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said the Spanish state had “exclusive powers” to legislate on environmental issues.

Developments in Madrid were followed swiftly by action at sea. The Spanish marine and fisheries research vessel Emma Bardan entered British waters yesterday afternoon to carry out survey work for Spain’s Ministry for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.
The Governor, Sir Adrian Johns, said the vessel had violated British sovereignty and was ordered out by the Gibraltar Squadron.

“The Foreign & Commonwealth Office [FCO] will make an urgent formal diplomatic protest in Madrid to reaffirm that the UK does not recognise any Spanish [nature site] within British Gibraltar territorial waters nor any Spanish attempt to exercise jurisdiction within [those waters],” Sir Adrian said, adding that he would raise the matter personally with Europe Minister David Lidington next week.

“The FCO has previously written to the Spanish Government to make this clear.”

But Britain’s complaints have so far fallen on deaf ears in the Spanish capital.

The official statement issued by the Spanish Government following the Council of Ministers claimed the EU’s decision to approve the Spanish site was taken “…in virtue of the Spain’s jurisdiction and sovereignty over the waters that surround the Rock of Gibraltar.”

The statement added that Spain’s Ministry for Agriculture, Food and the Environment was the competent authority to ensure the protection of the marine environment within the so-called Estrecho Oriental site.

Last night, the Government of Gibraltar rejected that assessment and said the Spanish move “…is of no value and changes nothing.”

“The waters around Gibraltar are British and remain British under international law, namely the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” said No.6 Convent Place in a statement.

“However, it is totally unacceptable that Spain should purport to legislate for what can or cannot happen in British waters and this raises serious issues of principle and of sovereignty which cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.”

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Garcia will discuss the developments in a meeting on Monday with Mr Lidington.


The legislative move yesterday upgrades the Spanish site to the status of Special Area of Conservation [SAC] under the EU Habitats Directive.

The directive imposes legal obligations on EU states to establish and enforce management plans aimed at protecting sensitive natural habitats.

Spain’s Ministry for Agriculture, Food and the Environment has already published a 52-page management plan for the site and will continue developing it in the coming months.

Prior to yesterday, Britain had its own SAC in Gibraltar waters.

The British SAC is far smaller than the Spanish one and was upgraded in March, 2011. Its management plan was revised again in October this year.

The European Commission has avoided any direct comment on the territorial row over the waters, other than to say that Spain and Britain should work together to ensure the proper management of their respective sites.

The Spanish Government said the legislation approved yesterday sets out, alongside detailed scientific information on species and action plans, “…measures for cooperation and coordination with other administrations.”