During an interview with ReachExtra, the Mayor of San Roque, Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix said that he is a firm believer in good relations with Gibraltar and that he is committed to developing a synergy that benefits both sides of the frontier. He also reflected on the consequences that the Covid19 pandemic and the threat of Brexit have had on the municipality of San Roque.
“Democracy and equality must prevail against those who are still fighting over flags”
COVID19 has thrown the world into a turmoil. San Roque has not been spared, although the effects so far have not been as significant in this municipality, and there have been no new outbreaks.
Ruiz Boix said: “Notwithstanding the difficulties, we have the situation under control in San Roque. In the past 4 months, there have been 29 infections in our municipality, which is much lower in percentage terms when compared to rest of the country, Andalusia, the province and even Campo de Gibraltar. San Roque has a population of 34,000, with an additional substantial number of visitors in summer. So, this small percentage reflects the sense of responsibility of our citizens as well as the success of the awareness campaigns that we have been carrying out. Hopefully, we can maintain these low levels of infections”.
British Tourists Cancelling their Holidays to Spain
The ravages of the coronavirus pandemic have affected the economy of San Roque, and the hardest blow to date has come with the imposition of a mandatory quarantine for visitors returning from Spain by the United Kingdom. Since then, holiday cancellations have been constant: “Many green fees which had already been reserved are being cancelled. We have nine golf courses which cater primarily for the British market who travel to our city predominantly via the airports in Malaga and Gibraltar in season.”
“We understood that this would affect flights from Malaga but I think this decision is irresponsible and does not follow public health criteria given that, fortunately, the number of infections in our country, and particularly throughout our autonomous region, is well below the levels being suffered in the United Kingdom, and as such, that measure makes no sense. We had hoped that the Gibraltar airport would be a gateway into San Roque, although the announcement that Gibraltarians and other British citizens who have visited our territory must also go into quarantine in the United Kingdom has meant that many Brits have decided to stay in their own country”.
The Brexit Issue
The Covid19 pandemic has dovetailed alongside another threat which is looming over the Campo de Gibraltar; Brexit, with only 5 months to go. In this regard, Ruiz Boix reminded that Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly against leaving the EU:
“Over 90% of Gibraltarians opted to remain in the EU because, in recent decades, the relationship between Gibraltar, the region and the EU has proven beneficial on both sides of the frontier. They wish to retain that status quo, and so do all of us who have local responsibilities and do not want to enter into debates about sovereignty and flags because, among other things, those conflicts have not been resolved in over 300 years and could affect local issues where it is important that a friendly relationship between families and businesses who have interests on both sides of the frontier should shine the brightest.”
The Mayor of San Roque is aware that a hard Brexit could cause an even greater crisis in Campo de Gibraltar, which currently has 34,000 unemployed. “If we then have to add a foreseeable deterioration in the Gibraltarian employment market, on which more than 10,000 people who live in our country depend, and who go to work every day on the Rock, even a 10% reduction would be a near-fatal blow to the social and economic interests of the region”.
Criticisms of the Junta de Andalucía
As a firm supporter of good relations with Gibraltar, Ruiz Boix does not hesitate when he calls for a continuing search for positive synergies on either side of the frontier and has severely criticized the policies of the Junta de Andalucía’s, which is governed by the PP.
“I do not understand how the Junta de Andalucía can spend a fortune on ‘Extenda’, an agency whose task is to bring international investors into Andalusia, and does not seem to be capable of creating a good relationship with Gibraltar, which has the third highest income per capita in the world and where we know there is a lot of economic activity and capital which could be invested on our side of the frontier due to the Rock’s lack of space and manpower. Why does Extenda look to the Russian market instead of just a few meters away to ensure that this market remains here?”, Boix asked.
He assured that it is not logical “and yes, tedious”, that business that pay good salaries, such as the online gaming companies in Gibraltar, should relocate to Malta because the owners want to keep access to the European market.
“Nobody understands why the Government established tax advantages for this sector in Ceuta and not in La Línea, because if they had done so, those companies would have chosen to stay in the Campo de Gibraltar, which would have generated employment, taxes and wealth for La Línea. In addition, it would have retained high-level purchasing power derived from salaries”, he said.
Support for González Laya’s Meeting with Fabian Picardo
When we asked about the area of shared prosperity that the Pedro Sánchez Government is promoting between the Campo and Gibraltar, he answered with a defence of the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya: “I want to applaud her decision to meet with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo. That deserves the support of myself as Mayor and of all the citizens in Campo de Gibraltar, because she is a person who knows that it is a positive thing to maintain good relations with Gibraltar and who puts the interests of the people above conflicts that, I repeat, have not been resolved after three centuries and that she is working to try to solve problems in the best way possible. While that is resolved, issues that affect people in terms of the environment, security or tobacco can be addressed.”
Regarding the topic of shared prosperity, he said that he is looking forward to learning about Spain’s negotiations with the UK and “the details underlying those negotiations. We are very excited and have great expectations, despite the fact that some sectors in the PP and VOX remain stuck in 18th century thinking.”
“The PP tried to impose criteria that it did not know how to resolve in its 15 years of Government, first with José María Aznar and then with Mariano Rajoy. There was not even any bringing together of positions, they only used us to fill the Spanish summer news cycle, to cause conflicts, and create a breeding ground for possible voters for the PP which in no way resembles the opinions of the citizens of the Campo de Gibraltar, who want friendship, economic ties and good relations with our neighbours in Gibraltar”.
Ruiz Boix believes that one of the keys to this area of shared prosperity would be a special fiscal area for the Campo de Gibraltar and looks at comparables which he says demonstrate that this is feasible: “In the EU there is a member state in which there has been a post-Brexit negotiation relating to cross-frontier relations with Northern Ireland. There is a very low tax rate for companies there, and yet they coexist.”
“That is why there are many online gaming and tech companies that continue to operate in the EU but are resident in the Republic of Ireland. Yet nobody claims that Ireland is a fiscal paradise. The EU accepts it. Moreover, I understand that it is possible for an area in the proximity of Gibraltar to have a relationship such as those which apply in Andorra, Catalonia, Luxembourg… We need to be able to maintain cordial relations between both sides of the frontier”.
As to why this is possible in other places and not in this region, his answer was blunt: “Because there are people who are stale, living in caves, and who are still arguing about who was going to be our king in the 18th century. On the other hand, there are people who argue that democracy and equality must prevail over those who want to keep fighting over flags. It is unfortunate for the citizens of the Campo de Gibraltar that in the 21st century, we are still talking about this… This is the discourse of García-Margallo, who now has to sell books because he will not be receiving his pension until the end of the year. In this fight over flags, only parties such as the PP and VOX see it as a vote catcher. It’s something that comes up every summer, like stories about sightings of the Loch Ness monster.”
Speaking about the Government of Gibraltar’s payment of over £11 million to cross-frontier workers due to the Covid19 pandemic, Ruiz Boix applauds Fabian Picardo’s government: “Just as I said that the Foreign Minister should be applauded for meeting with Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and his government must also be applauded for taking into consideration and helping these workers. I think this has generated a feeling of gratitude among this demographic. They are not interested in the argument over flags, nor the issues that concern Abascal or Pablo Casado, who use the flag to gain votes. Here we are not in that debate, we are more concerned that families are able to cover their expenses at the end of the month.”
The Mayor of San Roque also revealed that the Gibraltarian gaming company Mansion will set up a branch in San Roque: “It is one of the most important companies in the British market which wants to open a branch in our municipality. They are already preparing offices in Pueblo Nuevo and Sotogrande and I hope that many others will be attracted to our municipality”.
He also told us that there are significant investments in San Roque in technological networks and installation of fibre optics “which I hope will allow the development of remote working”.