News November, 22nd 2009 by

European Union protects Gibraltar

Gibraltar 6628

A mistake made by a civil servant who was applying for European Union protected habitat status for the coast has thrown the sovereignty of Gibraltar into question by allowing Spain to lay claim to its shores in the name of conserving birds and bats.

Meanwhile, Spain, which has claimed Gibraltar as its own territory for more than 200 years, submitted, without informing London, a successful EU application to create an “Estrecho Oriental” conservation zone that includes the British territory.

The mistake occurred when the official made an error in a map reference on the document and consequently submitted an application for an area of coastal waters near Algeria. It happened in 2006 but was only noticed recently and theoretically gives Spain responsibility for managing the Rock’s coastline and waters as a special “Site of Community Interest” (SCI), a development that has dismayed Gibraltar’s government.

Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat MEP for Gibraltar, has written to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, demanding action before the chain of clerical errors leads to a full blown international incident and Gibraltar has now filed a case in the EU courts to demand that the European Commission tear up Spain’s unlawful claim to British territorial waters.

Mr. Watson commented that “With the slip of a Whitehall pen, the UK government has opened the way for the Spanish to lay claim to Gibraltar’s waters, it’s lucky that British ministers weren’t sent to fight the Spanish Armada. They’d have rocked up in Hull when the fleet was in the Channel.”

Mr Watson added his concern that the British government is not offering support to Gibraltar in its bureaucratic battle with both Madrid and Brussels, he said, “It has been left to Gibraltar to challenge the Spanish classification of their coastal waters as a SCI. But David Miliband must say what the British government intends to do to mend fences broken in part by its own bungling.”

Conservationists are worried that the decreasing diversity due to urban development, tourism and invasive plant species is damaging Gibraltar’s open ground plants, birds and bats and in the Brussels application, British civil servants have asked for EU protection status for flora and fauna on Gibraltar’s sand dunes, sea cliffs, caves and forests and adding that the Feral cats and a high population of yellow-legged gulls are also a problem. The British government has now made appeals to both the European Commission and Spain to contest the legality of the Spanish habitat zone.

Instead of correctly specifying the Gibraltar’s geographical position as five degrees 22 minutes west of the Greenwich meridian, a civil servant gave the same position east, a stretch of water near Algiers. 

Simon Schönbeck

A serial entrepreneur and Founder of this very site.

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