Global Insider: British and Spanish Claims to Gibraltar

The Spanish government recently published guidelines for coast guard patrol limits around Gibraltar that closely resemble the borders claimed by Britain in an ongoing territorial dispute between the two countries over the peninsula, drawing criticism from the Spanish conservative opposition. In an e-mail interview, Peter Gold, Emeritus Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of the West of England and author of "Gibraltar: British or Spanish?" explains the current territorial claims to Gibraltar.

WPR: What is the status quo, including the Spanish and U.K. positions, regarding Gibraltar?

Peter Gold: The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar has officially been in British hands since the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. It is listed by the U.N. as one of the territories awaiting decolonization, but because its sovereignty is contested by Spain, successive U.N. resolutions have instead required Britain and Spain to resolve the issue bilaterally. The Brussels Process of 1984 established a forum for discussion of the Gibraltar question, including issues of sovereignty, and although it led to the reopening of the border with Spain and to some improvement in relations, the dispute over sovereignty prevented progress on a range of practical issues. Following an abortive attempt to explore the possibility of shared sovereignty in 2001-02, it was agreed in 2004 to establish a Tripartite Forum of Dialogue, with Gibraltar as a member in its own right, to work on matters of cross-border cooperation, while discussion of the issue of sovereignty has been put to one side. In 2006, Britain agreed to a new constitution for Gibraltar that they both consider to be post-colonial, but neither Spain nor the U.N. views it as having changed Gibraltar's status.

The Gibraltarians have overwhelmingly (most notably in referenda in 1967 and in 2002) opted for a close relationship with Britain. They do not seek independence, although this is currently not an option given the sovereignty dispute. Since the days when Gibraltar was principally a military and naval base, they have skilfully adapted their economy and currently prosper through the territory's offshore tax status, the development of VAT-free trading, tourism, bunkering, online gaming and as a hub for cruise liners.

WPR: What is the current status of the tripartite dialogue, including sticking points and opportunities for breakthroughs?

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