On the 24th October, 9 days before the Chief Minister went to Madrid to engage in technical talks within the Trilateral Process, I wrote :
" The whole dispute over territorial waters only concerns sovereignty... Consequently, how is the issue of the waters surrounding Gibraltar going to be the subject matter of the next round of the Trilateral Process at Ministerial level, with the Chief Minister participating, without these discussions necessarily including a discussion on sovereignty of the waters and thus not being just about cooperation? ".
An analysis of events on the 2nd and 3rd November show how accurate this assessment may have been.
On the 3rd November an exploratory meeting was held by the Chief Minister with Alfonso Lucini, Spain's new director for Europe. At this meeting it seems the Chief Minister made clear the Gibraltar Government's view on territorial waters. This was followed by the adoption by him of a negotiating position that would seem to be impossible to achieve without affecting the viability of the Trilateral Process. The Chief Minister confirmed that he would need to be satisfied that British sovereignty and jurisdiction would not be diluted over territorial waters before any agreement on these could be progressed.
A seemingly impossible position because of the diametrically opposed positions of each side on this subject and despite the diplomatically phrased statement that the parties would, on that subject, " ... try and seek a mutually acceptable way forward in the coming weeks". In brief, on the issue of territorial waters no formula to progress matters was found, it was a failure, possibly marking the end of cooperation on this subject. Yet, despite these occurrences, it was confirmed that discussions on all other issues would continue. How long will it take for the subject of sovereignty to encroach on other items that are on the agenda?
First impressions are that that Spain accepts that the Trilateral Process is about cooperation and not sovereignty, which is the position adopted by the Chief Minister. Is there really agreement on this fundamental (for Gibraltar) principle? If there is, sovereignty will not encroach on other matters to be discussed. Is Spain's position as uncomplicated as that, however? Certainly Spain's new Foreign Minister, Trinidad Jimenez, on the eve of the Trilateral Process talks, confirmed that agreements reached within this process would " ... benefit the population on both sides of the fence without entering into sovereignty discussions." It would seem that Spain and Gibraltar are both on the same page. A deeper analysis of this very statement and others, made by Ms Jimenez on the 2nd November, is indicative that this may not be the case.
She has said that the "discussions" to be held would not be about sovereignty. I have already discussed, in the earlier piece referred to below, my view that this would seem impossible, if the subject to be discussed is the territorial waters. In addition, she has not said that the agreements that may be reached will not have sovereignty implications, just that the "discussions" would not concern sovereignty. Her additional affirmations to the Spanish Parliament are indicative that the Trilateral Process is not viewed by Spain as sovereignty neutral.
She said that the objective of the Trilateral Process is " ... to generate enough confidence to renew bilateral talks about Gibraltar's sovereignty with the British Government". In brief that it is a softening up process. A softening up process is not a process that Gibraltar should be cooperating or participating in. It is and has always been in the sole gift of Spain to behave civilly toward Gibraltar. If they have failed to do so in the past it is entirely in their sole power to put that right. If they do, then they may or may not reap the benefits in time.
Then, in the same breath, the Spanish Foreign Minister goes on to say that the Spanish national objectives on the issue of sovereignty " ... could not be modified as this is a consequence of the defense of Spanish national interests, which are above situations and people." Yes, above people, in brief that people, presumably the people of Gibraltar, cannot stand in the way of Spain's national interest. Why then should the people of Gibraltar involve themselves in this softening up process? Let Spain behave towards Gibraltar civilly and time may tell a different story.
I invite readers to read, once again, my earlier piece "Tripartite Process: Is it about Cooperation or Sovereignty?", in the context of these recent events. You can each decide, then, whether the Trilateral Process should continue. Please bear in mind at the same time, whether you really believe that this process has delivered anything to Gibraltar or whether it will in the future deliver anything. It may be that all it does is undermine the fundamental, which is sovereignty. It may also weaken Gibraltar's case in any negotiations that may ensue on this subject in the future, not losing sight that it is Spain's desire to resume bilateral negotiations on sovereignty in the future.