Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Morocco and Spain officially end diplomatic crisis between the two kingdoms

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Friday, April 8th 2022 à 10:52 | Read 217 times

The two-day visit of Pedro Sanchez, president of the Spanish government, to Rabat, and his meeting with King Mohammed VI, reshuffle the cards of cooperation between Morocco and Spain who adopt a roadmap in sixteen points.

The entente cordiale returns between Spain and Morocco (Photo: Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)
The entente cordiale returns between Spain and Morocco (Photo: Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)
MOROCCO / SPAIN. After almost a year of crisis, the time has come for Spain and Morocco to return to more friendly relations. On a two-day visit to Rabat, since Thursday 27 April 2022, Pedro Sanchez described as a "historic moment" this "consolidation of bilateral cooperation (which) will be beneficial for both countries."

The President of the Spanish government had paved the way for this meeting by sending a letter, in mid-March 2022, to Mohammed VI stating, with regard to Western Sahara: "Spain considers the Moroccan autonomy initiative (Editor's note: see box), presented in 2007, as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute".

This is a complete reversal of the Spanish position on this issue from Madrid. Historically, Madrid has always affirmed its neutrality on this issue. Pedro Sanchez had reiterated this on 31 March 2022 in a telephone conversation with the King of Morocco, pledging to "inaugurate a new phase in relations between the two kingdoms, based on transparency and mutual respect. The Western Sahara had been at the origin of the quarrel between the two neighbours.

A sixteen-point roadmap

In May 2021, the hospitalisation near Zaragoza of Brahim Ghali, Secretary General of the Polisario Front, who was suffering from Covid-19, led Morocco to use this pretext to break with Spain. In retaliation, Rabat then used the weapon of migration once again by letting more than 10 000 candidates for Europe pass through the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. This was followed by a ten-month recall of the Moroccan ambassador to Spain. Today, it is the same Brahim Ghali who denounces "a radical turn" by Madrid and does not hesitate to add that Spain "abandons" once again, as when it left its former colony in 1975, the Saharawis to "their fate".

The official communiqué of the Royal Moroccan Cabinet, published in the evening of Thursday 7 April 2022, refers to "a new stage of partnership". A term that also appears in the joint declaration and already used by Mohammed VI during a speech on 20 August 2021.
"We have agreed to define a sustainable and ambitious roadmap", declared Pedro Sanchez at the end of his meeting with the King of Morocco.

In addition to the recognition of "the importance of the Sahara issue for Morocco as well as Morocco's serious and credible efforts within the framework of the United Nations to find a mutually acceptable solution", point number one, this sixteen-point roadmap includes, among other things, the restoration of "full normalisation of the movement of people and goods" as well as that of "maritime passenger links between the two countries (. ... immediately and gradually until all frequencies are opened", the reactivation of the "working group on the delimitation of maritime spaces in the Atlantic seaboard", the launch of "discussions on the management of airspace" and the relaunch and strengthening of "cooperation in the field of migration".

Updating of the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation

Similarly, Morocco and Spain are considering the facilitation of economic exchanges and will devote a meeting to this in the near future. They are also going to get closer in the fields of education, professional training and higher education. They will also create a sectoral working group in the field of culture and sports.

Finally, "the two countries will begin exchanges on updating the 1991 Treaty of Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, on the basis of the principles, parameters and priorities that should guide their bilateral relations in the years to come."

The implementation of all sixteen points will be monitored by a committee set up within three months.

The question of the future of this territory of 266,000 km² and 654,000 inhabitants, a former Spanish colony and 80% controlled by Morocco, has been raised for 46 years. The remaining 20% is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which was self-proclaimed in 1976 by the Polisario Front, its armed wing. Like the United States (December 2020) and some other countries, Spain is at odds with the UN, which placed Western Sahara - while it was still a Spanish colony (and at Rabat's request!) - on its list of non-self-governing territories. The UN is currently trying to restart negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front. 

What Morocco proposes for Western Sahara

The autonomy plan, more precisely the "Moroccan initiative for the negotiation of an autonomy statute for the Sahara region", was unveiled on 11 April 2007 in New York by El Mostapha Sahel, Morocco's ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, to the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

It provides for the Sahara Autonomous Region (SAR) to have a government invested by the King, but previously elected by the Region's Parliament (local assembly). This executive and legislative will have exclusive competences, notably in fiscal matters to finance the development of the SAR, but will remain under Moroccan sovereignty (flag, currency...).

The Western Sahara has a wealth of resources, notably fisheries, but also phosphate deposits and rare minerals that have not yet been exploited, and even oil. Not to mention the potential for wind and solar power. The draft text lists the revenues from the exploitation of natural resources which will be allocated to the SAR, those which will go to the State and the revenues from the Region's assets.

The Cherifian Kingdom would retain its competences in the regalian domains, such as defence, foreign relations (although the State undertakes to consult the SAR on matters concerning the region) and the constitutional and religious powers of the King.

The Polisario Front is calling for a referendum on self-determination. It is planned, under the control of UN peacekeepers (Minurso) since the 1991 ceasefire, but could never be implemented, as the Sahrawis and the Moroccans could not agree on the composition of the electorate.

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