Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez (ex-President of the Cross-Frontier Group) and Juan Carmona (ex-Mayor of La Línea) said that they are committed to the creation of an area of shared prosperity between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar, a special tax regime, and an agreement which “leaves things as they are” and which enables the Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) to be applied.
“A no-deal Brexit would be a tragedy for everyone involved, worse than the closure of the Frontier”Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez and Juan Carmona
Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez and Juan Carmona are firm proponents of a synergistic relationship between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar; one which puts aside the never-ending arguments over sovereignty. They are both members of the Cross-Frontier Group, which is made up of social and economic interest groups from either side of the frontier.
Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez, a businessman from La Línea who chairs the La Línea Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (‘Apymell’), has been praised for his work as president of the Cross-Frontier Group by its members for promoting a spirit of dialogue. He has recently been relieved of his position as president and Michael Netto, the head of Unite the Union in Gibraltar has taken his place.
Juan Carmona is a lawyer. He was the Mayor of La Línea de la Concepción for the PSOE between 1979 and 1984 and has also held significant political positions in Spain at provincial and regional levels.
ReachExtra spoke to these two men to find out their thoughts on these complicated times, before the imminent Brexit date. In addition to their blood-ties as first cousins, they are also unified in their belief and work to strengthen coexistence on both sides of the Frontier; including commercial, labour and business relations between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.
The Cross-Frontier Group’s objectives, and therefore those of Pérez-Periáñez and Carmona, is to preserve the rights of citizens, guarantee fluidity at the frontier, for both people and goods, and maintaining a spirit of cooperation on both sides of the frontier.
So, we wanted to find out their thoughts in relation to the Brexit negotiations. With negotiations becoming increasingly complex due to clashes between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the prospect of a deal seems to be fading, even though the divorce will be consummated in only 3 months – December 31.
“A no-deal Brexit would be a tragedy for everyone involved, much worse than what happened with the closure of the Frontier in 1969, because now there is substantially more economic interdependence between both sides than there were back then. There are more people and businesses involved. It would be terrible for everyone; for the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar” Pérez- Periáñez told us.
He said that it is abundantly clear that, for La Línea, a no deal would mean “the death of the city and for Gibraltar, it would be tragic. Gibraltar is much more dependent on us than it once was, especially in terms of the many jobs which require technical skills which are currently taken by cross-frontier workers. They can’t just be replaced from one day to the next”.
Carmona says that an “incalculable catastrophe is looming, especially for La Línea, but for Gibraltar too. There are some Gibraltarians who are unaware of what kind of situation we will be in should there be no agreement. It will be overly complicated. And if the economy of Gibraltar falls, so does the Government of Gibraltar’s income”.
When asked what worries the two the most, they answered: “Regardless of the negotiations between London and Brussels, its the technical talks agreed in the Memoranda of Understanding, which can sustain the fluidity at the border, as well as policies of cooperation on issues such as the environment or security”.
They both believe if no agreement is reached, the said MoUs would no longer be applicable. “What we do not know is whether Spain, which is within the EU, can have the freedom to apply them without breaching regulations”, Carmona said.
“We are also concerned that, at this very moment, there is a divide in Gibraltar. Fabian Picardo’s position, which is pragmatic, seems to have been met with certain levels of internal opposition in Gibraltar, both within its civil society and politically.”
“It is also regrettable that Gibraltar’s opposition party, without addressing issues other than those that deal with its own political interests, try to take advantage of any problem.”
€1.2 Billion in Exports
Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez warned that if a hard-Brexit occurs, the situation of the 15,000 cross-frontier workers, of which more than 9,000 are Spanish, and the €1.2 billion (according to the Ministry of Foreign Trade), in Spanish exports to or through Gibraltar Customs from province of Cádiz alone are at risk.
Despite this, he said that he feels “moderately optimistic” for the future and confident that an agreement will be reached in the end: “I hope that, even if it happens at the final hour, an agreement is reached.” Carmona added that the rope is becoming too tight, but also hopes that a hard-Brexit will not take place.
What would a good deal look like? Pérez-Periáñez replied: “That we maintain current status quo for the entire area, that they leave us as we are and that the MoUs are applied. The icing on the cake would be a special tax regime to close the great economic gap that exists between both sides of the Frontier.”
Both believe that the solution lies within the Government of Spain’s proposals for a zone of shared prosperity. Carmona said that “the European regulations which must be applied” “aim for this outcome as much as possible”.
Pérez-Periáñez added that the ideal situation would have been “to remain as we have been up until now in relation to fluidity at the frontier and the Schengen area. Boris Johnson has given Fabian Picardo full freedom to negotiate with Schengen, but the first obstacle may very well be Spain itself.”
Carmona alluded to the issue of Northern Ireland: “Our situation is quite similar to that of Northern Ireland and Ireland, but in miniature, and we need to understand this. We plan to delve behind the scenes and see how they fare with that situation there, because we have the same issues.”
At the time, the Cross-Frontier Group opted to create a European Association for Territorial Cooperation, but this proved impossible: “That idea has been shelved. The Government of Spain was obliged to take necessary steps at the time when Gibraltar gave the green light, but it did not. That is now unfeasible, but it would have been the solution. The project included a tram for the region, a bilingual university, improvements and increased fluidity at the frontier, sports projects, etc…”
“There was room for everything. It would have been perfect”, they said.
They also argue that, due to its significance and the extreme situation caused by the pandemic, the EU and the UK could approve an extension in order to reach an agreement, “because we are talking about people’s futures”.
Regarding what is to come, they promise that the Cross-Frontier Group will not surrender: “We are going to die with our boots on.”