Spain has decided that it will definitely apply for NATO membership in 1981. The announcement by Spanish Foreign Minister Marcelino Oreja, has surprised observers by the way in which he clearly made Spain's NATO membership conditional on two guarantees.
First, Mr. Oreja said, there must be signs of a solution to the dispute with Britain over the transfer of Gibraltar's sovereignty to Spain.
Second, he insists, there must be a guarantee that there will be no major setbacks in Spain's plans to join the European Community (EC).
Both conditions represent considerable obstacles. But of the two, Gibraltar is currently the least problemmatical. Britain's Foreign Minister, Lord Carrington, and Mr. Oreja agreed last April to draw up a working timetable for negotiations on Gibraltar by July 1, in accordance with United Nations resolutions. As a result, there are already signs of how a compromise solution may be reached:
* by accepting the UN resolutions, the British government has for the first time admitted that a colonial situation exists, and according to the Gibraltarian constitution, Britain is not prevented from transferring the sovereignty of the territory.
* Spanish officials insist that there is now a context within which the wishes of the Gibraltarians may be respected. This is the context of Spain's regional programs, which might permit some sort of autonomous status for Gibraltar -- similar to that granted the Basques and the Catalans.
* Spain's decision to join NATO undoubtedly will facilitate the continuation of the British military bases on the rock -- an issue that in the past was a sticking point for the Spaniards in negotiations. But while a solution seems possible on Gibraltar, the question of Spain's entry into the EC is a much more difficult problem.
Both the Spanish government and the EC agree that the overriding reasons for Spain's entry are political and linked to the conviction that EC membership will help stabilize the young Spanish democracy. However, on the economic front, there is almost no issue on which Spain's interests and those of the Nine coincide.
When French President Valery Valery Giscard d'Estaing called for a postponement in Spain's negotiations to join the EC in early June, Spanish officials feared that France might soon exercise its right of veto on spain's EC membership. But by linking NATO and the EC, the Spanish foreign minister has shifted the responsibility. This suggests that Spain's contribution to West European defense is now up to France.