A “historic” meeting is expected this Wednesday and Thursday, February 1 and 2, between Morocco and Spain in Rabat, eight years after the last one they had in Madrid. It could officially end the different crises that the two countries have had in recent years and lead to important agreements on migration, security or trade.
The President of the Spanish Government Pedro Sánchez, together with 12 of his ministers, will travel to the Moroccan capital Rabat this Wednesday, February 1, for a “historic” high-level summit, as the Spanish Executive has described it. Dozens of agreements are expected to be signed.
This meeting is highly anticipated and highly important, which explains the number of senior Spanish executives who will travel. It was scheduled first in December 2020 and then in February 2021, but they were called off citing epidemic reasons. Pedro Sanchez and the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch will put a multitude of issues on the table: from fishing, immigration, the economy or security; issues on which they hope to reach joint agreements.
This high-level meeting is part of the Treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation that was signed in 1991 agreeing annual meetings between Rabat and Madrid. However, in more than 30 years of treaty, only 12 summits have been held, the last one in 2015, due to the crises that divided both parties, such as the Saharawi conflict, the Ceuta and Melilla issue, illegal immigration or fishing .
A joint declaration is expected to officially end the crises and disagreements between the two countries and normalize relations. According to Spanish sources, neither the two countries nor the European Union can afford disagreements in their relations, and there should be something for all parties in these agreements.
“It is a time to strengthen the bilateral bases, which are also the bases between Europe and Morocco, for a neighbor with whom we have a land border and a long maritime border… It is almost an obligation to try to get along in the best possible way”, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares told a conference on Monday.
The question of Western Sahara
The crisis between the two countries in the last two decades began in April 2021, when the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, an enemy of the Moroccan government, was welcomed in Spain to be treated for Covid-19. Morocco responded by relaxing its border surveillance, prompting the entry of thousands of migrants into the autonomous Spanish city of Ceuta.
To deal with the migration crisis in his territory, Sánchez sent a letter to King Mohamed VI in March 2022 in which he considered the autonomy proposal presented in 2007 by Morocco on the Sahara conflict as the “most serious, credible and realistic” to solve it.
Relations in Rabat and Madrid improved after Madrid’s decision and this reconciliation reduced the arrivals of irregular immigrants in 2022.
Western Sahara, located south of Morocco and west of Mauritania, was a Spanish colony until 1975, when Madrid ceased to be the administering power. But Morocco, which has always claimed sovereignty over the territory, eventually took control of most of it.
Since 2007, Rabat has proposed the autonomy of Western Sahara under its sovereignty, proposed under historical and socio-cultural arguments. On the other side, the Polisario Front claims the right of peoples to self-determination and calls for a referendum on independence, backed by the UN.
Western Sahara is highly strategic for Morocco, as it provides it with massive phosphate reserves but also with fishing products, agriculture, gas and submarine oil reserves.
Migration control and the economy
The control of its borders and the arrival of migrants to its territory is one of the issues that most worries Madrid. Although the North African country has strengthened its immigration control since last April, the months that have followed have seen one of the worst immigration tragedies experienced in the Melilla fence. In June, at least 23 migrants died trying to jump over it. The behavior of the Moroccan Police was widely criticized by the media and created a scandal in Europe.
Morocco and Western Sahara continue to be the main points of departure for migrants. Among those who arrived in Spain in 2022, 42% were Moroccan. Madrid will seek both to limit the entry of illegal immigrants into its territory and to increase the figures for the return and expulsion of irregular migrants.
Morocco has been accused of using illegal migration as a mechanism of pressure on Madrid. Both parties should negotiate formulas to better contain these flows of people and prevent Rabat from using them to its advantage.
In commercial terms, the passage of merchandise through the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla is one of the important issues. The Spanish Executive affirmed that the opening of the commercial customs of the two enclaves will be advanced, but did not give an exact date.
One of the agreements between Madrid and Rabat should also include a new financial protocol to facilitate Spanish investments in Morocco.
Finally, the fisheries agreement between Morocco and the European Union will also be at the center of the talks. Valid for four years, must be renewed in July. The European Union pays Morocco around 50 million euros per year for its boats to fish in its waters.
Spain is Morocco’s first trading partner and Rabat has become Spain’s third economic partner outside the European Union, only behind the United States and the United Kingdom.
The multiple agreements should mark a new stage in the relations between both parties and satisfy each one, as long as the question of Western Sahara does not come between the two.
With EFE and local media