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Politics, Gibraltar and British Sovereignty

Politics / European Union Jan 28, 2014 - 02:45 PM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Politics

By Grant Williams

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory.

It has an area of 2.6 square miles and juts from the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, overlooking the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Roughly 30,000 people live in the territory, whose sole distinguishing feature is the very large rock which runs along the eastern edge of the territory and culminates in a dramatic promontory in the northeastern corner.


That's it there, on the right ... see?

Gibraltar was captured by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession, in which European countries fought each other over who had the right to succeed King Charles II as ruler of Spain.

Charles (or Carlos) had died without heirs, bringing to its final extinction the mighty House of Habsburg, which had dominated European royalty for three centuries. In his will, Charles had designated his 16-year-old grandnephew Philip, Duke of Anjou, as his successor.

Philip was the grandson of the reigning French king, Louis XIV, the famous "Sun King"; and the prospect of an early 18th-century Franco-Spanish alliance at the heart of Europe was unnerving to others, who saw it as potentially destabilizing the delicate balance of power; and so, as Europeans tended to do in the days before they got around to creating the EU, they opted to fight a war.

This war turned out to be quite the bar brawl, spilling out of Spain and into Germany, the Netherlands, and, somehow, America, as the French and the English fought each other in Florida, New England, Newfoundland (huh?), and Carolina.

(Thankfully, the prospect of an Hollande/Rajoy alliance at the heart of today's Europe would provoke nothing more than uncontrollable laughter, so Europe is far safer now; but then it was a different world.)

Anyhoo, as part of the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the Spanish War of Succession in 1713, Spain got a French king after all (Philip V), but he was required to relinquish all future claims by his family on the French throne; various French princelings were forced to give up all present and future claims to the Spanish throne; Savoy was given Sicily; Charles VI of Austria received the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Sardinia, and most of Milan; Portugal was handed a chunk of the Amazon rainforest ... and Great Britain got Gibraltar.

Big whoop!

Personally, if I'd been negotiating the deal, I'd have stuck it out for Naples, Sardinia, and Milan, but ... whatever. Gibraltar was better than nothing. Probably.

Funnily enough, as the years have passed, the Spanish have from time to time reasserted their claims to the rocky promontory that juts out from mainland Spain, 80-odd miles southwest of another town annexed (albeitUNofficially) by the British — Marbella. And who can blame them?

Gibraltar is to Spain as Cape Cod is to Massachusetts or Baja is to California — only with more monkeys.

Referenda proposing a return to Spanish sovereignty were held in Gibraltar in 1967 and 2002, and one would have to say that the results could certainly be classified as "conclusive."

The 1967 referendum on whether to pass under Spanish Sovereignty or remain part of Great Britain left little room for doubt:

Choice

Votes

%

British Sovereignty

12,138

99.64

Spanish Sovereignty

44

0.36

Invalid/Blank Votes

55

-

Total

12,237

100

Registered Voters/Turnout

12,672

95.67

Thirty-five years later, the 2002 referendum, which asked "Do you approve of the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar?" was equally one-sided:

Choice

Votes

%

No

17,900

98.48

Yes

187

1.03

Valid Votes

18,087

99.51

Invalid/Blank Votes

89

0.49

Total

18,176

100

Voter Turnout

 

87.9

Electorate

 

20,678

Whatever your view on the Gibraltar issue (assuming you can be bothered to have one), it's pretty hard to argue with 98.48% of the voters in a (supposed) democracy; but with things in Spain being quite tight and Catalonia looking to become a new Gibraltar all of its own, the Rajoy government clearly felt that a little distraction was in order; and so "tensions" in the Strait have escalated in recent months, with Spanish-imposed delays at border crossings that would make Chris Christie's staff salivate (no need for subterfuge HERE). And, of course, in response quite by coincidence, there have been the requisite "naval exercises" conducted by the British Royal Navy off the coast of "The Rock."

In early January, however, after the mood had darkened considerably over waiting times to cross the border between the Territory and the Mainland having stretched to four hours (Fort Lee residents, the people of Gibraltar feel your pain), another amazing coincidence occurred when certain diplomatic documents relating to discussions on Gibraltar were declassified by the British Foreign Office. Within these documents detailing exchanges between King Juan Carlos of Spain and the then-British Ambassador to Madrid, Sir Richard Parsons (no relation to Nicholas), was a revelation:

(UK Daily Telegraph): King Juan Carlos of Spain told Britain that Spain "did not really want" Gibraltar back as it would lead to claims from Morocco for Spanish territories in North Africa, newly declassified documents from the 1980s released by the Foreign Office reveal.

The King of Spain admitted privately in a meeting with the then British ambassador to Madrid, Sir Richard Parsons, that it was "not in Spain's interest to recover Gibraltar in the near future."

If it did so, "King Hassan would immediately reactivate the Moroccan claim to Ceuta and Melilla," the monarch, who celebrated his 76th birthday on Sunday, reportedly said during the meeting in Madrid in July 1983.

Fascinating stuff, but that's not the passage that contains the revelation.

This is:

In a confidential dispatch from Madrid to Geoffrey Howe, the then Foreign Secretary, Ambassador Parsons wrote: "The King emphasised, as he had done with me before, that that requirement was to take some step over Gibraltar which would keep public opinion quiet for the time being.

"It should be clearly understood in private by both governments that in fact Spain did not really seek an early solution to the sovereignty problem.

"If [Spain] recovered Gibraltar, King Hassan of Morocco would immediately activate his claim to Ceuta and Melilla.

"The two foreign ministers should reach a private understanding between each other, differentiating between their actual aim and the methods used to propitiate public opinion on both sides."

Did you spot it? No?

Well here it is again in slow motion:

"T h e t w o f o r e i g n m i n i s t e r s s h o u l d r e a c h a p r i v a t e 
u n d e r s t a n d i n g b e t w e e n e a c h o t h e r, d i f f e r e n t i a t i n g 
b e t w e e n t h e i r a c t u a l a i m a n d t h e m e t h o d s u s e d t o 
p r o p i t i a t e p u b l i c o p i n i o n o n b o t h s i d e s."

... and here's the super-slo-mo close-up frame (if you have 3D glasses, put them on now):

"... P R O P I T I A T E P U B L I C O P I N I O N ..."

Let's go to the dictionary:

pro·pi·ti·ate transitive verb \prō-pi-shē-āt\ :
to make (someone) pleased or less angry by giving or saying something desired

Behold, politics.

To continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore – please click here.

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