S.José Manuel Albaren made one priorities clear immediately after taking his oath of office. The new Spanish Foreign Minister wants to put relations “with our great friend, our neighbor Morocco” in order. The previous Spanish ambassador in Paris would rather make his first trip abroad to Rabat today rather than tomorrow. The serious diplomatic crisis between Spain and the North African country cost Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya after just over a year and a half: her head was sent to Rabat with Amazon Express “on a silver platter”, writes a commentator on Tuesday in the newspaper La Vanguardia. The experienced former UN and EU diplomat was sacrificed on the “Moroccan altar” for political reasons.
The crisis peaked in May when Moroccan security forces allowed more than 10,000 Moroccans to pour into the Spanish exclave of Ceuta in North Africa. The Moroccan leadership was outraged that González Laya allowed the head of the Western Sahara Liberation Front Polisario to enter Spain. Brahim Ghali was treated there for a serious Covid disease. The Foreign Minister had not informed Rabat of this. Morocco called the ambassador back and discontinued security cooperation with Madrid – similar to what happened with Germany: there has been a diplomatic ice age between Rabat and Berlin since March.
“Sign of appeasement”
However, neither the federal government nor the government in Madrid are prepared to recognize the Moroccan claims to the former Western Sahara colony. Morocco is pushing for Europeans to follow the example of former American President Donald Trump, who did so in late 2020. In Rabat, the Foreign Minister had been expected to leave earlier. The newspaper L’Opinion described him as “a sign of appeasement towards Morocco”. The online portal Le360.ma doubts that the gesture is sufficient, as Spain continues to ignore the “deep-seated reasons for the crisis”, which means Morocco’s interests in Western Sahara.
For Spain, Morocco is the most important neighbor on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This applies particularly to the fight against jihadist terrorists and against illegal migration. Most of the migrants come to Spain from Morocco; in the first half of the year an increase of more than 150 percent was recorded – for the most part in the Canary Islands. On Monday, more than a hundred migrants managed to overcome the border fence around the Spanish exclave in Melilla.
Concern about the summer season because of Corona
There is enough to do outside of Morocco for the third foreign minister, who was appointed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in just three years. When Josep Borrell became the EU foreign affairs representative in 2019, the career diplomat Albaren was already a candidate for the foreign office. Before that, the 49-year-old confidante of Sánchez was his most important foreign policy advisor and, as Secretary General for international issues, his “Sherpa”. Albaren has now also announced that it will do more to attract its western partners. So far, Sánchez had only exchanged a few words with American President Joe Biden on the way to the conference hall during the NATO summit in Brussels. The Spanish Prime Minister does not have an appointment at the White House on the upcoming trip to the United States.
In Europe, the new Foreign Minister will help ensure that the Gibraltar Agreement, which is considered one of the successes of its predecessor, finally comes into force. Last New Year’s Eve, Madrid and London agreed in principle that Gibraltar should belong to the Schengen area and that it would bind itself even more closely to the EU after Brexit. Actually, the agreement should already be signed.
The European Commission wants to finally tackle the border issue next week. On Tuesday, Brussels released the first nine billion euros from the EU reconstruction fund, which Spain urgently needs, as the new corona wave raises concerns about the summer season. Albaren therefore considers it one of its tasks to promote Spain as a “safe travel destination” in Europe.