The British who travel to Gibraltar will have to undergo passport controls to visit their colony, while the Spanish will be able to enter it freely and the Llanitos – as Gibraltarians are popularly known in their region – will be able to circulate uncontrollably through Spain and for the 26 countries that have signed the Schengen Treaty, the European area without internal borders.
This will be the main practical consequence of the agreement that Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar conclude to define the relationship of the Rock with its Spanish environment as of January 1, when Brexit is consummated. The fit in the pact of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is the last hurdle.\
If the ongoing negotiations are successfully completed, Gibraltar will become for the first time and with the help of Spain, part of the Schengen agreement , which allows the free movement of people through 26 European countries (22 from the EU, plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein), of which the United Kingdom was never part.
While the tug of war continues, already in injury time, to avoid an abrupt exit of the United Kingdom from the EU on January 1, Madrid and London – with Gibraltar in the British delegation – are negotiating in parallel the relationship of the colony with its Spanish and European environment once Brexit was consummated.
In this second forum, the positions are very close: both parties agree to guarantee the free movement of people through the Gate in exchange for the airport and the port of Gibraltar becoming the external border of the EU for the control of Travellers.
That means that those who disembark in the colony could then move freely throughout the Schengen area without undergoing passport controls; a situation that up to now Gibraltarians did not enjoy, as the United Kingdom never signed that treaty.
The measure would not only affect the land border with Spain, but from the Gibraltar airport it would be possible to fly to the border-free space of the 26 European countries.
The key is who will control the travelers who arrive in Gibraltar: Spain has accepted that, during a transitional period, it will not be Spanish police officers who do them, but Frontex agents .
The presence of Spanish police officers on the Rock was a red line for Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo , and Spain has temporarily renounced that “visibility” to facilitate the pact.
They will be, therefore, European agents, together with Gibraltarian police, in the exercise of their own functions, who control the passengers arriving at the port and airport of the colony.
What Spain does not want and cannot give up, and this is the last stumbling block in the negotiation, is that the Frontex agents installed in the colony depend on and report to the Spanish authorities.
The Gibraltarian Executive wants the agency to carry out entry controls at La Roca without any relationship with the Spanish Government and that, the sources consulted warn, is unfeasible.
The Frontex agency, they recall, is nothing more than an instrument in support of the EU states that acts at their request, in situations in which they are overwhelmed by an extraordinary influx of immigrants.
In fact, the role attributed to the agency in the ordinary control of arrivals to Gibraltar has few precedents – there has been a pilot experience in the Balkans – and requires the request of a State party to the EU, in this case Spain.
Second, Schengen is an agreement between states that are responsible for complying with its rules at the external borders of all of them. Spain is the State that will have to inform the other partners that no one who does not meet the requirements sneaks into the European free transit area through Gibraltar.
The reason is that the United Kingdom is not part of the agreement and Gibraltar cannot do so as it is not a state, the sources consulted allege.
If these fringes are closed, Gibraltar will find itself in an unprecedented situation: the British who want to enter the colony will have to pass a passport control, but not the Spanish who want to enter the Rock. In exchange, Gibraltarians will be able to travel freely throughout Europe.
This agreement is especially beneficial for the Rock, since the so-called cross-border workers (15,000, of which almost 10,000 are Spanish) who cross the Gate daily to work in the colony are already covered by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement from the EU, in force since the beginning of this year, and a registry has been set up for them to enter and leave the Rock showing only their DNI.
However, what has been agreed until now did not cover Gibraltarians who leave the neighborhood to shop, to receive medical attention or because they have a home in Spanish territory. Nor to the millions of tourists who visit the Rock from Spanish territory. According to Picardo, the number of annual crossings at the Gate reaches 30 million, of which only a third correspond to border workers.
The Schengen Treaty guarantees the free movement of people, but not of goods, which must undergo phytosanitary and customs controls.
According to the sources consulted, this problem will be solved by installing inspection points that will not be located at the Gate, which will prevent traffic from collapsing. Interior has already awarded urgent works for more than four million to adapt the customs facilities of La Línea de la Concepción (Cádiz).
The sources consulted insist that both parties have made concessions and the key has been to park, without renouncing it, the claim to sovereignty to seek a pragmatic agreement that benefits everyone and, in the words of the Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, create a “space of shared prosperity”.
“We are just a few sentences away from a historic agreement,” Fabian Picardo said enigmatic last Friday, in statements to Cadena SER.