Gibraltar border controls examined by EC amid UK-Spanish tensions
European Commission carries out ‘fact-finding mission’ after summer dispute led to huge queues at Gibraltar border crossing.
Officials from the European Commission have begun inspecting border controls in Gibraltar following complaints of excessive delays caused by Spanish officials that led to a war of words with Britain.
The EC team is carrying out what it described as a “technical fact-finding mission” in Gibraltar and La Línea, Andalucia, after the Gibraltar government said overzealous border officials were causing lines of traffic to build up, making daily life a misery for people either side of the border with the British overseas territory.
The increased security on the Spanish side came after a dispute with the UK this summer over an artificial underwater reef. Gibraltar’s government dropped 74 concrete blocks into the sea in a disputed area of water regularly used by Spanish fishing boats. Gibraltar described the artificial reef as a necessary environmental protection, but the Spanish government saw it as an act of provocation. The dispute simmered all summer, leading to the intervention by the EC.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s visit, Gibraltar accused Spain of ordering a last-minute improvement to its traffic control system to “disguise and conceal” the delays they had caused.
“This crude attempt at the last minute by the Spanish authorities to disguise and conceal the way in which they normally conduct such searches at the border, in a manner that is likely to mislead the European Commission, will be brought to the immediate attention of the EC,” said a spokesman for the Gibraltar government.
“Clearly, it would seem that the announcement of the European Commission’s visit is already producing positive effects, even before the commission inspectors arrive.”
The EC team consists of officials from the department of home affairs, customs union and justice, as well as the European anti-fraud office (Olaf), which will investigate allegations from Spain that Gibraltar is a haven for smuggling of illegal contraband, particularly cheap cigarettes.
“The delegation will look at installations and checks carried out at the entry and exit of persons and goods on both sides of the border as well as issues related to alleged smuggling,” said the commission. The visit will last one day, but the EC did not say when its findings would be made public.
Last month, there were reports of violence at the border as tempers frayed while angry commuters queued to get home. As well as reports of missiles being thrown at the Spanish Guardia Civil officers, two unions organised a protest after it was alleged that an officer was injured when a Gibraltar-registered car failed to stop.
Around 8,000 Spaniards are thought to work in Gibraltar but live in Spain, mostly in the border towns of La Línea and Algeciras.