Spain's Sanchez In Morocco To Mend Fences After Crisis| MENAFN.COM

Sunday, 26 March 2023 03:33 GMT

Spain's Sanchez In Morocco To Mend Fences After Crisis

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) AFP

Rabat: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was in Rabat on Thursday to reset a 'strategic partnership' despite criticism from within his left-wing government that it has caved into Moroccan pressure.

Sanchez and a dozen ministers are set to meet Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch for the first 'high-level meeting' of its kind since 2015.

'Today we are consolidating a new stage in relations between Morocco and Spain,' Sanchez told journalists in Rabat, saying there was 'enormous unexplored potential' between them.

His visit comes less than a year after he drew a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis by reversing decades of neutrality on the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco's position.

But Sanchez has faced criticism from both the left and right for the concession to Morocco, including from his administration's number three, Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz of the hard-left Podemos party.

She has declined to join this week's trip, in line with her party's rejection of Sanchez's 'unilateral' U-turn on the Western Sahara.

Spain's right-wing opposition has also slammed Sanchez over the policy, with Gonzalez Pons, a member of the European Parliament from the Popular Party, saying there was 'no greater humiliation than bowing to the will of Morocco'.

Sanchez has defended his move as essential for Spanish interests.

On Thursday he called for new Spanish investments in Morocco, where his country is already the third-biggest foreign investor.

Investment deals

Around 20 deals were signed on Thursday to boost Spanish investments in everything from renewable energy to education, as well as doubling Spanish state support for firms setting up projects there.

Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the two countries 'want to establish a new economic partnership in the service of development'.

The crisis between Rabat and Madrid had begun in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain's tiny Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, an incident seen as a Moroccan move to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a 'new stage' in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom's plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

The following month, Sanchez paid a high-profile visit to Morocco and was hosted by King Mohammed VI.

The Spanish premier came under renewed fire this week for holding a high-level visit to Morocco without being hosted by the monarch.

Conservative newspaper El Mundo said the king 'had shown his position of strength by standing Sanchez up'.

However, King Mohammed did this week invite the Spanish premier for a higher-profile state visit in the near future to 'reinforce the positive dynamic' in their ties, according to a palace statement.


Cooperation over clandestine migration and terrorism is also high on the agenda during Sanchez's visit.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain said arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared with 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from human rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter the Melilla enclave in June 2022.

Spain's Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to return deportations of irregular migrants to pre-Covid levels, according to a ministry official.

The visit comes as the European Parliament lifts the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Morocco as well as Qatar.

Morocco has staunchly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation by Belgian police has sparked tensions between key European states and the North African kingdom.

Moroccan politicians and media have accused France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of 'orchestrating' a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco's treatment of the press.

'There's a honeymoon between Rabat and Madrid, and a cold crisis' between Rabat and Paris, French-Moroccan journalist Mustapha Tossa wrote on news website Atlasinfo.


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