Territorial sovereignty, eh? It’s always a sexy issue, and it’s something we return to regularly here on Debating Europe. It’s come up in the news again recently, thanks to a diplomatic spat between Spain and Britain over fishing rights around the modestly-sized limestone peninsular that is Gibraltar. The dispute has seen British warships off the coast of Spain (which, though it sounds somewhat dramatic, is actually a case of unfortunate timing – with the naval exercise pre-planned long before the current dispute kicked off).
The Spanish government has accused Gibraltar of illegally building an artificial concrete reef in the waters just off the runway of Gibraltar Airport, conveniently blocking access to Spanish fishing vessels. The British government, meanwhile, maintains that the reef is there for conservation reasons alone, and is well within Gibraltar’s territorial waters.
The dispute has escalated remarkably quickly, with Spain imposing lengthy checks on the border-crossing with Gibraltar, arguing these have been introduced in order to crack down on rampant tobacco smuggling. Britain, however, believes the checks are politically motivated and disproportionate, and has threatened to complain to the European Commission, potentially opening the way for legal action against Spain at the European Court of Justice (though this route would be complicated by the fact that Britain is not part of the borderless Schengen Area).
Europe has a long an ignominious history of such territorial disputes. It’s true that some of these disputes have been resolved (or at least semi-resolved); enormous progress has been made in Northern Ireland, for example, thanks to the peace process in the 1990s, and few people still remember the separatist bombing campaign of the 1960s in the now-autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol in Northern Italy. Other disputes, however, seem like they will never heal. The territorial dispute between Cyprus and Turkey, for example, presents a major barrier to Turkish accession to the European Union.
Earlier this year, we spoke to Stefano Sannino. He was recently appointed Italy’s ambassador to the EU, but when we interviewed him (and until last month) he was the European Commission’s director-general for enlargement, a post he had held since July 2011. We started by taking a question to him from Shan, who wanted to know more about some of the barriers preventing Turkish EU membership (which include, of course, the dispute with Cyprus).
Next, we had a video question sent in from Besnik, who wanted to know why the EU couldn’t come up with a united position when it comes to the recognition of Kosovo.
IMAGE CREDITS: Creative Commons BY – SA 3.0 – MicMichel