Gibraltar: safer alone

Gibraltarians must be thanking their lucky stars they never joined Spain.

The Rock of Gibraltar towers as a 'Pillar of Hercules' at the entrance to the Mediterranean. (North Africa's Pillar is disputed by the Spanish exclave of Ceuta and Jebel Musa in Morocco). 

The European monolithic limestone promontory was captured by Britain in 1704 and signed over by Spain at the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, ending the War of Spanish Succession which registered defeat for the ambitions of Louis XIV of France who had been supported by Spain's Philip V. 

Yet Spain persists today in its claim to this British Overseas Territory. During the British Labour government of 2001-5, Tony Blair's administration tried to cut a joint sovereignty deal with the Spanish over Gibraltar. This was summarily dismissed at a 2002 Referendum when 99% of Gibraltarian voters rejected the notion. Famously almost the entire population of the Rock poured into the streets to demonstrate solidarity. 

In 2004 thousands waved Gibraltarian flags in exuberant celebration of the territory's tricentenary.  

A new Constitution Order was approved at a 2006 plebiscite, upgrading the territory's autonomous position and heralding a new non-colonial era. But the UK remains responsible for the Rock's financial stability, defence, international relations and domestic security.

Tensions with Spain surface occasionally, as in 2009 when "a dispute over Gibraltar's claim to territorial waters extending out three miles (4.8 km) gave rise to periodic non-violent maritime confrontations between Spanish and UK naval patrols" notes the World Factbook.

With 6.5 sq km, Gibraltar is over three times larger than Monaco. Its 29,400 inhabitants boast a per capita GDP (PPP) of US$43,000, according the World Factbook which notes also that economic growth ran at 6% for the last published year of 2008. The territory is self-sufficient and makes money from conferences, offshore banking and the shipping trade.

This is all a far cry from the situation in Spain, where The Economist forecasts growth to languish at 0.7% this year. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade calculates current Spanish per capita GDP (PPP) at US$30,234. Spanish unemployment, Europe's highest, ran at 20.9%, holding "above 20 percent for the third consecutive quarter, undermining the nation’s recovery from its worst recession in six decades," Taipai Times reported in June 2011.

A mere 3% of Gibraltarian workers are typically unemployed. This is not in any way to suggest that there aren't gripes on the Rock. There are. And a vigorous Opposition never ceases to voice them. There's a big debate underway, for example, about parliamentary reform proposals from Chief Minister Peter Caruana.  Local human rights legislation has been criticised as inadequate, and school performance has been as issue. 

Over the border in Spain, in the town of La Linea there's been pressure to achieve enhanced pension arrangements for Spanish workers when retiring from their jobs in Gibraltar.

But generally Gibraltarians must be fairly smug right now. As the Spanish government rolls out severe austerity measures to bring debt under control and boost investor confidence, the people of the Rock look pretty safe by comparison.

Gibraltar, safer and more secure alone. Neither is it deserted by the UK.

I've always wondered how the Spanish can continue to press their claim for sovereignty over Gibraltar when Spain still holds territorial possessions in Morocco and France. Ceuta and Melilla on the North African side of the Straits are autonomous cities within Spain. Also, there's another Spanish exclave at the town of Llívia over the mountains inside the French département of Pyrénées-Orientales. Quirks of history persist and it all appears somewhat incongruous, doesn't it? 

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