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'Gibraltar being used as diversionary tactic'

The row between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar has escalated with Madrid now threatening to take legal action. Gibraltar would welcome that move, says Stephen Neish, head of the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation.

DW: This is not the first time that the government in Madrid has piled on the pressure. Is there a sense in Gibraltar that the situation is more serious this time around?

Stephen Neish: To a certain extent, yes, although we had noticed here that whenever there's a "popular" government, the Popular Party, Partido Popular, which is governing now, it tends to take a firmer stance over Gibraltar than when its main rivals, the Socialist Party, are in office. And, of course, on this particular occasion, the rise of the PP, the Partido Popular, to power, has coincided with Spain going through one of its worst economic moments. There is a feeling here, and I think in much of Europe, that this is being used as a diversionary tactic by Madrid to beat the nationalist drum and to say how much the Spaniards want Gibraltar to be Spanish.

Stephen Neish, Head of News with Gibraltar Broadcasting Union (Photo: Stephen Neish)

Stephen Neish heads the GBC's news department

The Spanish government has implemented border controls on the border between Gibraltar and Spain. The British government is now threatening to take legal action over those checks. Do you think the European Union should be doing more to resolve this issue?

There is a feeling that that is the case. I interviewed a spokesman for the European Commission about a week ago. And the interview didn't go down very well here. What they're saying is that they're planning to send a mission of experts down here to study the situation sometime in September or October. But the frontier controls are a daily occurrence, and they're spoiling life - not just for people in Gibraltar, but for people in the neighboring cities in Spain, many of whom come over here to work because they have no work in their own country. There is a feeling that the EU should be doing more. They're going to send a team of experts next month, but there isn't too much hope here that they will stick up for us. Spain is quite an influential member of the EU. The track record of the EU in standing up for Gibraltar isn't a good one. They normally just say that it's a bilateral problem between Britain and Spain and they don't really want to get involved.

Speaking of the angry Spanish who you've just mentioned, about 10,000 of them cross the border each day. Are they criticizing their own government?

Yes, many of them are. The people who are closer to Gibraltar than those who live in Madrid, and who don't really know the reality on the ground, are known as the Campo Gibraltareno. They know that the truth is that they're being made the sacrificial lamb very often by their own central government. They never had proper employment, they have never properly been rewarded by Madrid. On top of that, many of them come to Gibraltar to work, and they feel almost as if they're being penalized by Madrid for having to seek employment outside their home country. So the poor chaps are in a bit of an unenviable position, to be honest.

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People are saying Madrid is trying to draw attention away from its own domestic problems, like high unemployment and corruption. Do you think that's the case?

There is absolutely no doubt of that. To a certain extent you have to say that they've succeeded - because especially in right-wing newspapers like "ABC" and "La Razon," you'll find that the Barcenas case, a corruption case, has been taken off the front pages. Instead what you're seeing is a British frigate coming down to Gibraltar. They are, but it was part of a planned exercise that takes place every year. Some of those ships are also going to Spanish ports. But anyone reading those newspapers - especially those not living anywhere near the area - would almost think that we're about to start World War Three down here.

The Spanish foreign minister has suggested that Spain and Argentina present a united front over Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. What was the reaction from Gibraltar? What did the government say to that?

The government said it was good that they said it. We flushed Spain out. Spain and Argentina have never formally collaborated in claiming back Gibraltar and the Falklands, which of course are also British and which Argentina claims. They have always done this unofficially. It's now black on white. People have now seen that the Spanish foreign minister has said that he is going to try and do this. This has given strength to the British argument that Spain and Argentina have always had been in cahoots. Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo says that there is nothing new in what they have said, only now they're trying to formalize their position. It remains to be seen what Argentina will say in response. Spain and Argentina haven't exactly been getting on very well recently. Only last year, Argentina nationalized the Spanish arm of an oil company that operated off the Argentinean coast, so they're not exactly on the best of terms at the moment themselves.

Ironically, Spain itself has two territories on the north-African coast, Ceuta and Melilla. Has anybody suggested that perhaps Madrid should hand over these territories to Morocco?

This has been suggested especially by Morocco, every time that Spain revives the argument that they should recover Gibraltar. It is ironic, but I would go further and say that it's hypocritical to be arguing that they should hold on to those two enclaves, which are actually on the Moroccan coastline, but at the same time say that Gibraltar should be Spanish. It takes a special type of cheek to be able to claim both things.

Stephen Neish is the head of the news department at GBC, Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation.

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