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Politics of Gibraltar

Gibraltar is represented in the European Union, having been the only British Overseas Territory which joined the EC under the British Treaty of Accession (1973).

The Government of Spain continues with an irredentist territorial claim to Gibraltar, which was ceded in perpetuity to the British Crown in 1713. In a referendum held in 2002, a proposal for shared sovereignty was overwhelmingly rejected by the Gibraltar electorate with 99.5% voting against. The sovereignty issue remains an important factor in local politics.

Gibraltar has a number of political parties which have developed to address local issues. Gibraltar's political activity takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic, whereby the Chief Minister is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Gibraltar is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, with full internal self-government under its 2006 Constitution. The preamble to that Constitution repeated from the 1969 constitution states that "Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes." 

Relations with Spain

In a referendum on September 10 1967, the people of Gibraltar voted by 12,138 to 44 to reject the transfer of sovereignty to Spain and to remain under British sovereignty. This day is now celebrated as Gibraltar's National Day. In a referendum organised by the Government of Gibraltar on November 7, 2002, voters overwhelmingly rejected the principle that Spain and the United Kingdom should share sovereignty over Gibraltar, by 17,900 votes to 187 on a turnout of almost 88% .

Unlike most other British territories, Gibraltar has not been offered independence by the UK. It has been suggested that this is on the grounds that the Treaty of Utrecht, under which Spain ceded the territory to the British Crown, states that, if the British Crown should ever wish to dispose of Gibraltar, it must first be offered to Spain. However, the Gibraltar Government has pointed out at the UN that Article 103 of the UN Charter overrules and annuls this "reversionary clause".

Neither the United Kingdom nor Spain seem keen to test the legal status of Clause X of the Treaty of Utrecht in court. The remaining parts of the treaty that regulated such things as the slave trade, and the transfer of Minorca to the British, have become obsolete.

Spain argues that Gibraltar's status is an anachronism, and that it should become an autonomous community of Spain, similar to Catalonia or the Basque Country. It also argues that the principle of territorial integrity, not self-determination applies, drawing parallels with the British handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in 1997. However, at the same time, successive Spanish governments have refused to countenance the handover of their north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco. The Junta de Andalucia (Andalucia's elected regional government) believes that Gibraltar should be integrated into its regional autonomy.

The Gibraltarians continue to assert that they are British not Spanish . At the same time, the British Government continues to state that there can be no change in the status of Gibraltar without their democratic consent .

The Gibraltar Government has asked the UN Committee of 24 to refer the issues to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion, but Spain has lobbied against this. The Gibraltar Government has also invited the Committee to visit the territory, but so far, despite no objection from the United Kingdom, they have not done so .

The 2006 constitution further increases the level of self-government in the territory, and the colonial status of Gibraltar is now considered to be over. In a letter to the United Nations describing this, the British Ambassador states that "I do not think that this description would apply to any relationship based on colonialism."

Executive branch

|Queen |Elizabeth II | |6 February 1952 |- |Governor |Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fulton KBE | |2006 |- |Chief Minister |Peter Caruana |GSD |17 May 1996 |} As an overseas territory of the UK, the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by the Governor of Gibraltar. The UK retains responsibility for defence, foreign relations, internal security and financial stability.

Governor

Queen Elizabeth II is represented by the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, presently Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fulton KBE (appointed 2006). The Governor appoints the leader of the largest party in the unicameral parliament, as Chief Minister. The Governor is not involved in the day-to-day administration of Gibraltar, and his role is largely as a ceremonial head of state. The Governor is responsible for matters of defence and security.

Executive

‎ The Government of Gibraltar is elected for a term of four years. The head of Government is the Chief Minister, currently Peter Caruana. There are three political parties currently represented in the Gibraltar Parliament: Gibraltar Social Democrats; Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party; and Gibraltar Liberal Party. The present Chief Minister is the Hon Peter Caruana, QC, of the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD), who have been in office since May 17, 1996, and were returned to power in elections held on February 10 2000, November 27 2003 and October 11 2007. The Leader of the Opposition is the Hon Joe Bossano, of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (GSLP), which is in coalition with the Gibraltar Liberal Party (GLP) of Dr Joseph Garcia.

All parties support Gibraltar's right to self-determination, and reject any concessions on the issue of sovereignty.

Legislature

The Gibraltar Parliament (previously the House of Assembly) consists of seventeen elected members, and the Speaker. Under the electoral system of partial bloc voting used since 1969, voters must choose ten candidates, who need necessarily not be from the same party but usually are. The winning candidates are then chosen by simple plurality; consequently, a party seeking to form a government stands ten candidates, and the party that forms the government is usually successful in having all ten of its candidates elected; the remaining seats are usually won by the 'best loser' which then forms the opposition. The last election was held on October 11, 2007.

Political parties and elections

2003 elections

Since the 2003 election the Reform Party has dissolved, with the party leader and others now involved in Friends of the Earth (Gibraltar). The Labour Party has merged with the Gibraltar Social Democrats.

2007 elections

A new party,New Gibraltar Democracy has announced it will contest the next election. New Gibraltar Democracy advocates the imposition of more checks and balances on the exercise of power by the local government. It objects to proposed new constitutional reforms which, it says would give even more unfettered powers to the executive. NGD claims that the two main parties are out of touch with people's expectations and make up for their lack of ideas through Orwellian style propaganda.

In June 2006 the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) was formed and announced it will be presenting a full slate of candidates and enters the political arena as "a fresh, positive and modern alternative," to both the ruling Gibraltar Social Democrats and the Opposition GSLP/Liberals.

The Progressive Democratic Party declares it is founded on several basic pillars;

  • A fundamental belief and respect for democracy, social justice and equality;
  • Adherence to the inalienable and unqualified right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar;
  • The promotion of liberty, social and economic responsibility;
  • The enhancement of individual and collective freedoms;
  • A belief in fair, open and continually accountable government;
  • The desire to foster sustainable development, public participation and the enhancement of the quality of life of the people of Gibraltar

Pressure groups

In addition to the parties there are a number of pressure groups active in Gibraltar, not aligned to any political party.

Gibraltar Women's Association

The Gibraltar Women's Association was founded on the 15 February 1966, by Mrs Mariola Summerfield and Mrs Angela Smith.

It was originally known as the Gibraltar Housewives Association, and subsequently, in the early eighties it was changed to the Gibraltar Women's Association keeping in with more modern times that not all women were just housewives.

Equality Rights Group GGR

Probably one of the most interesting social phenomena in Gibraltar was the launch in September 2000 by Felix Alvarez of an organisation, initially named GGR (Gib Gay Rights) but which has developed into a wider human rights platform in Gibraltar and is now widely known as Equality Rights Group GGR The open and challenging campaigns this NGO has put to the fore of Gibraltar issues has meant that it has become established as a leading Gibraltar human rights organisation.

Although it still defends sexual minorities it is also highly active on issues regarding the disabled, British residents' rights, and issues regarding the protection of children against sex abuse amongst others. This has encouraged other sectors of the community to bring forward their issues in an equally forthright manner; for example the growth of Gibraltar's environmentalist and disabilities movements. In a way, this NGO phenomenon is perhaps the most interesting political development in Gibraltar since the foundation of the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights (AACR) in the 1940s as a result of the WWII experience.

Environmental Safety Group

"The ESG is a registered Gibraltar charity which works to safeguard the Environment of Gibraltar and the Bay area, including air, land and marine aspects. The group campaigns to protect local ecology from pollution and contamination and to promote public safety in all matters relating to the welfare of our community." 

Gibraltar Local Disability Movement

The Gibraltar Local Disability Movement (GLDM) was established in 1985 to improve the lives of disabled people in Gibraltar, promote equal opportunities and tackle discrimination. The movement ceased to be active for several years during the 1990s and early 2000s, but was reactivated in 2005 to address the situation for disabled people in Gibraltar, which did not see great improvement for several years. Although the 2006 Equal Opportunities Act protects disabled people in Gibraltar from discrimination, Gibraltar remains behind the UK and other countries on issues such as disability allowances and wheelchair access to both private and government buildings. www.disability.gi

Voice of Gibraltar Group

The VOGG is a long running group which has the objective of defending the rights of Gibraltarians against external threats. It engages in public debate, and protest action where appropriate. As a non-political pressure group, its members represent a wide cross section of the community.

It was particularly active in canvassing a "no" note in the 2002 referendum, when it toured the housing estates with a loudspeaker van and invited guests from all parties to address residents, culminating with the Chief Minister at Convent Place, after the result was announced.

Integration With Britain Movement

The Integration With Britain Movement (IWBM) is a pressure group advocating further integration with the United Kingdom. They aim for Gibraltar to attain a state of devolved integration similar to that pertaining in Scotland and Wales. They are led by Joe Caruana and are successors to the defunct Integration With Britain Party (IWBP).

Constitutional reform

Select Committee proposals

In 1999, the Government of Gibraltar established a Select Committee on Constitutional Reform, to consider how the 1969 Constitution should be reformed.

In March 2006, Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary announced in the British House of Commons that the details of a new constitution had been agreed. There are some differences between the draft constitution and the one to which the UK agreed, namely that the Governor's title will remain unchanged, and that the Police Authority will remain independent of the Government of Gibraltar.

2006 Constitution

In December 2006 Gibraltar was granted a new constitution, providing a modern constitutional relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, not based on colonialism. The constitution does not in any way diminish British sovereignty of Gibraltar, and the United Kingdom retains its full internal responsibility for Gibraltar, including Gibraltar’s external relations and defence, and the Member State responsible for Gibraltar in the European Union.

Writing to the Spanish Foreign Minister, Jack Straw stated:

"My own view [is] that the label "colonial" is misleading and anachronistic in this context; regardless of the United Nations dimension. As Peter Caruana and I said in our joint statement on Monday, the new Constitution provides for "a modern and mature" relationship between the UK and Gibraltar. I do not think that this description would apply to any relationship based on colonialism." 

After several months of political wrangling, the Gibraltar Government published the draft Constitution Order, which includes the existing preamble promising that there would be no transfer of sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians and a new addition explaining the status 

"Whereas Gibraltar is part of Her Majesty’s dominions and Her Majesty’s Government have given assurances to the people of Gibraltar that Gibraltar will remain part of Her Majesty’s dominions unless and until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and furthermore that Her Majesty’s Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes:

"And whereas the people of Gibraltar have in a referendum held on [date] freely approved and accepted the Constitution annexed to this Order which gives the people of Gibraltar that degree of self-government which is compatible with British Sovereignty of Gibraltar and with the fact that the UK remains fully responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations.

Based on this wording and the Statement of the Minister for Europe in the House of Commons, the Gibraltar Opposition now support the new Constitution 

The proposal was put to the people in a referendum and approved. The constitution took effect in 2007 and 29 January declared a public holiday in celebration.

Integration with the UK

A group in Gibraltar has campaigned in favour of a far closer relationship with the UK, in the form of devolved integration or incorporation into the UK itself. This is similar to the offer made to Malta in 1955. The Rock would be represented in the British House of Commons, while retaining internal self-government. This would be a similar status to France's overseas departments and to Spain's North African enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, claimed by Morocco. One of Spain's arguments in rejecting comparisons between Gibraltar and these territories is that they are part of Spain, whereas Gibraltar is a British overseas territory and not part of the UK 

However, the British Foreign Office rejected the idea in 1976, along with independence, on the grounds that any further constitutional reform or decolonisation would have to take into account the so-called "Spanish dimension". Many in Gibraltar, including the present Government, have also argued against integration on the grounds that it would mean the surrendering of many existing powers of self-government.

While there is still considerable emotional attachment to the idea of Gibraltar being British, its citizens want to participate in the new Europe of the future.

Condominium

The idea of a condominium, with sovereignty shared between the UK and Spain has even less support in Gibraltar. The suggestion was made by a UK politician on a BBC television programme about Gibraltar in the 1980s, and attended by Fernando Moran, prior to becoming foreign minister of Spain and re-opening the land frontier. The suggestion was for a status similar to that of Andorra, in which Queen Elizabeth II and King Juan Carlos would be joint heads of state, in the same way that President of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell are Co-Princes of Andorra.

This would give Spain a symbolic constitutional role in Gibraltar, but would not go far enough for Spain towards effective Spanish control of the Rock. Even a symbolic role would be a step too far for most Gibraltarians.

European election 2004

Until recently, Gibraltar had not voted in elections for the European Parliament, although its membership of the European Union meant it was affected by European Union law. This changed in the 2004 European Parliament election, when Gibraltar was included as part of the South West England region, as its electorate of 20,740 is too small to justify a single seat.

This was the first UK election in which Gibraltar participated. The Conservative Party took 69.52% of the vote, which has generally been interpreted as a protest against the handling of Gibraltar by the Labour Party. The Conservatives also campaigned more strongly, with the support of the Gibraltar branch of the party and a visit from the party leader Michael Howard.

References

External links

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