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Morocco and Spain continue to face tense relations

June 5, 2023 at 2:50 pm

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez makes the closing speech during the 13th International Finance Forum – Spain Investors Day in Madrid, Spain on January 12, 2023 [Burak Akbulut – Anadolu Agency]

Tense relations continue between Morocco and Spain despite relatively warm links in recent months, not least due to Madrid’s recognition of the autonomy initiative proposed by Morocco to end the dispute over the Western Sahara, and King Mohammed VI’s reception of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

However, Sanchez has dissolved parliament and called a general election following the defeat of his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in local and municipal elections. Moreover, Spain’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Agriculture and the Environment, Luis Planas, has decided not to renew the EU-Morocco fishing agreement six weeks before the end of the current agreement.

“Although the door is open to technical negotiations, the two parties agreed to wait to hear the ruling of the European Court of Justice, which will be issued at the end of this year,” Cadena SER quoted the minister as saying. The court decided in 2021 to cancel the fishing agreement with Morocco, based on an appeal filed by the Polisario Front, which is locked in a dispute with Morocco over Western Sahara. It said that the contested agreement would remain in force for a time, given that “immediate revocation would have serious consequences on the EU’s foreign work, and raises questions about the legal security of the international obligations it has agreed to.”

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According to the agreement, Morocco allows 128 European ships to fish in its territorial waters for four years, in exchange for €52.2 million from the EU. The protocol signed between the two parties in 2019 allowed more than 128 international fishing boats, including 93 registered in Spain, to work in Moroccan waters.

Furthermore, reported he Spanish newspaper El Pais, the governments in Madrid and Rabat have now pledged to avoid public statements that question their respective positions regarding sovereignty over the Sahara for Morocco, and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla for Spain.

The matter was confirmed by Sanchez on the side-lines of his meeting with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch. “We are committed to mutual respect, and we will avoid anything that could disturb the other side in our speeches and applied and political practices, especially with regard to our sovereignty.”

The issue between Morocco and Spain about the city enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla was opened once more when Morocco sent a letter of protest to the European Commission, because the latter believes both Ceuta and Melilla to be Spanish territory, while in Rabat’s view they are Spanish-occupied Moroccan land. Madrid, meanwhile, has protested that Rabat describes the cities as Moroccan. This is the “new diplomatic friction” between them,” according to El Pais.

Ceuta and Melilla are on the north Moroccan coast. Along with the Jaafari and other islands in the Mediterranean, they are under Spanish administration. Morocco insists that they are Spanish-occupied Moroccan territories.

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