Spain, Morocco forge economic ties as Western Sahara policy reversal eases tensions
By Belén Carreño and Ahmed Eljechtimi
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and 12 members of his cabinet will meet their counterparts in Victoria to sign up to 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ( $873 million), bringing the two countries closer together. in areas beyond migration.
Bilateral trade rose to 17 billion euros in 2022, making Spain Morocco’s largest trading partner.
Madrid is seeking to turn the page on a strained relationship with Victoria that has sparked regular diplomatic crises, most recently the storming by 8,000 immigrants of the enclave of Ceuta in northern Spain to Africa in 2021 after the -Morocco has relaxed border controls.
The event was seen as a reaction to Madrid’s decision to allow Brahim Ghali, leader of the Front Polisario rebel group that seeks to establish an independent state in Western Sahara, to enter Spain for medical treatment without informing the Rabat
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Victoria in March 2022 after reversing four decades of former colonial master Spain’s Western Sahara policy by backing Morocco’s proposal to an autonomous region is created.
The turn drew the ire of Algeria, an ally of the Polisario Front, which suspended a 20-year friendship treaty with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer ties to -gas with Italy.
The disputes highlight Spain’s reliance on Morocco to control migration from Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans seeking to cross the European Union’s southern border.
Last June, Morocco gave a clear demonstration of its leading role on migration when its law enforcement broke up a mass border crossing attempt in Melilla, the other enclave of Spain in North Africa, in a move that left at least 23 people dead and dozens injured.
‘HAND ON THE FAUCET’
While an investigation by the Spanish ombudsman into that incident remains open, Madrid hailed a general reduction in migration numbers, both to the Spanish archipelago and through the Western Mediterranean route, especially as the migrant arrivals to Europe via other Mediterranean routes increase.
Illegal arrivals to the Canary Islands fell by 30% in 2022 from a year earlier, the Ministry of the Interior said.
Some observers say that the reduction in migration may be temporary and that Spain is still too dependent on Morocco.
“Morocco has its hand on the tap and uses migration as a way to send messages to its northern neighbors and even to gain concessions,” said Haizam Amirah-Fernandez, senior analyst at the Royal Elcano Institute, think tank -Madrid tank.
For a sustained reduction in migration, Spain needs more cooperation with Morocco when it comes to the repatriation of illegal Moroccan migrants, said Blanca Garces, senior migration researcher at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs.
Spain managed to dismiss only 5.5% of its 28,349 extradition requests in 2021, Spain’s ombudsman said. Expulsions decreased by 69% to 1,569 in 2021 compared to 2016.
Supporting the truce forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some awkward positions such as voting against a resolution in the European Parliament to ask Morocco to improve its record on press freedom.
Juan Fernando Lopez, MEP of the Socialist Party, said in an activity on Monday that sometimes compromises were needed to maintain cordial relations with a neighbor, and he claimed that “if you want to swallow a toad, swallow it”.
($1 = 0.9161 euro)
(Reporting by Belén Carreño and Ahmed Eljechtimi; Writing by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Gareth Jones)