Picardo battles to reaffirm Rock’s public interest

by F. Oliva

Several important conclusions can be drawn from Chief Minister Fabian Picardo’s recent appearance before the House of Commons, European Scrutiny Committee. Perhaps the most significant is that he has a rational, long-term political vision for the future of Gibraltar, a well-constructed plan that is unmatched by the paltry pursuits of an Opposition more concerned about short-term, party political scrambles for votes, than with addressing the matters of existential magnitude that shook us to the core after the Brexit upheaval reconfigured our political parameters for all time.

Blissful unawareness
Since 2016 we have seen one engaged in statecraft, in securing the Rock’s continued viability as a self-governing, economically prosperous territory, while others in their bubble of blissful unawareness, far from putting a shoulder to the wheel, flounder in trivia, displaying supine ignorance of political context, public interest and history.
Picardo reassured Gibraltarians who support the proposed legally binding EU-UK Treaty on Gibraltar, by all accounts the overwhelming majority of us, that a good agreement is indeed within reach. An outcome that delivers the breakthrough objectives set out in the New Year’s Eve Agreement of 2020: a free flowing frontier for people and goods. At the same time providing the priceless bonus of legal certainty to the citizens of Gibraltar and the Campo, an essential pre-requisite for businesses to thrive in a new environment of cross-border cooperation, mutual economic development and enhanced opportunities.
It stands to reason that if Gibraltar’s economy has thrived since the frontier opened even during periods when Spanish goodwill has been conspicuously absent, we can now gain increased impetus and economic growth, as Spain potentially relinquishes its traditional role of antagonist to seriously contemplate the mutual advantages of a cross-border business partnership.
There are no original sins in politics, no irredeemable affronts that cannot be overcome with sufficient doses of democratic goodwill. Those who insist on a short-sighted, self-serving narrative that feeds on the perpetuation of rancour, there are examples on both sides of the border, are destined to languish on the wrong side of history.
If Germany, UK and France, to name but three major western nations were able to overcome centuries of bloodshed, dynastic wars and the sacrifice of generations of young men, to forge enduring strategic relationships, how much more so should we be able to strike mutually beneficial interactions with a close neighbour when our own differences arguably pale into insignificance by comparison?
We should be able to draw conclusive encouragement to confront what lies ahead, from momentous examples that become evident with just the most cursory glance at European history.
The radical departure from the pernicious dynamics of preceding relations with Spain, the stale, stifling legacy of the closed frontier years, that the New Year’s Eve Agreement represents cannot be celebrated enough. The renewal of foreign affairs political thinking that Picardo has authored and spearheaded, has yielded an innovative blueprint for a two-fold purpose: it has the potential of altering the political landscape of cross-border relations for all time, while safeguarding positions of principle that are indefinitely protected, and from the GSLP Government point of view, which is Gibraltar’s point of view, with no compromise on fundamentals. A dual purpose that should facilitate its crystallisation in an international treaty to carve a huge space for advancement.
Mr Picardo’s performance before the select committee at times under intense cross-examination by a panel of heavily Eurosceptic Tory MPs, (who reflect at least in part official establishment mores) provided thought-provoking insights into the engine room of the political process, the complexities and legal discrepancies that the concept of sovereignty can evoke, divergent views between the revilement of the slightest association with the European Court of Justice as anathema, and Picardo’s more nuanced and constructive position towards an institution whose role in the treaty if any, is yet to be determined.
Certainly, in Gibraltar it would not be seen with such loathing, or as Picardo himself put it, as the litmus test by which the treaty’s merits are judged.
The unyielding doctrinaire rigidity that was manifest in some of the MP contributions, an almost phobic dread that any involvement by the ECJ, the least cohabitation with a civil law system, would constitute a terrible dilution of British sovereignty, sharply contrasted with Picardo’s pragmatic approach. We do not share that abhorrence for ECJ ties however residual. It is a non-issue which raises zero concerns for Gibraltarians although clearly, it has to be proportionate to our size and economic activity.