As the detailed discussions continue (as well as further technical talks which arose at the end of February), it appears that the series of meetings between officials from the Gibraltar, UK and Spanish governments are showing signs of bearing fruit. What that fruit will be remains to be seen, but all parties realises that they have come a long way since Gibraltar was invited to the discussions with its own voice in 2004.
What has changed then?
Two things in particular: Talks are still ongoing and expectations have been raised.
The fact that the talks are continuing is a good sign. It shows a willingness of all parties to work towards an agreement. These agreements concern issues which affect all those living and working in Gibraltar and the surrounding Campo; telephone lines; a free flowing frontier; more effective use of the airport – among others – inevitably have important political dimensions as well. Any agreement that is reached needs to show clearly and unambiguously that there will be no change in the sovereignty of Gibraltar as we know it.
The Chamber’s interest in the latter is only insofar as it promotes the former. Without better communications, a resolution of the telephone number issue, recognition of our 350 code, and easier cross-border access, businesses in Gibraltar remain hampered. The commercial community has adapted well over the years and have managed to develop sustainable businesses, despite these encumbrances.
But an agreement would bring something far more important than the removal of these day-to-day irritations. It would be the first tangible evidence that pragmatism has prevailed. It would recognise the common interests. It would also help to create greater certainty. In a world where business has to compete for capital and for investment one factor likely to kill investor interest is uncertainty. Giving investors greater certainty in Gibraltar’s future will be the most welcome outcome for the Chamber and its members.
Nevertheless the talks are still ongoing and expectations have been raised. As we went to press we are led to believe that an agreement is close to being announced. An agreement will need time, money, goodwill and patience to implement and ensure that it works well to the benefit of all sides. But if an outcome is to have time to bed down and take effect, the momentum of the talks needs to be maintained to deliver some sort of fruitful outcome. That outcome needs to be sooner rather than later, for all sides.
Only then can Gibraltar’s commerce prepare for take off.