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UK-Spain dispute over Gibraltar threatens European skies reform

Source: Reuters - Fri 21st Nov 2014
UK-Spain dispute over Gibraltar threatens European skies reform

The dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar threatens to hold up EU plans to merge national air corridors, diplomats say.

EU member states are trying to reach agreement on the Single European Sky scheme, intended to complete the integration of some of the world's most crowded airways, cutting costs and CO2 emissions.

But a wrangle over the sovereignty of the isthmus that connects the British territory of Gibraltar to Spain could delay a deal even if all other issues are agreed upon, EU diplomats said.

Spain wants Gibraltar airport, which sits on the disputed land, to be excluded from EU aviation law until the debate is resolved.

Britain says that under the 2006 Cordoba agreement between London, Madrid and the Gibraltarian government, Spain agreed to stop seeking the exclusion of Gibraltar airport from EU aviation measures.

"We cannot accept a return to the pre-2006 practise of suspending Gibraltar Airport from EU aviation measures," said a spokesman for Britain's foreign office.

Spain claims the whole of Gibraltar, but views the isthmus as a distinct question. According to Spanish diplomatic sources, it was not included in the treaty ceding Gibraltar to Britain three centuries ago, so has always been Spanish territory.

The stand-off puts Italy, which holds the rotating European presidency, in the position of having to try to find a compromise.

Under the current air corridor system, responsibility for airspace belongs to each country, which usually manages its flight paths and charges navigation and terminal fees, estimated by the Eurocontrol air traffic agency at some EU 8Bln per year.

Under the reform proposal, airspace would be arranged in transnational "blocks" in what is seen as the most radical shake-up of Europe's aviation for decades.

Gibraltar, ceded to Britain in 1713, has been an increasing source of diplomatic tension since the current Spanish government took office in 2011.

"Spain is trying to find a solution with Britain but until this is resolved EU rules should not apply to Gibraltar airport," said a Spanish diplomatic source.

It is unlikely that either Spain or Britain could block the aviation proposals, but officials in Brussels are wary of overruling a member state on an issue of national sovereignty.

"If the choice is forced one state will be very angry," said one EU diplomat.

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