Gibraltar, Ceuta, and Melilla
The return of Gibraltar to Spain has remained a foreign policy goal for all Spanish rulers since the area was lost to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Franco's fierce determination to regain Gibraltar culminated in his closing the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar in 1969. Governments that came to power after the regime was democratized engaged in calmer but equally persistent negotiations with the British and with the residents of Gibraltar over the future of the area. These discussions ultimately resulted in the April 1980 Lisbon Agreement, which was more symbolic than substantive, but which served as a framework for subsequent Anglo-Spanish negotiations.
The Spanish government had intended to reopen the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar shortly after the signing of the Lisbon Agreement, but it postponed this step in anger at a series of British actions, including the use of Gibraltar as a military depot and refueling base during the Falklands War in 1982. The frontier was finally reopened in the early days of the Socialist government that was elected later in the year.
Spain's entry into NATO added new complications to the Gibraltar question, including Spain's insistence that Gibraltar was a NATO naval base as well as a British one, a contention that the British government denied. The Spanish navy refused to participate in joint military exercises with the British while Britain maintained a military base on Gibraltar. At the same time, Spanish membership in NATO provided a vehicle for negotiations on the Gibraltar question in a less competitive atmosphere. It also put Spain in a better bargaining position.
The ultimate issue underlying the various twists and turns of the Gibraltar problem was sovereignty. The approximately 30,000 residents of Gibraltar remained adamantly opposed to becoming Spanish citizens, although the UN continued to pass resolutions condemning British rule in Gibraltar as a colonial situation. As a more flexible and democratic government took root in Spain, however, and as the country achieved greater integration into Europe through its EC and NATO memberships, the possibility of a resolution of the sovereignty issue became less remote. The Socialist government, unlike its predecessors, emphasized that any solution to this problem must be in keeping with the interests of Gibraltar's inhabitants. This led observers to conjecture that--through some type of regional autonomy structure, provided for in the 1978 Constitution--a long-term plan for a form of autonomous government for Gibraltar acceptable to all concerned, might be possible.
In much the same way that Spain laid claim to Gibraltar as part of its territory, Morocco maintained that the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were integral parts of Morocco's sovereign territory. The two North African towns and their tiny offshore islands, the last vestiges of Spain's far-flung empire, had belonged to the Spanish crown for centuries. Both were administered as integral parts of Spain and had predominantly Spanish populations; Spain insisted that they remain Spanish.
Ceuta, which had become a Spanish possession following the union with Portugal in 1580, was historically a focal point for trade between Europe and Africa. Located only thirty kilometers from metropolitan Spain, it could reasonably be regarded as a natural prolongation of the Iberian Peninsula. Although Ceuta was used for military purposes, it also functioned as a fishing port, and it had close economic links with Andalusia.
There were almost no direct links between Ceuta and the other Spanish enclave of Melilla, which had come under Spanish rule in the late fifteenth century. Melilla was situated more than 500 kilometers away from the Iberian Peninsula, and it did not benefit from the lively tourist traffic that Ceuta enjoyed. Because of its geographical location, Melilla also was subject to greater influence from its Moroccan hinterland than was Ceuta. In addition, more Moroccans actually lived in Melilla than in Ceuta, where the atmosphere was far more European.
There were protests on the part of the Muslim communities in both enclaves over the passage, in July 1985, of an aliens law, which required all foreigners in Spain to register with the authorities or be expelled. Tensions were especially high in Melilla, where less than one-third of the Muslim community held Spanish nationality. Promises from Madrid to assist in integrating the Muslims of both enclaves into Spanish society angered portions of the local Spanish communities, who in turn demonstrated in support of the aliens law.
The outlook for continued Spanish sovereignty in the two enclaves appeared uncertain. When Spain joined the EC in 1986, Ceuta and Melilla were considered Spanish cities and European territory. They joined the EC as part of Spain, and they hoped to receive financial assistance from the EC's Regional Development Fund. Spain also hoped that membership in NATO, while providing no security guarantee to Ceuta and Melilla, might make Morocco's King Hassan II less likely to move against territory belonging to a NATO member; however, Spanish demands for the return of Gibraltar could fuel Moroccan claims to the North African enclaves.
Mounting tensions between the Spanish and the Muslim populations in Ceuta and in Melilla added to the precariousness of the Spanish position. In addition, a few leaders in both the socialist and the communist parties expressed sympathy for Morocco's claim, contributing to a growing fear of abandonment on the part of the enclaves' inhabitants. A resolution of this tenuous situation did not appear imminent in mid-1988.
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