Here is the first in a new series of posts about Gibraltar for my friends who may not know much about the place. And anyone else who is interested.
When I first arrived 14 years ago on holiday I knew two things – 1) that it was British, and 2) that my father spent some time here when he was in the Royal Navy. Oh, and that there were wonderful apes/monkeys – correctly speaking, monkeys – Barbary Macaques.
Monkey outside the tax office – don’t think they have to pay taxes though…
Here we go with a few of the basic facts.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, a former Crown Colony. Here is Wiki’s quick summary:
The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories of the United Kingdom which, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, fall under its jurisdiction.They were acquired during the time of the British Empire and have not become independent or ceded to another country. The name “British Overseas Territory” was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, and replaced the name British Dependent Territory, which was introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981. Before 1981, the territories were known as colonies or Crown colonies.
and there is more info about the territories here. Britain retains responsibility for foreign policy and defence (hang onto this point, it is important).
People from Gibraltar are Gibraltarians. English is the official language but locals also speak Spanish and Llanito. Do not expect to find a little colony of Brits here.
The Gibraltar government is elected by Gibraltar residents. The current party in power is the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD), led by Peter Caruana, who is the Chief Minister. The next election is due in 2011.
It is NOT an island – a common misconception – but is connected to the Iberian peninsula by a narrow isthmus, with the border town of La Linea. It is about three miles long by 3/4 of a mile wide, so its overall area is approx 2 1/4 square miles. The population is around 30,000 people.
Gibraltar is the nearest airport in the world to its city. Coming across the frontier into Gib currently involves driving, cycling, or walking across the airport runway. When planes are due to land/take off, the route across the airport is closed leading to queues and delays.
Runway – and past that, La Linea, and Spain. (For the pedants I had better quickly add that La Linea is actually past the rather nice MOD properties and Western Beach. Spain begins at the built-up bit).
Thousands of cross-border workers – from Spain – cross the frontier every day for higher wages than they can get in Spain, (assuming they can currently even get a job in Spain), and to take money out of Gib. Figures range from between 4000 workers to 12000. The truth is probably at the lower end for legitimate employees, but just add on all those people working on the black, mmmm, easily near the top figure.
Some important dates in Gib’s history are:
711 – conquered by Muslims
1309 – taken by Spanish
1333 – surrendered to a Muslim siege
1462 – recaptured by Spain
1704 – taken by an Anglo-Dutch fleet as part of the Spanish war of succession
1713 – Treaty of Utrecht – Spain cedes Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity
Onto this post’s current news issue, which has been rumbling on for some time now.
The proposed toll
The mayor of La Linea, Alejandro Sanchez, has proposed a €5 toll each way for some people to enter and leave Gibraltar. As the stories change virtually every week, it is difficult to say who would be included and excluded.
Residents of La Linea would almost certainly be excluded. Included? … Gib residents? Tourists? Spanish residents from San Roque? Algeciras? Sevilla? Madrid?
It seems, according to most local newspapers, that the coffers of the La Linea Ayuntamiento (town council) are rather bare. To the extent that council employees have not been paid for some weeks and have been staging strikes outside the town hall.
Well where better to go than to hit rich Gibraltar? Huh?
1) Is there anywhere in Europe where you have to pay to cross a frontier? Remember the Europe of free movement ?
2) All Gibraltarians are not rich. Jobs are hard to find (often done cheaper by someone who doesn’t live in Gib and working on the black) and the cost of living is higher than in Spain. Unless you smoke and drink spirits of course, in which case Gib is paradise. But unemployment benefit in Gib is not a patch on Spanish benefit. What do Spaniards get? Some 70% or so of their last wage? £80 a week here for a married couple. For 13 weeks. Not for a couple of years like the Spanish system (wonders why Spanish coffers are slightly empty?)
3) What is everyone doing about it? Caruana? Our MEPs? Giles Chichester? Trevor Colman, Earl of Dartmouth? Ashley Fox? Julie Girling? Graham Watson?
Well the three Tories – Chichester, Fox and Girling have at least said something. A combined effort of writing to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, EU Commission President José Manuel Barosso (Portuguese), and dear Señor Sanchez.
And the result so far?
The Ayuntamiento de Andalucía and the Spanish government in Madrid have said this proposed toll is illegal. And they can’t actually do anything about it as it hasn’t happened or words to that effect. Much the same from the EU. Not sure what William Hague has done (his website is rather bare on his Gib efforts, somewhat like his head, oops not fair that one) or whether Señor Sanchez ever responded to Ms Girling.
So where are we? Not knowing what is going on basically. Now Señor Sanchez has come up with a crafty little wheeze. He is considering fiddling with two routes in and out of Gib, one toll-free – and the other – the toll route of course.
Oh and the Mayor of La Linea thinks the entry charge for the Upper Rock national park in Gibraltar is illegal. Hello, Señor Sanchez. This is not a toll to cross the border to a foreign country to go to our homes. This is an entry charge for a nature reserve. Not heard of that before? Nor is it any of your business what the Gib government does within Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is not a nature reserve. Or a theme park. We don’t deserve to be charged to go in and out of the place we live. And neither do the people who want to visit Gibraltar, or the cross-border workers who come here every day. Or even the Spaniards who regularly come here to fill up with cheap fuel, tabs and booze – or is that the problem too? Possibly spending money in Gib rather than La Linea? Go fill your coffers elsewhere Señor.
Next post – territorial waters dispute.
And you thought living in Gib was an idyllic peaceful place in the sun?