Last minute agreement: Gibraltar joins Schengen area

SAt the last moment, Spain and Great Britain reached an agreement in principle according to which the British exclave of Gibraltar would normally join the Schengen area without border controls. This will prevent the border between Spain and Gibraltar on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula from becoming an impermeable EU external border from January 1, 2021, said Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya on Thursday in Madrid. Instead, Gibraltar will now bind itself more closely to Spain and the European Union as a surprising consequence of Britain’s departure from the EU. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 96 percent of Gibraltar’s 33,000 residents voted to remain in the EU.

Until recently, Spain and Great Britain had negotiated a Brexit settlement for Gibraltar under increasing time pressure. The British overseas territory is not part of the Christmas Eve agreement between the EU and Great Britain, but the talks were bilateral between Madrid on the one hand and Great Britain and Gibraltar on the other. The agreement in principle now reached between Madrid and London must then be agreed between the EU and London, said Gonzalez Laya. She expects that to happen within six months, said the Foreign Minister. Her British colleague Dominic Raab said that the negotiators’ goal was smooth border traffic, which is in the interests of the people on both sides.

Spain responsible for external borders

With Gibraltar’s admission to the Schengen area, the EU’s external border will shift to the international airport in the overseas territory. The EU border protection agency Frontex is supposed to check travelers there. According to Gonzalez Layas, Spain is responsible for the supervision. This is a sensitive point for the residents of Gibraltar, because Spain is contesting Great Britain’s sovereignty over the Monkey Rock. However, Madrid had insisted on overseeing the controls because the other Schengen states are obliged to control the external border. Great Britain cannot do that because it does not belong to the Schengen area and neither does Gibraltar because it is not a state.

The Foreign Minister warned that otherwise Spain’s border with Gibraltar would have become the EU’s external border at the beginning of the new year. On a smaller scale, scenes similar to those of the truck jam off Dover in Great Britain threatened, said the minister. Gonalez Laya assured that for a transitional period Spain would maintain the previous rules on the border with Gibraltar.

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