On December 31, a few hours before New Year’s Eve, Spain and the United Kingdom (with Gibraltarian representatives seated in the British part) reached a “principle of agreement” that will change the relationship of the Rock with its Spanish environment more than any other event recorded in the last 300 years. The document that contains the pact, to which EL PAÍS has had access, foresees the demolition of any “physical barrier” (the Gate) between the British colony and Spain and a double key system (in Gibraltarian and Spanish hands) to enter through the port and airport of the Rock.
The text, distributed to the 27 countries of the EU, contains the guidelines for negotiating a treaty between the European Commission and the United Kingdom on Gibraltar that must enter into force in six months. These are its main points:
Sovereignty. Articles 1 and 3 of the agreement emphasize that its content “does not prejudge the question of sovereignty and jurisdiction” of Gibraltar and that the future treaty will safeguard “the respective positions of Spain and the United Kingdom” in this matter. In his letter of presentation of the pact, the British ambassador to the EU calls for effective measures to avoid new barriers with Gibraltar while the future treaty enters into force.
Mobility. “He [futuro] agreement [UE-Reino Unido] it will contain provisions to allow the application to Gibraltar of the most relevant parts of the Schengen acquis necessary to achieve the elimination of the control of the movement of persons between Gibraltar and the Schengen area, removing all physical barriers ”, states the text agreed between London and Madrid.
Role of Spain. “Spain, as a neighboring Schengen member state, will be responsible for the implementation […]Schengen controls. United Kingdom (Gibraltar) no [los] will implement ”. The text insists that “Spain will be responsible to the EU for the application” of the Schengen agreement in Gibraltar, “including the border code and the protection of its outer limits.”
Double entry key. Gibraltar will first decide whether to authorize or deny entry to the visitor, using its own database. Spain will later decide whether to authorize or deny entry into the Schengen area (which includes Gibraltar), using the Schengen database. “Both decisions will be cumulative”; that is, both permits are required to enter the Rock.
Port and airport. “Spain and Gibraltar will carry out controls on people and luggage at the port facilities, in addition to other controls on cruise ships and the marina.” Similar procedure will be applied to arrivals by air. “Spanish and Gibraltarian officials will share offices in an airport facility created for this purpose,” the text specifies.
Transition time. During a “reasonable implementation period” of four years, Spain “will request operational assistance from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) for tasks related to Schengen controls and the protection of external borders”, establishing a joint mission. In the event that, after the four years, any of the parties (Spain or the United Kingdom, including Gibraltarians) “is not satisfied with the results”, the agreement will be terminated, after consultation.
Visa regime. Spanish embassies and consulates will be competent to issue Schengen visas short-term (up to 90 days) to enter the European Borderless Area via Gibraltar. Spain will inform Gibraltar of the visas granted and the Rock “must be aligned with the EU visa policy.” Long-term visas (more than 90 days) for those who have a residence permit in Gibraltar will also be granted by Spanish embassies or consulates, according to Schengen regulations, although they could be sent to the interested party through the corresponding British embassy. Spain will also be the one that grants the ETIAS (system that identifies potential risk in the travel of citizens) to be able to enter the Schengen zone through Gibraltar. It is a travel permit required from 2022 for citizens of countries that do not need a visa.
Residence permits. The authorities of the Rock will be able to give residence permits that “will only be valid to reside in Gibraltar”, the text warns. “The Gibraltarian authorities must take into account a possible opposition from Spain,” he adds. In addition, the Government of El Peñón must guarantee that its residence permit policy conforms to Spanish and European standards “and is based on the existence of real ties with Gibraltar.”
Return and asylum. To those rejected at the Gibraltar border, the Schengen rules on return to the country of departure will apply. The Gibraltarian authorities will be responsible for granting asylum, but their decision will be subject to consultation with the European Commission to verify that it is in accordance with EU legislation.
Judicial and police cooperation. Spain and Gibraltar will jointly monitor the external borders through fluid judicial and police cooperation, which will be reinforced.
Customs union. The future treaty will include a “tailor-made solution”, based on the adaptation to Gibraltar of the EU customs union, from which it was previously excluded. Customs controls in La Verja will be eliminated as unnecessary, but “measures will be necessary to avoid distortions in the internal market, especially in the economy of the neighboring region”, Andalusia. To do this, Gibraltar must apply “substantially” the same tariffs and trade policy as the EU, which includes customs duties, VAT, prohibitions and restrictions for security reasons; as well as providing the Union with reliable statistics on its imports of goods.
Safeguard mechanism. The precise customs procedures will be formalized in Spain, outside the Gate, although control points will be installed in the port and the airport of the colony. The customs authorities of Spain and Gibraltar will collaborate to control imports from the Rock. A mechanism will be put in place to monitor the application of EU customs legislation and, in the event of non-compliance, controls could be reintroduced. “Eliminating the physical barriers between Spain and Gibraltar will require strengthening harmonization. Given the small volume of freight traffic from Gibraltar to the EU, the procedures should not imply an excessive administrative burden ”, the text states.
Tobacco. The agreement underlines the need to develop special taxes for “sensitive products” (tobacco, alcohol and fuel) and to adopt measures that guarantee equal conditions and “ensure the traceability of tobacco products”. “Administrative agreements between Spain and the Gibraltar authorities will develop their mutual cooperation in this area.”
Environment. Gibraltar will not adopt or maintain any measure that weakens the level of environmental protection of the EU. Mutual cooperation in this matter will be reinforced ”, he says.
Cohesion fund. The agreement could include the creation of a financial cohesion mechanism between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar in terms of training and employment. “EU funds could contribute to this mechanism,” he says.
Cross-border workers. The definition will be as broad as possible and will cover both self-employed and employed workers. They will be guaranteed equal treatment with nationals regarding employment, pay and working conditions. Their work permit will give them preferential access to the labor market, regardless of their situation and without limitations by occupation, being able to change employers. The permit application may be submitted by both the employer and the worker and the mere submission of the application could include the right to move to seek employment. They will receive a physical document that will certify them as cross-border workers.
Social Security. The agreement will include a chapter on Social Security coordination of those who work in Gibraltar and reside in Spain and vice versa. The provisions will be similar to those of the treaty between the EU and the United Kingdom and never inferior, in protection and rights, to those of the withdrawal treaty.
Personal information. To facilitate the flow of personal data, the agreement provides that European legislation on this matter will continue to apply to Gibraltar, adapting to changes.
Disputes. Differences in the application of the agreement will be submitted to arbitration by the governance mechanism of the general treaty between London and Brussels on Brexit.