Podium: We'll speak to Spain, not be part of it

From a speech delivered by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar to the Royal Commonwealth Society in London

AS YOU all know, Spain persists with her anachronistic sovereignty claim to Gibraltar, even though Gibraltar has not been Spanish for 295 years. The central tenet of Spain's position is that the people of Gibraltar have no right to self-determination. That is, no right to decide our own future. Put another way, that others should decide our future despite our wishes. A truly remarkable proposition in a family of European democracies, within the EU on the eve of the third millennium.

Our own position is quite clear. During the 295 years that have elapsed since Spain lost Gibraltar the people of Gibraltar have acquired rights to their homeland, the same rights that were acquired by all ex-colonial peoples in their colonial territories. By the colonists in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America and the Caribbean Countries. The people of Gibraltar have been established in their homeland for longer then any of these countries were colonies or have existed in their present status. And therefore, as you would expect, we assert our right to self- determination, which the Charter of the UN and international laws upholds as the inalienable right of all colonist peoples.

Gibraltar has rejected Spain's proposals (the so-called Matutes Proposals) for full integration of Gibraltar into Spain under Spanish sovereignty preceded by a transitional period of joint Anglo-Spanish sovereignty. The people of Gibraltar do not wish to be part of Spain and such a proposal therefore amounts to a total denial of our right to self-determination.

This does not mean that we wish to live in enmity with Spain. Far from it. We constantly seek dialogue with Spain at all political and administrative levels - municipal, provincial, regional and national governments. We have achieved it in the first three. Only the national government in Madrid has, so far, eluded us. I have offered to meet with Senor Matutes, the Spanish Foreign Minister, whenever he agrees. We do not lack the confidence and security to participate in such dialogue. We are very willing to engage Spain in dialogue. There is much to discuss. Co-operation in economic, social, cultural, judicial and law enforcement matters; bridge building and fence mending. We do, however, insist that in any process of dialogue about Gibraltar, we should be present in our own right and with our own voice, in other words that the dialogue should not be structured as bilateral between London and Madrid, since that ignores the incontrovertible fact that we must be the principal participants in such talks. Spain, on the other hand, worries that tripartite dialogue accords to the people of Gibraltar a degree of recognition that she thinks will prejudice her fundamental position on the Gibraltar issue. This need not be so and we, for our part, would be happy to work to find a formula for dialogue with which we were both content and could live.

And so, as we approach the new millennium what are our hopes and aspirations as a people?

Firstly, to assert our right to decide our own political future, free of external duress and, in exercise of that right, to obtain a modern, non-colonial, constitutional relationship with the UK.

Second, to obtain respect for our EU rights and compliance by others with their EU obligations towards us so that our compliance with our own obligations should be matched by an unfettered enjoyment of our rights in the EU in accordance with our constitutional autonomy.

Third, to continue to develop our economic, social and political fabric so that Gibraltar keeps pace with the modern, prosperous, increasingly open and transparent Europe of which it forms part.

Fourth, but not least, to engage our neighbour Spain in a process of meaningful and constructive dialogue to establish the best and most constructive and co-operative relationship between us that is possible - and reflects the fact that we are democratic neighbours within the EU.

And our hope is that as we enter the third millennium Spain will be able to modernise her own thinking and approach to the Gibraltar issue; that she will come to terms with the inescapable reality that, whatever happened 295 years ago, the people of Gibraltar in the European Community of the third millennium have rights and legitimate aspirations which need to be respected and accommodated.

We for our part understand that Spain will always be our neighbour and should, naturally, be a friend. Only through dialogue can modern, democratic politicians deal with issues such as these.

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