Foreign Minister Josep Pique said yesterday bilateral talks between Britain and Spain on the future of Gibraltar were going well, but the hostile attitude of Gilbraltarians was a major concern. Asked in a television interview how much British public opinion or the Gibraltarian people posed a problem, he said: We have to do an education campaign in Britain...but what worries me most is the closed-minded attitude of the people of Gibraltar. Gibraltar's 30'000 people are virtually unanimous in opposing any Spanish sovereignty over the British colony on the southern coast of Spain, and Britain has said it will not cede sovereignty over The Rock without their consent. Britain and Spain renewed high-level meetings last year and said they expected to reach agreement on sovereignty by the end of this summer that would later be put to a popular vote in Gibraltar.
It's important that the Gibraltarians see this process as in their interests not contrary to them, Pique said. The next meeting in the so-called Brussels process was scheduled for the first half of February in Britain. Spain lays claim to the tiny territory of Gibraltar and it looks likely that any deal will involve it assuming at least partial control. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is due to meet Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, tomorrow in a bid to draw him into the talks aimed at solving the 300-year-old dispute. Caruana has so far refused to attend, demanding that Gibraltar be given its own delegation at the talks. Britain and Spain have refused, wanting Gibraltar to be part of the British delegation with no seperate representation. Both London and Madrid reject Gibraltar's claim to self-determination because the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, under which Gibraltar was transferred from Spain to Britain, stipulates that, if there is any change in status, Spain has the first right to reclaim sovereignty.