The Star of Gibraltar
Albert Poggio OBE, the Director of Gibraltar House and UK Honorary Representative of Gibraltar, was a Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award Honouree in 2015 for his longstanding commitment to Gibraltar relations. Mr Poggio has spent almost three decades strengthening both political and business ties for Gibraltarians and British citizens alike. Mr Poggio was appointed Honorary Consulate for Gibraltar in 1988, at the start of a new chapter for the nation’s economy which was transitioning towards a self-sufficient model. Mr Poggio was initially asked by then Chief Minister Joe Bossano to research how reinvigorating the underutilized London office could be beneficial to the nation’s economy. After establishing that there was a need and reason to be pro-active in this endeavor, the Chief Minister offered Mr Poggio the role, which he initially declined for his own business venture in the private sector.
“After much persuasion, I agreed to step up to the challenge for one year,” Mr Poggio says of the time, “That was 29 years ago and along the way I have found the challenges of supporting Gibraltar’s administration in this changing world far more exciting than the business I started in…”
What started off as a one-day-a-week job expanded rapidly into a full-time job, moving Gibraltar into a modern era.
With a population of 32,000 people and a history of sovereignty struggles, politics is intertwined in the daily lives of Gibraltarians. As a British colony, the nation figures prominently in EU laws and is in the forefront of British politics. In fact, Mr Poggio called “Brexit”, the potential British withdrawal from the European Union, the biggest economic and political threat to Gibraltar by far.
“Over the past 30 years or so, Gibraltar has looked freely to Europe for business opportunities. This is something that would have to be redefined in the event of the UK exiting,” Mr Poggio says of the referendum, adding, “Perhaps more critical would be the exposure of being outside the EU’s policy of free movement across borders, which would leave Gibraltar open to any future aggressive Spanish Government that wished once again to close the frontier.”
The nation has been caught in an ongoing struggle over its sovereignty between the United Kingdom and Spain, which has caused particular difficulties in business relations amongst other challenges. Mr Poggio has been an effective lobbyist in Parliament, putting forward views of Gibraltar when the country had no representatives present. One of his greatest achievements as a diplomat, according to him, was during Prime Minister Blair’s proposal for joint sovereignty, which were met with a strongly coordinated campaign against such plans. Mr Poggio says of the time:
“The overwhelming support throughout the country from people who recognized Gibraltar’s right to remain British was exhilarating. The London office received over a million letters of support from the public alone and it was a privilege to have been at the forefront of that campaign.”
On the business end, Mr Poggio has good footing when it comes to bringing income into new ventures. He helped to initiate several projects including the introduction of chartered flights coming in and out of Gibraltar, providing business access to the country. Mr Poggio has also helped entrepreneurs who are not used to big cities set up their businesses in Britain.
“Gibraltar’s sustained growth and economic success has led to a huge construction drive and overhaul of the territory’s infrastructure. There is a continued demand from business, attracted by the convenience of Gibraltar’s location from which to provide global services.”
Mr Poggio was also honoured for his work in providing employment opportunities for young people, by providing them with the opportunity to apply for jobs with the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association and also by developing links with the Friends of the British Overseas Territories, a charity that supports students and raises awareness on issues from theses territories. Mr Poggio also works closely, as their Vice Chairman, with The Calpe House Trust, a charity which provides housing in London for sick patients in need of specialist treatment travelling from Gibraltar; the charity recently purchased new buildings, allowing it to accommodate a larger number of patients and their travelling companions, as well as being closer to the main NHS. Of having his work recognized and honoured by Grassroot Diplomat, Mr Poggio says:
“It is a privilege to be recognized for the work that I undertake. The reward is all the more greater when you are amongst equally worthy and high profile candidates.”