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A foundation related to the PSOE says that the Government broke the active neutrality in the relationship with Morocco and Algeria

Fundación Alternativas warns of the challenge that the CJEU ruling on trade agreements with Rabat will pose for Spain.

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A foundation related to the PSOE says that the Government broke the active neutrality in the relationship with Morocco and Algeria

Fundación Alternativas warns of the challenge that the CJEU ruling on trade agreements with Rabat will pose for Spain


Spain's relationship with Morocco and Algeria has never been easy, creating a complicated triangle in which maintaining balance and not causing the anger of Rabat or Algiers was key. The letter sent by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, to Mohamed VI supporting the Moroccan autonomy plan for the Sahara broke the traditional "active neutrality" and generated new challenges that Spain will have to face, including the imminent sentence of the EU Court on trade agreements with Morocco.

Some of these challenges are analyzed by professors Alfonso Casani and Beatriz Tomé, both belonging to the Group of Studies on Arab and Muslim Societies (GRESAM), in a report prepared for the Fundación Alternativas, affiliated with the PSOE, under the title 'The Morocco of today and the triangle Spain-Morocco-Algeria in a context of triple crisis'.

With Sánchez's letter, which stated that the Moroccan autonomy plan is "the most serious, credible and realistic basis" for resolving the Sahara conflict, "the traditional 'active neutrality' between Algeria and Morocco was thus broken, characterized by the search for a balance that would allow the prevalence of energy interests with the first and migratory and security interests with the second".

In the opinion of the authors, the change in position of the Government, in addition to seeking an improvement in relations that will leave behind the crisis unleashed by the reception of the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, in Spain, "is motivated by the interest in reducing migratory pressure at the borders and the desire to promote the perception of stability on the southern border of Europe vis-à-vis the EU in the face of instability on the eastern border".

In addition, it occurred at a time of growing assertiveness of Moroccan foreign policy and in which "the issue of Morocco's territorial integrity constitutes the central axis of its national, regional and international policy." The recognition by the then US president, Donald Trump, of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara emboldened Rabat and has led the Alaouite kingdom to try to get other countries to endorse this thesis.

His return to the African Union in 2017 must also be interpreted in terms of the Sahara, with his sights set, according to the authors, on trying to influence the position of the organization and its members in his favor and, "ultimately, achieving the , unlikely, expulsion of the SADR from the organization".

In reality, what Morocco wants with the addition of new support for its cause is to "legitimize the fait accompli policy" to thus resolve the Sahara issue, which in turn makes it "improbable" that there will be "advances in the multilateral way proposed by the United Nations.

As a result of the letter, Spain and Morocco have begun a new phase in the relationship, which has had its maximum expression in the High Level Meeting (RAN) on February 1 and 2. "This reconciliation has not been exempt from concessions and continues to face elements of tension," Casini and Tomé point out.

"The question of Morocco's territorial integrity and its position towards Ceuta and Melilla continue to be a stumbling block in relations between Spain and Morocco," they warn, stressing that "the pending opening of customs" with the two autonomous cities and "the migration issue translates these tensions on the ground".

On the other hand, they draw attention to the foreseeable publication of the ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU on trade agreements between the EU and Morocco before the end of the year, "which surely excludes the territories of Western Sahara" of them, will constitute "the first serious challenge" for Spain in this new stage, since it will coincide with its current Presidency in the second semester.

"Despite Spain's favorable position towards Morocco, the ruling will force a renegotiation of trade agreements in a context marked by the growing Moroccan intransigence regarding this issue," they warn. The reaction that Rabat has, which until now with the previous sentences has been quite moderate, will surely have an impact in Spain, given the commercial ties that exist between the two countries and the interests at stake.

As regards Algeria, his reaction to Sánchez's letter was the withdrawal of his ambassador from Madrid and three months later the suspension of the Treaty of Friendship. Since then, he has chosen to favor "the Italian way of supplying energy to Europe over the Spanish" at a time when the EU is looking for alternatives to Russia as a supplier.

The authors consider that "in the short term, it is difficult to foresee a reconciliation" between the two countries given that "neither of the two has made conciliatory gestures." "The current moment of energy crisis and the revaluation of Algeria as an exporter of gas and oil strengthens its international position and makes it possible to foresee a greater assertiveness of its foreign policy", predict Casini and Tomé.

On the other hand, the report also pays special attention to the regional situation and in particular to the non-existent relationship between Algeria and Morocco, which severed diplomatic relations in August 2021. The authors frame it as "a dynamic of regional competition between the two countries and the fluctuations in the perception of asymmetry or weakness that each one has of the opposite".

The two countries have tried to set themselves up as mediators in their troubled region, particularly in the conflicts in Libya and Mali, and have also recently taken their rivalry to the energy level. Trade opportunities for Algeria, a "traditional gas supplier" have increased with the conflict in Ukraine, while Morocco "advances positions in the context of the energy transition", as it tries to become "the African leader in energy green'".

Thus, the authors warn of "two black swans" on the horizon. In the first place, "a possible scenario of popular revolt, a consequence of the worsening of living standards and the economic impact of successive crises", in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic and now the impact of the conflict in Ukraine, among others. .

Although they see a replica of the protests that occurred in 2011 in Morocco as "improbable", they warn that the country "is facing widespread social discontent with the economic situation." In this sense, they see probable that there will be an increase in social conflict, but not at the national level, but rather at the local and regional level.

In the case of Algeria, "it has struggled to overcome a major cycle of protests since 2019," which led to a change of president and a new constitution, but there is also a risk of future social unrest. The reaction of both regimes, "already plunged into a dynamic of democratic regression, would jeopardize relations with the EU (...) and could pose greater security pressures for Europe."

The second would be the possibility that a deterioration in the relationship between Morocco and Algeria leads to "a warlike conflict" between the two. "Although unlikely, this would have a strong destabilizing effect in the region, increasing an already latent arms race" and further weakening the scant integration that exists in the Maghreb.