Being too much obsessed with the topic of Russia’s mythical “annexation” of the “Ukrainian” Crimea, the European Union has missed the appearance of a very similar problem in its own territory – Gibraltar. The dispute for this point on the map of the world has been going on between Spain and Great Britain for hundreds of years, but it has become particularly acute against the background of Brexit. London gave to understand that the UK would be ready to defend the peninsula by military methods.
Gibraltar is a 6,5-square-kilometer rock in the south of the Iberian Peninsula in one of the most strategically important parts of the world: the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic. The one who owns Gibraltar may shut these gates when needed (known as “Pillars of Hercules” in ancient times) to thus block the largest sea transport highway of global significance.
Geographically, this strategic piece of land refers to Spain. The Spaniards consider Gibraltar to be a part of their national territory. In reality, however, Gibraltar is an overseas possession of the United Kingdom.
The British seized the peninsula from the Spaniards in 1704 and formalized their conquest legally in 1713, imposing the Utrecht Peace Treaty on Spain. Madrid has never reconciled with the loss of a part of its territory and still insists on its return.
In 1967, a referendum was held in Gibraltar, during which the absolute majority of local residents favored the preservation of British sovereignty over the “rock”, as they prefer to call Gibraltar. A couple of years later, a new constitution was adopted there, and new local self-government was introduced.
Gibraltar joined the European Union together with the entire United Kingdom in 1973, and the Spanish-British dispute was forgotten for a while as the two nations had nothing to divide within joint European space.
However, Britain’s exit from the EU has brought the problem back. Ninety-six percent of Gibraltar residents voted against Brexit at the referendum. When the UK launched the process to leave the EU, it turned out that the Gibraltarians did not want to remain in the European Union at the cost of losing British citizenship. Gibraltar is not Scotland – independence is not an issue here. It just so happens that the “rock” could stay in the EU by becoming a part of Spain. Yet, this is something that the Gibraltarians do not want to accept.