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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Gibraltar’s border dispute with Spain remains challenged despite EU declaring border controls lawful

(18 November 2013)

The European Commission has ruled that Spanish controls at the Gibraltarian border do not break EU laws. Complaints were made by Gibraltar claiming Spain was behaving unlawfully by applying disproportionate and over-zealous checks which caused long delays for residents and tourists crossing the border. Gibraltar remains outside the European Union’s Schengen passport-free zone and as a result residents and visitors are subject to border checks. 

Britain argues that these checks were “politically motivated” due to the recent creation of an artificial reef by the Gibraltarian government within disputed territorial waters off the southern coast of Spain. It is claimed that the 74 concrete blocks deposited are for environmental purposes, ,and are part of an effort to encourage marine life to flourish and protect shallow waters from over-fishing. Spain consequently argues the construction of the barrier will disrupt fishing boats that rely heavily on the utilisation of the coastal waters.

Spain has said that increased vigilance at the border is not a retaliation against the Gibraltarian reef-construction but rather is intended to interdict tobacco smugglers. It is reported that tobacco is 40% cheaper in Gibraltar than Spain, and thus creates an ideal opportunity for smugglers to profit from a contraband market. The European Commission has requested both countries to share intelligence information regarding smuggling in an attempt to mutually resolve the issue and ease tensions. 

Gibraltar was formally ceded to British sovereignty in 1713, but current Spanish authorities dispute UK control over the territory, which has a population of around 30,000.


“Gibraltar border row: no evidence of Spain breaking EU law, say inspectors” Ian Taylor, The Guardian, 15th November 2013.

“Spain’s Gibraltar checks lawful”, BBC News, 15th November 2013.

 “EU says ‘no evidence’ Spain violated rules on Gibraltar border controls”, Bruno Waterfield, The Telegraphy, 15th November 2013.

“EU says Spanish controls at Gibraltar border do not break law”, Adrian Croft, Reuters, 15th November 2013.

“Update 1- EU says Spanish controls at Gibraltar border do not break law”, Reuters, 15th November 2013.

“Britain challenges EU findings on Gibraltar border dispute”, Reuters, 15th November 2013.