I HAVE often thought that if the politicians politely excused themselves from the affairs of people on both sides of the Gibraltar/Spain frontier then things might go better for us all.
Human nature being what it is, I understand the urge by political office holders to be forever in the public limelight; making statements and promoting their own views.
Perversely, of course, in Parliamentary democracies, agreeing with one’s political opponent is not an attractive proposition. It’s much better to define areas of discord and then hammer your side in order to obtain the people’s approval.
There are undoubtedly grounds for criticising the way that successive Gibraltar governments have conducted themselves in regional terms but I’ll leave that to the legions of commentators – some of whom have based entire careers north of the border criticising Gibraltar.
We will continue to highlight how, whenever there is a problem in Madrid, Gibraltar is buffeted by veritable tsunamis from sections of the Spanish media.
This week it has been announced that, to the surprise of many and the consternation of the ruling, PP Prime Minister Rajoy has been called to give evidence in the Barcenas corruption case. Batten the hatches!
Meanwhile, ordinary people everywhere have to get on with their lives. In Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar this means dealing with the uncertainties of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Even before Brexit, the Campo is already the scene of one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. Can the politicians find it in themselves to address issues such as unemployment, job security and even law enforcement in the face of rising drugs smuggling and also the threat of terrorism, without being distracted by their constant feuding?
Recently I have been pondering on the importance of the Port of Algeciras to the economy on the Spanish side. For years, the port has been expanding and it is a key source of wealth in the area after the Gibraltarian economy and the refinery complex in the area.
But the port is currently facing very stiff competition from across the Straits where, by 2018, the Tanger Med Port complex is expected to become the busiest port in the Mediterranean. Unlike the Algeciras littoral which is constrained by the city, the Tangiers facility has almost unlimited space. It already boasts two container terminals and in 2015 was dealing with 8,000,000 containers, 7,000,000 passengers, 700,000 trucks, 2,000,000 other vehicles and 10,000,000 metric tonnes of petroleum products.
Morocco, of course, can count on a younger, hungrier working population than is available in Europe and lower costs not just in terms of land values but also wages.
By rights, all politicians in the towns surrounding the Bay of Gibraltar should be focused on how best to deal with the Moroccan competition.
It is more than well-known that the Campo is not particularly well accessed from the rest of Spain in terms of rail and road transportation. Tangiers is not therefore especially disadvantaged by its position.
Gibraltar, on the other hand, is able to offer a number of advantages to the bay’s maritime product. The airport’s daily links with the principal airports in London is an advantage when it comes to crew changes in the merchant fleet which relies, to a great extent on sailors from the Indian sub-continent and East Asia.
Fortunately, Gibraltar’s dock yard, which offers three major dry docks has been allowed to operate without political interference from Spain. As a result, it is almost continually fully booked for ships needing repairs. In this sense it complements the larger Algeciras Port.
Logic dictates that all ports around the Bay of Gibraltar should be working on improving our joint products. If the politicians can assist, well and good, but if not, they should really allow the experts and free enterprise to get on with it.