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Michael Netto: “No use guaranteeing cross-frontier worker’s rights if there is no work”

Soraya Fernández | Photos: Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Michael Netto, the newly appointed President of the Cross-Frontier Group has welcomed the protections given to cross-frontier workers, but warned that if the flow of goods and people through the frontier is not maintained, the economy and therefore employment will fall. He supports the “area of shared prosperity” initiative and asks the political class to set aside flag waving in favour of looking out for the people – with or without a Brexit agreement.

Michael Netto Unite the Union Gibraltar Cross Frontier Group Brexit Spain

Born to a Gibraltarian father and mother from La Línea, Michael Netto is a trade unionist of long standing in Gibraltar – as he himself says, it’s in his DNA. His father José Netto was also a prominent Union leader in Gibraltar. Michael Netto is a registered nurse and led Unite the Union until his retirement 7 years ago.

And with plenty of energy and determination, he continues his work with Unite and the Cross-Frontier Group from which he has recently taken the reigns from La Línea businessman Lorenzo Pérez-Periáñez.

Netto advocates for Brexit to be finalised with a deal, and failing that, that fluidity of people and goods through the frontier is maintained. His hopes are that the area of shared prosperity comes to fruition and that the Territorial Cooperation Agency allows for European funds to be used to develop projects for both sides. He believes that this is possible even after Gibraltar leaves the EU:

“Politicians must agree on and take advantage of these funds, otherwise someone else will. Any type of project can be funded; in the fields of health, tourism and transport… but for this to happen there must be strong political will; if the politicians have it in them, I can guarantee these projects will come to fruition.”

Michael Netto Unite the Union Gibraltar Cross Frontier Group Brexit Spain
Michael Netto, President of the Cross Frontier Group

Proof of this kind of political will can be found in the fact that an agreement has been reached between Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and Spain to protect the rights of cross-frontier worker’s after Brexit. As a trade unionist himself, he assured ReachExtra that this is an unprecedented and positive act, but warns that it is not enough:

“It does give us hope. The rights of cross-frontier workers are guaranteed and also, in a regulated and well documented manner, something that we have not seen before. This is an important step, although any agreement will not be worth the paper it is printed on if fluidity at the frontier is not maintained to guarantee economic activity.”

“There is no use in ensuring equality and access if there are no employment opportunities. If there is no fluidity for people and goods, everything will fall like a house of cards.”

Mr. Netto is firm in his belief that history must not be allowed to repeat itself, and said that “there can be nothing worse” than an event like the closure of the frontier in 1969: “It was a huge below for the economy and many people had to emigrate. Oxygen was not allowed to pass through the frontier to the hospital. That cannot be allowed to happen again.”

He said that he remains hopeful, because the Covid-19 pandemic has been a lesson in cooperation and collaboration for both sides of the Frontier: “Honestly, I am very pleased in the way in which both Gibraltar and Spain have behaved given the pandemic.”

“There has been a free-flow through the frontier with no effect on the movement of goods or people. There were health concerns which were resolved through cooperation; human interest has prevailed. It is beautiful. That is why, if after the economic mayhem caused by the pandemic, we start complicating matters, we might as well turn the lights off and leave.”

Gibraltar Spain Frontier State of Alarm

“So long as politicians do not interfere at the last minute and ruin everything, I would like to believe that we are moving in the right direction; although there is still much work to do. Let’s leave the issue of sovereignty. This is about creating opportunities for all. Politicians can reach agreements in relation to Gibraltar whatever happens between the UK and the EU.”

Gibraltar Holiday 2020 Summer

“And the Covid pandemic has been proof of this. There has been so much good will between both sides and this difficult test has been passed. The path has been paved and relationships created by highlighting and understanding the human aspect. Brexit is an opportunity, and it does seem that politicians are up to the job from what I have seen during Covid. For us at the Cross-Frontier Group, it is unacceptable that no such agreement is made when you consider the consequences for Gibraltar and the entire region”.

Netto states that La Línea will be the worst affected and said it “has always been the Cinderella of Spanish politics. It has always been economically submerged, and flags can neither be eaten or provide sustenance.”

La Línea de la Concepcion Covid19 Brexit economy

And with this, he is calling for this spirit of cooperation to continue: “A new breed of politicians is required; ones who understand each other and have a vision for the future. They should put the sovereignty debate down and focus on their people. Let us respect the red lines but lets also sit down and come to an agreement. This is what the ordinary citizens, workers and companies want.”

Speaking on the fact that 96% of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU, Netto said: “It is sad that we are being forced to leave Europe, and then for Europe to punish us with a hard-Brexit.”

Dominic Cummings to depart

Among the reasons for his optimism, Netto has the notion that, if Joe Biden does become president of the United States, it could pave the way for an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU:

“Biden’s triumph favours the EU and an agreement. I don’t think the departure of Dominic Cummings – Johnson’s most powerful advisor in the UK – was an accident. In the world of politics there are never coincidences. Johnson will need to reach an agreement.”

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