Amidst the dizzying heights of the Brexit imbroglio, a politics of resistance is emerging that has the potential to puncture the supranational veneer of EU governance: a politics of minoritarianism. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell’s comments on Tuesday (20 November) are a testament to this.
Eurosceptic charges levelled at the EU since at least the time of the signing of the Maastricht treaty have revolved around the notion that the union imposes itself on member states from above – affording itself a superiority that disregards the dissimilitude of member states.
Borrell said yesterday that the Spanish will not support the Brexit withdrawal agreement without sufficient revisions to Article 184 to make allowances for a separate accord to be agreed between London and Madrid on Spain’s future relationship with Gibraltar.
His statement shows that minority populations, heretofore isolated from imposing themselves in the political arena at the highest echelons of the European Commission, have managed to reclaim a certain element of political influence in the EU.
It’s either that, or ministers are aware of the opportunities afforded by the Brexit negotiations for rallying their national causes on the European stage.
The Brexit talks have been dominated by politically delicate matters relating to minority demographics. The most evident of which has been the border issue between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Gibraltar’s introduction into the equation reinforces the fact that the mobilisation of minority populations for the cause of political debate is now being regarded as an effective negotiation tool, particularly when such a minority has been threaded through such a tumultuous tapestry of history.
Gibraltar was captured by British forces in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession, with the Spanish monarchy formally ceding the territory indefinitely to the British Crown in 1713.
The Spanish, in all their tenaciousness, never wanted to let go of the tiny land at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, and attempted to recapture the territory during the thirteenth siege of 1727 and the Great Siege in 1779.
But Spanish efforts ultimately failed and the British ratified their sovereignty over Gibraltar in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
More recently, a 1967 referendum saw 99.6% of Gibraltese residents vote to remain British.
The Spanish, maddened by the loyalty of the Gibraltarians to the British crown, closed the border soon after, and reopened it when after Spain joined the European Economic Community in 1986.
Successive Spanish foreign ministers, including Fernando Morán and Abel Matutes, did their best to negotiate joint sovereignty of the island, which ultimately led to the Gibraltar sovereignty referendum of 2002, in which such an offer was formally rejected by the Gibraltan people, a population of just over 30,000.
Brexit has opened the door for Gibraltar to establish itself on the wider political debate once again, allowing for a minor politics to take centre stage in one of the most era-defining moments in the history of the EU.
After this mad episode is concluded, one will hope that the subject of Gibraltar does not merely recede into the history books of yesteryear, only to rear its head when another foreign minister recognises the appeal of exploiting the sovereign status of the land for political means.
Nonetheless, Gibraltar’s relevance in the Brexit debate shows once more that occasionally minority populations can make a chink in the armour of supranational political negotiations.
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by Alexandra Brzozowski
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