Something tells me that whatever behind the scenes discussions over Gibraltar Airport are taking place with the new Spanish socialist government, they must be going well. Otherwise I’m sure chief minister Fabian Picardo would not have announced, unprompted, that the runway will have to be extended in the next 10-15 years in order to accommodate the next generation of Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 passenger aircraft. He said so on GBC’s Direct Democracy programme, adding that the matter needs to be put on the agenda quite soon.
For Spain the airport is built on Spanish soil. It argues that the isthmus was not ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht and that it was therefore usurped by the British. This sensitivity explains why the final text of the 1984 Brussels Agreement referred to “issues of sovereignty”, in the plural. Spanish governments of every stripe have historically opposed any expansion of Gibraltar’s land mass, as Felipe González’s PSOE did in relation to the land reclamation project of the first GSLP administration in the late 1980s.
Against this background, it’s inconceivable that the chief minister would have publicly flagged the need for a longer runway unless he knew there would not be an instant adverse reaction from Madrid. Mr Picardo confirmed on Direct Democracy that discreet talks about the airport are already taking place, hinting that ministers will get involved if sufficient progress is made by officials to pave the way for the start of formal negotiations.
They should all get on with it. Pedro Sánchez has, at most, two years left in La Moncloa before a general election is due. That’s if his fragile minority government doesn’t fall first. Current opinion polls suggest the outcome of the next election will be close, with a return to office of the Populares a real possibility. (Led, if he has his way, by Gibraltar’s old foe, ex foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo, one of seven leadership candidates). If that happens expect a hard line once again from the party that dismantled the Tripartite Forum for Dialogue, tore up the 2006 Córdoba Agreements including one on the airport, and created an almighty palaver over the mere sinking of a few concrete blocks near the runway to create an artificial reef.
The centre-right Ciudadanos party are also in the running, and their declared hardline policy on “tax havens” doesn’t augur well for us in the event that Albert Rivera becomes the next prime minister.
For the sake of everyone who wants the use of our airport to be maximised for the benefit of both Gibraltar and the Campo, I hope the foundations for a terminal on the Spanish side of the frontier are physically – not just metaphorically – laid before the next Spanish government is elected. Then maybe, just maybe, it will actually be built.