By James Bryce
THE EU has stepped into the escalating row between Spain and the UK over disputed waters around Gibraltar.
Environment commissioner Janez Potocnik warned that both countries must cooperate in their management of EU protected sites around the Rock.
He added that both sides had legal obligations to protect a designated Site of Specific Cultural Interest (SCI) alongside the enclave.
And, above all, they need to work together on protecting it from abuse.
The Gibraltar government insists however, that Spain should have no say on any protected area within its waters.
Backed by the UK, it refuses to recognise the ‘Spanish designations within British waters’, despite the EC approving the site near the Rock in 2008.
“The response from the EU Commission is erroneously based on the false premise that the waters around Gibraltar are anything other than exclusively British,” a Gibraltar government spokesman said.
A UK foreign office spokesman added: “Neither Spain nor the Commission alerted the UK to the Spanish SCI proposal. The UK does not recognise the Spanish SCI listing and is challenging the listing in the European courts.”
Potocnik’s comments came in response to a question by Gibraltar MEP Sir Graham Watson asking about Spain’s failure to notify the UK before filing its designation.
The latest twist in the row comes just days after Spain’s King Juan Carlos waded into the fishing dispute between Spain and Gibraltar after meeting Spanish fishermen during a visit to Algeciras.
In a meeting he reportedly told them that he was there because he ‘wanted to hear them in person’ and that Spain would support their cause.