As if there were not enough going on around the Mediterranean already, Gibraltar has raised its head again. The latest round of cross-border tension appears to have started in a row last year over fishing rights, when Spanish fishermen were expelled from Gibraltar’s waters for using large nets. Gibraltar’s answer to Spanish dragnet fishing was to dump blocks of concrete into the sea to create an artificial reef.

The issue of fishing rights reverts, as everything seems to in this dispute, to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Spain does not recognize the existence of waters under Gibraltarian control, as it says those rights were not handed over when the colony was. There have been attempts — in the interim 300 years — to mediate the issue. Much of this pragmatism now appears to be in jeopardy.

From the moment Mariano Rajoy came to power, Madrid has adopted a harder line on Gibraltar, insisting on talks with David Cameron without the involvement of the Gibraltar authorities. Criticizing the conciliatory stance taken toward the British outpost by the previous socialist regime, the current foreign minister, Josi Manuel Garcma-Margallo, appears intent on reversing everything his more able predecessors did.

Drivers have been forced to wait seven hours in the heat as Spain ramped up border checks. Claiming “the party is over,” Garcma-Margallo suggested in a newspaper interview that Spain was mulling imposing a fee on every vehicle entering or leaving the territory, closing its airspace to flights to Gibraltar and changing the laws so that online gambling companies operating from the colony would have to use Spanish servers. Gibraltar’s first minister, Fabian Picardo, accused Spain of acting like North Korea.

If other sovereignty disputes are anything to go by, little is to be gained by the reversion to the old politics of the dispute that the hawkish Spanish minister is suggesting. Sovereignty is a zero-sum game and is best side-stepped by the very agreements that Garcma-Margallo appears to be jeopardizing.

— The Guardian, London, Aug. 5

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