Hurd in Rock talks

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST high-level ministerial talks over Gibraltar for two years will be held in Madrid tomorrow and could pave the way to a more intensive series of meetings to discuss the colony's future, writes Donald Macintyre.

The meeting comes amid indications that the Government is considering ways to strengthen regulation of Gibraltar's role as an offshore financial centre. The Gibraltar government is also demanding a new constitution giving it greater autonomy.

Against this complex background, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, will meet his Spanish counterpart, Javier Solana, under the so-called 'Brussels process' whereby the two countries are supposed to discuss the colony every six months.

While Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Joe Bassano, has insisted that he wants more autonomy for the Rock, the British government is anxious to have safeguards that Gibraltar, whose 1969 constitition was set up before Britain entered the European Community, will not fall foul of EC banking and other directives. Under EC law Britain is responsible for any breaches of EC directives in Gibraltar.

Beyond this, however, is the long-term and near-taboo issue of Gibraltar's sovereignty. The 1969 constitution guarantees that sovereignty will never be transferred to Spain without the active agreement of the Rock's 28,000 inhabitants. The Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, has reportedly show interest in the past in a compromise under which dual sovereignty could be operated between Spain and the UK. But that was rejected outright by the Gibraltar government.

One possible outcome of tomorrow's discussion is a fresh programme of meetings to discuss the future of the colony. Such a move would be low-key, but could prompt speculation that the dual sovereignty proposal will eventually be revived.

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