Gibraltar is a rocky peninsula rising from the south coast of Iberia. It has a total area of 5.8 sq km and is just under five km long from north to south. It has a land border with Spain. The population (2010 figures) is 29,441, of whom 24,127 are Gibraltarians.
Most Gibraltarians claim British, Genoese or Maltese ancestry. English is the official language, but Spanish is widely spoken. About four-fifths of the population are Roman Catholic, along with significant Protestant, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim communities.
Sovereignty of Gibraltar was ceded to the UK by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Spain has, nonetheless, repeatedly sought to regain sovereignty. However Spanish pressure, including the closure of the border from 1969 until the early 1980s, has largely served to strengthen Gibraltarians’ sense of identity.
The UK Government has reaffirmed that it will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes, and that furthermore, the UK will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.
Gibraltar’s current constitution dates from 2006. Following negotiations between the UK and Gibraltar, it was approved in a referendum on 30 November 2006 by over 60% of those who voted, and came into force on 2 January 2007.
It modernised the UK-Gibraltar relationship, giving Gibraltar control over its internal affairs.
The Governor remains responsible for external affairs, defence, internal security and ensuring good government, including responsibility for some public appointments, while the Government of Gibraltar has responsibility for all areas not specifically assigned to the Governor, including economic and environmental management and provision of education, healthcare and other social and public services.
Gibraltar’s legislature, the Parliament, consists of 17 elected Members plus a Speaker. Elections take place every four years. The Territory consists of a single constituency and each elector may vote for up to ten candidates.
The most recent elections were held on 8 December 2011. Gibraltar is within the European Union by virtue of Article 355(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. However, under the UK’s Act of Accession, Gibraltar is excluded from four areas of EU policy: the Common Customs Territory and Common Commercial Policy (and thus EU rules on the free movement of goods do not apply); the Common Agricultural Policy; the Common Fisheries Policy; and the requirement to levy VAT.
Gibraltarians have rights of free movement within the EU. While the UK Government is ultimately responsible under the Treaty for the implementation of EU Law in Gibraltar, EU measures are in practice implemented within Gibraltar by means of legislation enacted by Gibraltar’s Parliament.
Since the late 1970s Gibraltar has diversified its economy, developed niche sectors which require little land but offer high added value, and adapted to reflect changing circumstances, including the re-opening of the border with Spain. Gibraltar has a thriving economy dominated by four main sectors.
The financial services sector accounts for about 22% of GDP (2010 figures); it is regulated by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission and conforms to EU standards. Retail/tourism makes up 25% of GDP – the Cruise Ship Terminal, which opened in 1997, received 303,371 visitor arrivals in 2010.
Shipping accounts for 20% of GDP. The online gaming sector has also become a pillar of the economy in Gibraltar, accounting for a similar percentage (and around 2000 jobs).
The former Royal Naval Dockyard is now privately owned and operated.