Wednesday, March 29

Spain wants to shield Ceuta and Melilla in its new relationship with Morocco

Border perimeter of Spain with Morocco on the border of Ceuta.

Border perimeter of Spain with Morocco on the border of Ceuta.

Madrid and Rabat are preparing to open a new stage of reinforced neighborhood, more collaborative but also more sincere, in which there is no room for the wave of immigrants that Morocco sent to Ceuta last May in the midst of a diplomatic crisis. The government wants shield Ceuta and Melilla in this new relationship, despite knowing that the vindication of these territories is for Mohamed VI a national cause.

Spain is aware, and this is confirmed by government and defense sources, that the claim of the two autonomous cities is the next step of the Alui monarchy, once it manages to unblock the territorial conflict of the Sahara. Without losing sight of this horizon, the Executive is trying to promote a new cooperation framework in which the two countries agree not to carry out any unilateral act that violates the territorial integrity of the other, according to sources familiar with these conversations. Morocco is not being asked to change its national interests but it is made very clear that Spain’s national interests are not going to change either.

Until reaching this point of understanding, both countries have traveled a very bumpy journey. The relationship was twisted because Spain did not support the recognition of the Moroccanness of Western Sahara that Donald Trump made on December 10, 2020. The insistence of the then Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, on the “respect for UN resolutions“It caused the cancellation of the High Level Meeting (RAN) scheduled for days later. But Morocco did not make public the real reason and I hope to have another more visible cause of its anger. The reception of the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Gali, was provided it.

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The sacrifice of Laya in the remodeling of the Executive of July put end to months of confrontation. Spain delivered the piece requested by Mohamed VI. With his replacement by José Manuel Albares a new time has opened. The Government is now seeking to obtain guarantees that Morocco will control the borders and will not close its airspace, without even giving notice, as it did in March this year. You want to be sure that you will not repeat these actions and will proceed with respect and trust, with mutual benefit in mind. In short, a relationship as normalized as that maintained with neighbors such as Portugal or France.

The consequences for Morocco

Morocco did not sufficiently measure the decision to allow the exit of immigrants to the Ceuta coasts and military sources assure that this Operation to punish Spain has been very expensive. Not only because it was perceived in the EU as an attack on its borders and because it annoyed the US. If not because not even Rabat, which favored the exodus, thought that so many thousands of Moroccans would leave, thus showing how difficult it is to have a prosperous future in this country.

A young Moroccan climbs the border fence. EP

To contribute to this stabilization, Madrid is willing to further develop its ties with Morocco, to make it even more intense, to the point where it can target a Morocco-Spain economic region. And that this diversity, this wealth of interests, defuse the tension around Ceuta and Melilla and the Sahara conflict. The Government does not publicly assume a change of position on this last matter, in fact it denies that it will take place. But different analysts already point, precisely to a shielding of the autonomous cities in exchange for Spain making its approach in the Sahara more flexible.

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It has already been changing from the defense of an independence referendum to a solution negotiated by the parties. At this point is Spain. We can “cooperate”, “accompany”, say the sources consulted, but the agreement belongs to Rabat and the Polisario Front, which controls the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The first movements have started, after a long blockade. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, last week formalized the appointment of Stafan de Mistura as the new special envoy for Western Sahara, about two years after the resignation of former German President Horst Koehler. This opens a key process, at a time when Spain is willing to show its harmony with Morocco and that it has even helped him in his legal disputes with the Sahara in the EU.

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