Tuesday, May 29, 2012


In a 2010 report Greenpeace stated: “The Spanish government has encouraged the development of excessive and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, purse seining and long lining. It has supported illegal ‘pirate’ fishing through fishing subsidies, and seems unwilling or unable to effectively prosecute Spanish companies who fish illegally.” It is that same Spanish fishing armada that has until recently raped Gibraltar’s waters, which are British waters, and the Gibraltar government is now insisting its environmental laws are upheld to stop the destruction of its marine environment.

In writing this article two statistics stayed with me that described the size of the problem facing Gibraltar. According to Greenpeace if you were to line up all Spanish fishing vessels, bow to stern, they would stretch for a distance of 123 kilometres. Whilst in a Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) paper dated 1999 by its then general secretary and now Gibraltar’s Environment Minister, Dr John Cortes, he stated: “The fact is that the average tramallo (bottom laid net) can be anything up to 1250 metres long while Gibraltar's coastline is only some 14 kilometres in length. Sixty four per cent of that coastline is taken up for commercial purposes; leaving only 36 per cent natural coastline where such fishing if allowed could realistically take place. A single net is equivalent to 11 per cent of our overall coastline…The fishing is neither sustainable nor sufficient.”

So what are Gibraltar’s waters? They are defined by the Geneva Convention of 1958 and Spain is a signatory to this Convention. The waters in question are three miles off the Rock to east and south and a median line in the bay to the west on the other side of which sits the Spanish port of Algeciras. Gibraltar had to play catch up in the 1980s on its environmental laws but in 1991 its parliament passed the Nature Protection Act which is the legislation currently being enforced by the GSLP Liberal Government.

When Gibraltar’s new government was returned in December it fell on its feet by having Dr John Cortes on hand to step in as its environment minister. His qualifications and credentials are internationally recognized and as long as a Spanish bottom laid net. He was General Secretary of the respected NGO the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society, a post he had held since its creation in 1976 and before becoming a minister was the Director of the Gibraltar Botanic Garden since 1991. It is worth noting he was also a director of Spain’s Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales: so is highly respected on both sides of the border.

I asked Dr Cortes about the current dispute with Spain’s fishermen and the Nature Protection Act 1991: what specifically does it prohibit? The minister stated: “It specifically prohibits the use of seine and gill nets in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. Seabed raking and the use of artificial lights for attracting fish are also illegal under the aforementioned Act.  These methods, including drift nets as well as long lines are used by Spanish fishermen in our waters.”

These measures were enacted in 1991 in order to safeguard marine habitats and species within Gibraltar’s waters that were being negatively affected by commercial fishing activities. Dr Cortes added: “In order to further protect the marine biodiversity the Southern Waters of Gibraltar were designated as a Site of Community Importance under the EU’s Habitats Directive. This designation was approved by the Commission in July 2006.”

Between 1991 and 1997 the Act was enforced by the Royal Gibraltar Police.  While some fishing occurred, this was without sanction and the Police effected arrests and prosecutions on a number of occasions. It was following such an arrest, a campaign was started by Spanish fishermen to press the Gibraltar Government to allow them to fish.  In 1999, after the fishermen blockaded the Gibraltar frontier, a ‘Joint Understanding’ was accepted by the fishing federations of the border town of La Línea as well as Algeciras across the bay and the then Chief Minister Peter Caruana. It allowed Spanish fishing vessels to fish in Gibraltar’s waters using methods illegal under the Nature Protection Act 1991.

So what are the implications of the new Gibraltar Government rescinding the illegal 1999 ‘Joint Understanding’? Dr Cortes explained it now follows that the Royal Gibraltar Police, who are not controlled by the government, are free to use their own discretion in enforcing applicable laws that prevent the use of illegal fishing methods under the Nature Protection Act 1991. 

The minister continued: “As circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that marine resources continue to decline, and in keeping with the precautionary principle, a revised system for the protection of marine resources, which will include regulation is currently being developed by my ministry for the Government of Gibraltar.”

During the past 3 months the enforcing of the Nature Protection Act 1991 has hit the news headlines as the Spanish fishing fleets have been banned from raping Gibraltar’s waters. This has led to illegal incursions by up to 12 fishing boats, sometimes escorted by a Guardia Civil armed patrol boat, to which the Royal Gibraltar Police or Royal Navy have had to respond. The fishing vessels had deployed seine nets and used artificial light lures: both prohibited under Gibraltar law. It is against this background that discussions have taken place between the Government of Gibraltar and the fishing confraternities of La Línea and Algeciras regarding commercial fishing within Gibraltar’s waters. Dr Cortes noted: “These discussions took place as a direct result of the Gibraltar Government rescinding the 1999 ‘Joint Understanding’ and the impact that this would have on the ability of the local Spanish fleets to continue fishing.”

The fishing grounds around Gibraltar have been over exploited and the fishermen themselves accept that catches have declined seriously.  It is ironic that as a result, protected areas including no-fishing zones and time restrictions have been applied by the Spanish authorities in their own waters: and would be extended to Gibraltar if its British waters were Spanish.

On a final note Dr Cortes stated: “The presence of rocky reefs in Gibraltar’s territorial waters is attractive both to fish and to fishermen.  This is one of the reasons why Gibraltar has created this protected area, one of the considerations being to provide refuge, feeding and breeding opportunities for fish, something which will be of benefit to fishermen in adjacent areas, as well as to all marine life.”

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on May 29 2012 and on various US environmental websites)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


May 15 sees the first anniversary of the 15-M protest movement. It was a public protest movement that was angry and fed up with the inaction and corruption of politicians, the bailing out of banks that caused the financial crisis in the first place and those made homeless as mortgage companies had reposed their homes. The latter had lost the roofs over their heads yet still owed the banks huge amounts of money.

The movement started with huge street protests and encampments in Spain’s major cities and town but smaller groups were also to be found in every community. Indeed it was a community movement that coincided with the municipal and regional elections held in May 2011.

The manifesto message of last May was “not a euro more to rescue the banks, education and public health of quality, withdrawal of labour reform, guaranteed access to dignified housing and a universal basic income.”

As the 15-M movement started when socialist PSOE was in government in Spain the opposition centre right Partido Popular tried to jump on the protest bandwagon. However it soon became clear that the PP wanted the camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol removed and there were scenes of violence as police removed the encampment in Barcelona’s Plaza Cataluña. In the latter case there is convincing evidence the police acted as agent provocateurs.

Hence it comes as no surprise that now the PP is in government the minister of the interior, Jorge Fernández Diáz, has declared: “in no circumstances will we permit these camps.” It was a clear warning to the 15-M movement that their intention to retake the Puerta del Sol in Madrid and set up other camps in various cities and towns would not be tolerated. “The cities are not campsites,” warned Fernández Diáz.

The world has moved on but the plight of those represented by the 15-M movement has got worse; the banks have received further bailouts; political corruption remains rife, the king’s son-in-law is on trial for misappropriating funds and money laundering with the protests moving from main street to main stream.

15-M has now been joined by other groups such as Democracia Real Ya and all can be expected to stage demonstrations over this period. Their protests are being coordinated online at tomalaplaza.net and via Twitter using #15M and #SpanishRevolution.

It was the foreign media correspondents in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain that brought the news of the 15-M movement to the wider world and have kept them updated on its progress. This led to Spanish residents overseas holding protests outside their country’s embassies and the movement soon spread. The French, Greeks, Portuguese, Italians and indeed Britons, amongst others, would establish their own movements. There are also links to the Arab Spring protests in North Africa.

Since the 15-M movement was born Spain has now had a new centre-right government for six months. Yet what started out as the protests of Los Indignados – The Indignant in town squares has spread to various national protests and a General Strike. The nation is angry and will not be silenced by the threats of a centre right government in Madrid.

(Versions of the above article appeared in The Morning Star, London Progressive Journal, Panorama and other online publications on May 15 2012.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Francois Hollande is the president-elect of France. On Sunday evening after the polls closed he addressed a crowd in his home constituency of Tulle before heading off for the Parti Socialiste victory bash in the Place de la Bastille in Paris – the traditional rallying point of the left. In Tulle he declared to his jubilant audience:  “I am the president of the youth of France. You are a movement that is rising up throughout Europe.”

It will come as a reassurance to those of us who are ‘long in the tooth’, or a “vieille personne” in French argot, that Hollande is fast approaching 60 and is balding. He is also intent on restoring the retirement age to 60 years for some – outgoing centre right presidents perhaps. So for all of us who are young at heart in the progressive left in Europe we can clamber aboard the renewed sense of hope that Hollande has brought to the young, the middle-aged and the old alike in his native France.

On Sunday in the second round of the French Presidential election Francois Hollande became the socialist party’s first president since 1995, when another Francois, Mitterrand, stood down after serving two terms. Hollande secured victory with just under 51.63 per cent of the vote (roughly the same as Mitterrand) leaving his centre right rival Nicolas Sarkozy as the first president not to secure a second term since 1981.

In Paris on Sunday night was Pierre Kanuty of the Parti Socialiste’s Europe and International Department. His verdict: “It was the day we made history!”

After a long night of celebrations Pierre told me: “Sunday was an important election day in many ways all over Europe. The Labour did very well in UK’s local elections, the SPD as well in Schleswig-Holstein. In Greece, the defeat of PASOK was predictable but the serious threat of extreme right shows the reality of a danger we have experienced here in France. The campaign in France was not just a domestic political event. It was observed and monitored abroad and we were aware of that.”

The progressive socialist movement throughout Europe had been pinning its hopes on a Hollande victory. Pierre confided: “The support, the messages and the help we’ve got from our comrades was not just symbolic. It gave us faith, strength and it helped us having constantly in mind how important it was for social-democracy and Europe.”

So why did Sarkozy fail to win a second term? Pierre is in no doubt: “Because the hyper-president never understood he’s been too far in his hustle. The TV debate between him and François Hollande showed clearly two styles, two ways to do politics. The conservative candidate was acting as if reality was on his side but he never faced the contradiction between being a super president, like the heroes you see in blockbusters and a real impotent man blaming the crisis for his failure. The most symbolic argument was that in 2007, shortly before he took office, he had promised to reduce the unemployment rate to five per cent. Five years later it is around 10 per cent: it was not halved, it was doubled.”

Pierre continued: “Sarkozy never acted as somebody who embodied France as a whole. His nickname was the ‘President of the Riches’ and during the campaign he moved to the right. Some of his supporters even talked about alliances with the Front National of Marine Le Pen. He kept talking about immigration as invasion, Muslims as the symbol of all immigrants coming to our country and changing our ‘way of life’.”

The voting on Sunday saw the Parti Socialiste triumph in historically conservative places. For the first time the PS was ahead in both Paris and its region. The overwhelming rejection was perhaps the reason that Sarkozy conceded defeat just half an hour after the polling stations closed.

François Hollande will officially take over as president on May 15. The immediate battle for the Parti Socialiste is not over: in June it faces all important parliamentary elections. The challenge says Pierre “is to win a socialist majority in order to be safe from a green-red pressure” from Sarkozy’s defeated Union for a Popular Movement and the far right threat of the Front National.

For Hollande the challenges are just starting: meanwhile his party is launched once more into a vital election battle.
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on May 9 2012).

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Today, May 3, will go down in the modern history of Spain’s Andalucía. The PSOE leader José Antonio Griñán will be elected as the president of the Junta de Andalucía with the support of the votes of Izquierda Unida – and the communist dominated far left party will enter government.

The centre right Partido Popular won the most seats, 50, but is easily outnumbered by the left coalition of the socialists and the IU on 59. Hence against all the odds PSOE retains power in Andalucía, Spain’s largest region, when only weeks ago the opinion polls predicted a sound PP victory. In the event the centre right vote collapsed and the left are the predominant grouping in the region that traditionally has always been behind PSOE.

Last week the activists of Izquierda Unida voted by 84.9 per cent to join PSOE in a coalition. It was not clear whether this would just mean the IU giving the socialists support or a full blow coalition. It appears to be the later and hence the communists will have ministerial portfolios.

Just how many will not be known to later this week when Griñán announces his government. He has stated that he will streamline the administration in the Andalucía capital of Sevilla by a third. This move has been backed by the IU’s co-ordination in Andalucía, Diego Valderas. He stated at the weekend that in these times of economic crisis the regional government should be streamlined and efficient.

It is expected that Diego Valderas will become the sole vice president in the administration under Griñán. The IU also hopes to pick up a third of the ministries with employment, the environment and tourism on their wish list. Given the pact between PSOE and the IU the PP are not likely to put forward the name of Javier Arenas for president as he would be overwhelmingly defeated.

Of course the arrival of the IU in a government in Spain will hardly cause a ripple amongst the voters. Many European countries traditionally have far stronger Communist Parties than in the UK albeit they now operate under another name. This is in stark contrast to the five Communist Party MPS who have been elected to the British Parliament starting in 1922 with Walton Newbold. Indeed the IU (a coalition between the Communist Party and environmental groups such as Los Verdes) is the third major political force in Spain, increasing in strength in both the national and regional elections as well as holding numerous town halls.

It is 81 years since Spain elected its Second Republic, an event still commemorated by Communists but at the time the party was in disarray. It wasn’t till 79 years ago, 1933, that the party’s first MP Cayetano Bolívar Escribano, was elected. Bolívar was jailed at the time of elections and left imprisonment to occupy his post in the parliament. However in the modern day it is not unusual for the IU to play a part in the government of Spain’s regional administrations.

PSOE has been shored up in government in Andalucía before by two coalitions with the Partido Andalucista. However the socialist spokesperson Susana Radio is adamant this will be a full on coalition with the IU of the style between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the UK. The PA was very much sidelined in the coalitions with the socialists but the PSOE – IU coalition will be a united government with an agreed common platform to steer Andalucía through these very troubled times for the region and wider Spain.

Unemployment in Spain stands at 24.4 per cent with the youth jobless at a massive 49.6 per cent. As the IU is likely to take the employment portfolio it will be the Communist Party that is charged with rescuing the region from the unemployment abyss. There can be no tougher baptism in government for the true party of the left: but it is a challenge it has to meet and win as the fate of an entire generation lies in the IU’s hands.

(Photo: Griñán congratulated by Valderas after being elected president)

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star on Friday May 4 2012)