Spanish levy on Gibraltar would break EU law
19.08.13 @ 18:48
BRUSSELS - Spain’s threat to impose a levy on motorists leaving or entering Gibraltar would contravene EU law.
European Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly on Monday (19 August) said “that such a tax, imposed on citizens or vehicles, when they cross an internal EU border, would be illegal.”
Bailly added that the commission has no other reaction to the threats because they are not yet official measures which have been taken by the Spanish authorities.
Tensions between the UK and Spain over British-ruled Gibraltar, which lies just off the tip of the Iberian peninsula, has flared up in recent weeks.
Spain has threatened to impose a €50 fee on vehicles that cross its border onto or off the rock.
It notes the road levy is necessary to compensate Spanish fishermen for lost revenue incurred by Gibraltar’s new artificial reef, which prompted the dispute in the first place.
Gibraltar’s government last month dumped 70 concrete blocks off its coastline to create the reef, saying it will prevent overfishing. But Spanish fishermen protested the move.
They say, with the backing of Spain’s government, that the artificial reef prevents them from fishing near Gibraltar’s waters and is an environmental hazard, even though Spain has created similar reefs along its own coastline.
For his part, EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday spoke to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the telephone in an effort to defuse tension.
The two leaders agreed that a commission fact-finding mission should “as soon as possible” examine border controls and movement of people and goods.
The EU inspectors are set to leave for the contentious border, possibly in September, to determine if Spain’s tightened controls violate EU laws.
Spanish authorities stepped up border control checks on cars entering Gibraltar, causing long delays.
The commission says it wants the two member states to respect community law and ensure the cross-border mobility with Gibraltar is fluid.
Bailly told reporters in Brussels the spat is a bilateral issue, though the commission is providing legal assistance.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Royal Navy ship HMS Westminster docked in Gibraltar on Monday.
The UK says the frigate is scheduled to participate in pre-planned naval exercises in the Mediterranean.
The frigate’s arrival follows a protest on Sunday by Spanish fishing boats, which oppose the new reef.