THE BLOG

Spanish Hypocrisy Over Gibraltar: The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

08/08/2013 19:44 BST | Updated 08/10/2013 10:12 BST

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Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, seen here, is one of Spain's 'Gibraltars' in Morocco.

Spain's antagonistic behavior toward Gibraltar is unbecoming of a NATO ally in 21st-century Europe. A €50 tax at the border on top of seven hour long border crossings, 200 illegal incursions by Spanish vessels into Gibraltarian waters in 2012, and intent to sell 20 jet fighters to Argentina- these are not the acts of a friend and partner.

Spain's current political and economic woes are well known. It is clear that the government in Madrid desperately needs a distraction. For many in Spain the issue of Gibraltar is just the distraction needed. But Spanish disdain for Gibraltar is pure hypocrisy - and many in Spain know it.

Spain still holds two exclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, and controls three more such smaller areas called the Plazas de Soberanía - or Places of Sovereignty in or just off the coast of its neighbour Morocco.

Ceuta is a city of 79,000 people roughly twice the size of Gibraltar. Melilla is a city of 73,000 and also larger than Gibraltar. Both cities are located in Morocco in the same way Gibraltar is in Spain. Since they are legally part of Spain, Ceuta and Melilla are the only two EU cities located in mainland Africa. They are also part of the Schengen Agreement and the Eurozone. According to a 2007 poll the vast majority of people in Spain, 87.9%, say Ceuta and Melilla are part of Spain. In the same poll 50% said that they did understand the claim Morocco has on the two cities.

In addition there are the three geographical and political anomalies that form Spain's so-called Plazas de Soberanía in Morocco.

The Chafarinas Islands is a small group of three islands located two miles off the coast of Morocco. Last summer the Spanish interior minister, during a visit to Melilla, suggested that Spain might deploy security forces to the islands. Of course, the Moroccans were not thrilled by this possibility.

The Peñón de Alhucemas is an island located 350 meters (not miles) from the Moroccan coast. This island has a perimeter slightly smaller in size than London's Olympic stadium. As of 2012 it was home to 30 soldiers of Spain's 32nd Mixed Artillery Regiment.

The Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera is located at the tip of a small peninsula. This Spanish peninsula is connected to Morocco by an 85m long isthmus making this one of the world's shortest international land borders. There is also a small Spanish military garrison based there.

Separate to these three Plazas de Soberanía is the small but contested Perejil Island. Located just 250 meters off the coast of Morocco, this island was the scene of an armed confrontation in 2002 between the two countries. Thankfully, nobody was injured when Spanish commandos were sent to liberate the island from Moroccan naval cadets. Peace was brokered by then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell after both sides agreed to return to the status quo ante.

The legality or righteousness of Spain's numerous possessions in Morocco is not the object of this article. But it is clear that Spain's disdain for Gibraltar is purely hypocritical when viewed through the wider lens of Spanish possessions in Morocco.

Above being hypocritical, Spain's behaviour creates unnecessary tension between two very close friends and partners. Spain is an important European partner of the UK and significant NATO ally. Millions of Britons and Spaniards live and holiday in each other's country. The Gibraltarmian's stuck in the middle just want to live their lives in a state of peace and prosperity.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht is clear on Gibraltar. It is time for Spain to get over it.