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Brussels, 2 July 2014
Gibraltar: European Commission sends another technical fact-finding mission
Today, the European Commission is sending another technical fact-finding mission to La Línea (Spain) and Gibraltar (UK).
Why is the Commission going to the borders?
Concerns have been raised by citizens, members of the European Parliament and the Government of Gibraltar regarding border checks, in particular alleged excessive waiting times. The Spanish authorities have raised concerns regarding an increase in tobacco smuggling from Gibraltar to Spain.
In order to clarify this situation, the Commission sent a technical fact-finding mission in September 2013 to assess the situation on both sides of the border and issued recommendations to both Spain and Gibraltar in November 2013 to better manage vehicle and pedestrian flows at the border crossing point and to tackle tobacco smuggling more efficiently, with a six-month deadline for the implementation thereof.
The six-month deadline expired in May 2014 and the Commission decided to send another technical mission to this border to better appreciate steps that have been communicated by both Spain and Gibraltar to implement the recommendations.
Who will participate in this second mission?
As for the first visit, these will be experts from the European Commission services for Home Affairs, Taxation and Customs Union, Justice and the European Anti-Fraud office (OLAF). An expert on the free movement of workers will join the mission as well.
What areas will be assessed?
The technical mission will cover the same aspects as during the first visit, i.e. border controls and customs controls, including smuggling. The aspects covered will also comprise the free movement of citizens and workers.
The delegation will look at steps taken by both authorities to implement the Commission recommendations and will seek replies from both Spain and Gibraltar to outstanding questions. It will also assess the plans of the Spanish authorities to review the infrastructure at the crossing point.
Will the environment aspects be examined?
No they will not be examined by this mission.
How will the Commission present the findings of the mission?
The Commission will carry out an assessment of measures taken by Spain and Gibraltar to implement the recommendations from November 2013. It will also take into account the measures which have been announced but not implemented yet. It will pay particular attention to the impact of these measures on the fluidity of traffic at the border crossing point. Based on this assessment, the Commission will decide if further action is necessary. There is no legal deadline for the Commission to complete this assessment.
Has the Commission organised similar missions in the past?
Commission services have previously carried out technical fact-finding missions to other Member States in response to complaints from citizens, although mainly at the internal borders (Denmark, Sweden, and Netherlands). Regular evaluations of the external borders (and other areas of the Schengen acquis) are carried out by Member States together with experts from the Commission in the framework of the Schengen evaluation mechanism. In 2013, the Council and the European Parliament reached an agreement to revise the current system. The revised mechanism will be coordinated by the Commission in cooperation with the Member States and the first visits will take place as of beginning 2015.
What is the status of Gibraltar within the EU?
Gibraltar has a unique status within the EU. Gibraltar has been in the EU since 1973 as part of the UK's membership (by virtue of Art 355 of TFEU). EU law is applicable in Gibraltar. However, its membership is distinct to that of the UK as Gibraltar is excluded from 4 areas of EU policy: Customs Union, Common Commercial Policy, Common Agriculture Policy, Common Fisheries Policy and requirement to levy VAT. Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area either. Spain is therefore requested to carry out checks on persons and on goods. These checks must, however, fully respect EU law and remain proportionate.