Arriving in Gibraltar on Thursday evening following a trip to the European Commission in Brussels and meeting with Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla and MEPs Glyn Ford (Labour), Michael Cashman (Labour), Graham Watson (LibDem) and Neil Parish (Conservative), Equality Rights group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez commented on the outcome of talks (picture shows Alvarez with Commissioner Spidla (centre) and MEP Graham Watson (right).
"First of all let me say that I am gratified not only by the fact that other affected citizens in Gibraltar have chosen to make their voices heard both locally and in Europe on this matter, but also that British parliamentarians are supporting us too. As a result of discussions I have had with MEPs Cashman, Ford, Watson and Parish there will now be questions tabled at both the EU and British Parliaments regarding this unacceptable EU decision. A letter is also being signed by the same parliamentarians to both Monarch and British Airways asking them to confirm they will offer no less a level of service to disabled people flying from Gibraltar than from any other European airport. And in relation to my meetings with Commissioners Frattini and Spidla, these ranged across a number of issues which I will address in the coming days. However, top of the agenda was my concern regarding the rights of Gibraltar's disabled following the recent Regulation. I made clear my views that the exclusion of the disabled from this measure was something which should not have occurred, constituted an unacceptable politicisation of their rights within the Sovereignty framework and may possibly constitute an illegality under Article 230 of the EC Treaty, and that I would be actively considering the possibility of legal action against the EC. I therefore questioned the legality of this Regulation and I have received a personal assurance from Mr Frattini that he will be reviewing this Regulation with President Barroso with a view to reversing its effect on Gibraltar's disabled. Meanwhile and despite this review, I shall be meeting with concerned Gibraltarians to consider whether further action should be taken. We believe there may be redress available via the frameworks already in place. And if Government felt an ounce of remorse or concern they would put their legal resources at the service of such redress in order to keep the pressure up on the EU. I would be willing to work alongside them in the interests of Gibraltar's disabled," Mr Alvarez stated.
"As Chairman of an NGO, I travelled to Brussels in face of the fact that the Chief Minister has not lifted a single finger to support Gibraltar's disabled. And in that moral failure all Gibraltarians were disabled because what hurts our fellow citizens hurts us all! He could so easily, as a bare minimum, and as I indeed suggested on GBC, have registered a protest with the EU via the UK Government, but evidently opted not to do so. All he did was to issue a press release in which he more or less threw up his hands in the air and said that yes, this was one more of those nasty EU air measures and that Government considered it to be illegal. If this is true and Mr Caruana felt this to be illegal, why did he not start legal action to redress it instead of sitting back and doing nothing? And to say this was just one more such measure is nothing short of an insult: this Regulation has played football with the dignity and feelings of the disabled. This is certainly not "just one more" of those measures. It is very different in character and nature: it is human in its core effect. Mr Caruana is very much mistaken if he believes he can save face in the future by pulling political rabbits out of his Tripartite Talks hat and saying "I told you it would all go away!" This is an issue that will remain scorched in the minds of many Gibraltarians - how a Chief Minister was unwilling to stand up for his own people at a moment where help was really needed, and instead put politics before all! Sadly, it begs the question: how often is this happening and with how many other different citizens and issues? Let us be clear: Felix Alvarez is just an ordinary citizen, noone of particular importance in the overall scheme of things. Yet an unimportant person is capable of getting the European Union to reconsider its position, is capable of meeting the highest level Commissioners and does not need to be a Caruana to do that! Whilst my visit to the European institutions has been the first of a Gibraltarian civil society representative, there is certainly no reason why it should be the last. And I certainly encourage other NGO representatives to look to the EU to ensure that our european rights are safeguarded. That can only happen if we ourselves engage in that process and, in so doing, ensure the EU itself is engaged on our behalf! It is positive politics that we need to take hold of and use to our advantage as Gibraltarians! We must break the distance between Gibraltar and Brussels and turn that to our advantage."