Morocco and Spain have reached an “absolutely important” level of understanding, commented the Spanish Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, following the re-establishment of bilateral relations. If the Spanish government strongly approves of this reconciliation, which will bring the Morocco-Spain duo towards a new geostrategic balance, in Iberian political circles, it is a snake that is struggling to pass.
Spain and Morocco, two friendly countries, have laid the foundations for a “21st century relationship”, said Fernando Grande-Marlaska. Considered Spain’s first policeman, endowed with great pragmatism and wisdom, the Spanish minister had publicly expressed his disapproval of Madrid’s reception of Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Sahrawi separatist militia, polisario, last April, which sparked a major diplomatic crisis between the two neighbours.
At the time, the Foreign Affairs Department headed by Arancha Laya Gonzales (who was relieved of her duties in favor of Juan Manuel Albares, one of the architects of the reconciliation between Rabat and Madrid), had rushed right in with her decision to welcome the man accused in Spain of “crimes against humanity” and had chosen to hide him in Morocco by having him assume a false identity.
Shortly after the outbreak of the diplomatic crisis, the Iberian neighbor had minimized the repercussions of this act perceived as a “treason” by Rabat and had not provided answers to the Moroccan side. Morocco has taken strict measures to signify the cessation of cooperation with Spain, which has earned strong criticism from Spanish politicians to the government of Pedro Sanchez, called to restore relations with Rabat as soon as possible.
Marlaska welcomes 21st century relationships
A “framework of 21st century bilateral relations” opens today ending a period of “misunderstanding between two fraternal, friendly, cooperative and truly loyal countries”, Fernando Grande-Marlaska told the media, stressing the character “fraternal” links between the two countries which were until then, from the mouth of the Spanish officials only “friends”.
The relationship between the two countries will now be taken to higher levels, hears the Spanish minister. It will no longer be a simple partnership but a real complicity, an alliance. And the terms of the joint statement on Thursday evening, as well as the speech of King Mohammed VI, on the occasion of the Revolution of the King and the People, had already made this clear.
Morocco and Spain have established “a 21st century relationship between two countries that have always been close to each other”, added the Spanish minister. And these terms, which have come up often since the first glimpses of the settlement of the crisis, mean that Spain and Morocco will now have a relationship of equals.
Rabat and Madrid will deepen their cooperation in the fields of “security and immigration”, but also “in a cross-cutting manner” for the establishment of a more global partnership encompassing infrastructure, industry, culture, education and vocational training,” explained Grande-Marlaska.
“I can say that relations with Morocco have reached an absolutely important level of understanding,” he said. This new framework of bilateral relations will make it possible to place the duo Madrid and Rabat in a new geostrategic balance and will reshuffle the cards in the Sahara file but on several other fields and this will serve the interests of the two Mediterranean neighbors.
Spanish political circles, dissonant voice
Some Spanish diplomats, politicians and media did not welcome this agreement between the two countries with great enthusiasm, seeing it only as a return to normal after the Brahim Ghali episode. They lament that Madrid “didn’t gain anything from the change”.
But these spectators of foreign policy certainly do not have the details of the implementation of this joint declaration which sanctioned Pedro Sanchez’s trip to Rabat, nor the vision for the future shared by the highest authorities in Spain and of Morocco, aware of the importance of a shared future.
In any case, the head of the Spanish executive is known for his cunning instinct which has manifested itself on several occasions by extracting ambitious agreements from his European partners for the sole defense of Spain’s interests (we were able to see it recently in the context of aid during the covid period, the special treatment on oil, the grouped hydrocarbon purchasing system, etc.), and its resilience within a hostile and fragmented Spanish political environment.
As such, Pedro Sanchez did not hide his great “satisfaction” for this “diplomatic stage” which he described as “historic”, and which allows, among other things, the reopening of the land borders between the two countries. , the creation of a customs post in Sebta for the first time, and the resumption of that of Melilla and the re-establishment of the Marhaba operation.
Spain also wins in the restoration of full relations between the two countries which were in crisis, and offers new prospects for the future. The Spanish government has been able to observe that in times of crisis with its strategic partner, the extent of economic losses.
In addition to Operation Marhaba, which fills the pockets of an entire system, an organization all put together by the Spaniards to transport Moroccans residing abroad, who leave thousands of euros per person and per passage, the two cities of Sebta and Melilla also blamed the blow for stopping the transit of Spanish goods to Morocco, in addition to Moroccan workers entering the two cities.
Here again, it is a whole system (restaurants, transport, hotels, shops, etc.) that has fallen through, the losses amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros over the past two years, for the two cities whose economy is totally dependent on Morocco.
Spanish politicians wrongly criticize the position on the Sahara
And if the politicians have rejected Spain’s political turn on the Sahara file en masse, not seeing the international isolation in which their country has been placed because of its position in the face of a profound change in geopolitics, they had however widely commented on the 10 seconds granted to Pedro Sanchez by American President Joe Biden only a few months ago, at the height of the crisis with Morocco.
At the time, they had made the connection between the coldness of American diplomacy, the rejection of calls from the Spanish team when Antony Blinken’s diary showed that his priority was to have contacts with the Moroccan side.
Political commentators had understood that the United States and Morocco were on the same side and that Spain did not have the same type of relationship with the first world power. They could also notice the United States, do not treat Morocco with disdain, or take their bilateral relations for granted as Spain did so far.
Today Madrid has become aware of the international paradigm shift, and has chosen to no longer surf against the tide by adopting Algeria’s position. Contrary to what has been said in political circles, Spain was not forced out of its “neutrality” on the Sahara, it was never neutral by being a former colonial power. She was forced to “choose a side” and no longer “have it both ways.”
Morocco, by giving Spain a glimpse of what it would mean to cut off its supplies, and reminding it that it can also claim its territories still occupied, has presented Spain with strategic choices, and the latter has chosen to retreat and adopt a more respectful position towards all the advantages that have been offered to it, taking into account the interconnected destiny of the two neighbors.
It is crystal clear that the Spanish politicians who have criticized Spain’s support for the Moroccan autonomy plan for the Sahara have nothing to do with this territory or the Sahrawis. Moreover, some of them had also criticized the isolation of Spain on this issue since it was clear that France, Germany, and the United States all gave their support to Morocco.
Their interest was to keep the Sahara as a means of pressure on Morocco to obtain even more advantages, to keep this relationship of superiority vis-à-vis a country that they like to remember is “African”, and above all to make so as to prevent Rabat from claiming the rest of the Moroccan territories still occupied by Spain to this day.