Today is the first time residents of Gibraltar have the right to vote in the European Elections. Britain and Holland are holding the elections today and for the first time British legislation will include the 20.000 residents of Gibraltar – “Gibraltareños” as they are known in Spain – in the European electoral process.
In 1994 a citizen of Gibraltar, Denise Matthews applied to vote in European parliamentary elections but her application was refused because. 18 years earlier, when Britain and the then EEC member states signed an agreement to ensure that all nationals of EC member states had the right to elect representatives in Europe, the territory of Gibraltar was left out.
When Matthews was told she could not vote, she took the British government to court and six years later, with strong backing from the Gibraltar government she won her case.
The Spanish government filed a complaint with the European Commission, alleging that non-European Gibraltarians should not be allowed to vote.
But in 2003 the Commission released the following verdict (if you can call it that):
“The Commission considers, following an in depth analysis of the Spanish complaint and an oral hearing held on the 1st of October, that the UK has organised the extension of voting rights to residents in Gibraltar within the margin of discretion presently given to Member States by the EU law. However, given the sensitivity of the underlying bilateral issue, the Commission at this stage refrains from adopting a reasoned opinion within the meaning of Article 227 of the Treaty and invites the parties to find an amicable solution“.
Gibraltar remains a highly sensitive issue in Spain, and it is unlikely that the Spanish and British governments will every reach an “amicable solution” on issues related to the legal status of the Rock and its inhabitants.
Any press conferences held here after a visit to Spain of British Government representatives or to the UK of Spanish Government representatives are generally fuelled by questions about Gibraltar. Only yesterday in a lunch meeting in Luxembourg attended by Justice and Interior ministers, the Spanish Interior Minister, José Antonio Alonso, demanded “a precise and clear exception of Gibraltar” from the new EU norms regulating the creation of the European Agency whose mission will be to control national borders. The new European Agency is expected to be operative by January 2005.