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EU supports Spain's shift on Western Sahara autonomy

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in Madrid, Spain on August 21, 2021. [Burak Akbulut - Anadolu Agency]
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in Madrid, Spain on August 21, 2021. [Burak Akbulut - Anadolu Agency]

The EU has backed Spain's new position on the fate of Western Sahara as an autonomous region of Morocco, Reuters has reported. This was a surprise change of tack by the government of Pedro Sanchez that has met with a lot of domestic opposition.

"The European Union welcomes any positive development… between its member states and Morocco in their bilateral relations, which can only be beneficial for the implementation of the Euro-Moroccan partnership," said Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell.

Morocco considers Western Sahara as its own territory, but the Algeria-backed Polisario Front independence movement demands its own sovereign state. For years, most countries, including Spain, had advocated for an independence referendum to determine its fate.

Madrid told Rabat on Friday that it regarded its autonomy proposal for Western Sahara to be "serious, credible and realistic," in a move expected to help patch up sour relations between the two countries.

READ: Spain informed Algeria in advance of the change in its position on Western Sahara

The EU reaffirmed its support for the efforts of the UN secretary-general for a "just, realistic, pragmatic, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the Western Sahara issue," Massrali told reporters on Monday.

In recent years the prospect of an independence referendum has waned and even the UN has stopped referring to it, speaking instead of seeking a realistic, mutually acceptable solution based on compromise.

Relations cooled between Spain and Morocco last year after Madrid admitted a Polisario Front leader for medical treatment using Algerian documents. In apparent retaliation, Rabat then appeared to relax border controls with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, leading to an influx of at least 8,000 migrants, most of whom were later returned.

As a result of Spain's change of position, Morocco will return its ambassador to Madrid. However, Algeria has recalled its ambassador from Madrid for consultations, despite being a strategic partner of Spain as its main gas supplier.

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AfricaAlgeriaEUEurope & RussiaInternational OrganisationsMoroccoNewsSpain
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