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Spain threatens Court of Justice suit over Gibraltar fishing dispute

Sept. 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM   |   Comments

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, Spain, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Spain says it will take a Gibraltar fishing dispute to the European Court of Justice if the European Union doesn't sanction Britain over the matter.

Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Food and Environment Miguel Arias Canete said Friday in Jerez de la Frontera the government is ready to bring suit against Britain if the EU doesn't press infringement proceedings against actions by the British territory of Gibraltar, El Economista reported.

Madrid claims Gibraltar has violated EU laws in an disputed area of the Bay of Algeciras by laying down an "artificial reef" of 72 hollow concrete blocks in an EU-designated "special area of marine conservation" frequently used by Spanish fishermen.

The issue has added fuel to a series of recent diplomatic rows between Madrid and London over Gibraltar, which Spain has long sought to reincorporate into its own territory.

The EU says it is investigating Spain's claims that the reef was purposely laid to thwart Spanish fisherman from using an important fishing area, but has yet to reach any conclusions.

The Gibraltar conservation group erecting the barrier, however, has denied any political motivation and says it is merely part of decades-long effort to provide an environment for marine wildlife an environment to breed and colonize and to prevent overfishing.

Canete told reporters Spain is ready to bring suit in the EU Court of Justice against Gibraltar Executive Chief Minister Fabian Picardo should Brussels decide against sanctioning Gibraltar over the artificial reef.

The suit, he said, would focus on what Spain claims are three violations of environmental law in the area, including the dropping of the concrete blocks, the extension of breakwaters and the practice of "bunkering," or refueling ships from permanently-anchored floating storage tankers.

The reef, Canete claimed, has been "built without any consideration of the character of the environment around it."

He said that while Gibraltar had "unilaterally" declared the disputed waters a "site of community importance" under the EU's natural habitat preservation directives, the EU has designated it a "special area of conservation" under Spain, and so Madrid has developed a management plan for it that "prohibits certain activities."

Thus, Canete insisted, Brussels is obligated "to ensure that EU law is fulfilled. (They) should start infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom ... and if Spain has to go to the Court of Justice of the European Union, it will," he said.

The reef issue last month sparked a protest by about 40 Spanish fishing boats, which confronted British police vessels in the bay.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo wrote in August column for the Wall Street Journal that the "dumping of concrete blocks constitutes a violation of the most basic rules of environmental conservation" and that it must be resolved before the diplomatic spat can be settled.

"These waters account for 25 percent of the activity of local fishermen ... it is first necessary for the U.K. to show that it intends to undo the damage that has already been caused, in particular by removing the concrete blocks," he wrote.

Gibraltar chief minister Picardo this month, however, contended Britain has "no authority" over Gibraltar in environmental matters that could force him to withdraw the concrete blocks in the Bay of Algeciras.

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