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Spanish Site of Community Importance

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

In February 2009 environmental experts in Gibraltar identified that the European Commission had adopted the proposal by the Spanish Government to designate under the Habitats Directive a Site of Community Importance (SCI). The SCI, named Estrecho Oriental, overlaps the co-ordinates of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) and entirely overlaps an existing adopted UK SCI, Southern Waters of Gibraltar, which is managed by the Government of Gibraltar (subsequently designated by the Government of Gibraltar as a special area of conservation—SAC). The UK has sought to reverse the adoption of the Spanish site, first through diplomatic action with the European Commission and the Government of Spain and then through legal action. We continue to work closely with the Government of Gibraltar to resolve this issue.

The original legal case was launched by the UK in the European General Court (EGC) on 22 December 2009. This challenged the European Commission’s listing of this site as a Spanish Site of Community Importance. The Government are clear that only the UK can submit sites covering BGTW. Spain cannot enforce the management or monitoring of the specific area in question. There is therefore a risk that, given its lack of access to this site, Spain will make decisions without accurate scientific information which could have detrimental environmental or economic impact on Gibraltar and BGTW.

On 24 May 2011 the EGC ruled the UK’s case inadmissible on technical grounds, ruling that the UK should have challenged the Commission’s original rather than subsequent confirmatory decision to list the site. The UK’s rebuttal stated that due to the Commission’s deficient processes, lack of transparency and consultation, it had been unable to do so within the normal time limit. We have also highlighted that when the UK put forward its Southern Waters of Gibraltar site it did so on the basis of consultation with Spain, which was insisted on by the Commission. The Commission did not insist that Spain consult the UK before the listing of Estrecho Oriental.

Following extensive consultation and on the basis of legal advice the UK will be appealing against the court’s decision. The Government have a clear responsibility to uphold the UK’s position over the waters around Gibraltar. I want to reassure the people of Gibraltar that we will defend their interests on this matter.

The Government of Gibraltar had also launched their own separate legal action, which the UK supported. This was also ruled inadmissible on technical grounds. The Government of Gibraltar are appealing against that decision.

I will keep the House informed of further significant developments in the case.