Fabian Picardo is the Rock's New Boss

Marcos Moreno / AFP-Getty Images

Meet the new chief minister of Gibraltar: Fabian Picardo, a 39-year-old commercial lawyer with working-class roots, a man who has replaced the government-issued limo with a Toyota Prius. Grandson of a Spanish Civil War Republican agitator, he has the mission of defending Gibraltar from Spain’s ancient sovereignty claim and of freeing locals from their old British-colonial hang-ups.

The only way to do that is by expanding the economy, and it is Picardo’s ambition to drag the Rock and its population of 30,000 to the forefront of technology—he has ordered all government offices to embrace iPads—and build its services and gaming industry by pulling in investors who may find Gibraltar, which has a low tax rate and a well-educated workforce, attractive.

Young, Oxford-educated, and persuasive, Picardo last week split the 22,400-person electorate down the middle and won by the 2 percent edge needed to oust his predecessor. His narrow win was almost certainly secured by the way he connected to a new generation by using Twitter and Facebook.

Keeping Gibraltar as a friendly base to Britain and the U.S. (which has made use of the naval facilities here since 1801) is a critical factor for political stability, and for holding Spain’s claims on the territory at bay. “Gibraltar should be seen as the southernmost sentinel of Western democracy in the western Mediterranean,” says Picardo. The 307-year-old claim by Spain for the return of the peninsula’s sovereignty is the cloud that remains over Gibraltar, which is only 6 square kilometers in size. The fact that London guarantees it will not speak to Spain about sovereignty without Gibraltar’s consent sustains a stalemate such that no Gibraltarian ever argues for independence.

Married recently to Justine, his second wife, with a baby on the way, Picardo, like many Gibraltarians, is of Genoese descent. But the Madrid press has been enchanted by his grandmother’s Republican role in the Spanish Civil War and see it as part of his “red” pedigree. Picardo thus is full of contradictions: a touch of red, committed to green policies, and with a streak of conservative blue when it comes to living standards. His gift to the people is a new Worker’s Memorial Day in May.