Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Spain and Morocco hold the first summit in eight years. Relations long strained by illegal migration issue Expect to sign up to 20 deals on trade and investment

RABAT, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Spain and Morocco have agreed to put aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to repair a relationship marked by frequent disputes over migration and territory.

Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed up to 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).

“We have agreed to a commitment to mutual respect, where in our discourse and in our political practice we will avoid anything that we know offends the other side, especially regarding our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.

There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s disputes with rebels over Western Sahara and the arrival of thousands of illegal immigrants to Spain each year through Morocco.

Latest updates

View 2 more stories

Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs checkpoint in Ceuta.

Madrid says this reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has made no public statement indicating that its long-standing position that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.

Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after he overturned former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy in Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.

Making peace between the neighbors has forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some uncomfortable positions.

Last month, its MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament to call on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involved “swallowing a toad”.

Spain’s return to Western Sahara drew the ire of Algeria, an ally of the Polisario Front, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it creates closer gas links with Italy.

Spanish exports to Algeria fell 41% to 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion) in the January-November 2022 period compared to a year earlier, according to the Industry Ministry. Its exports to Morocco rose 27% to 10.8 billion euros in the same period.

Spain expects to receive a significant portion of the 45 billion euros that Morocco is expected to invest by 2050 in improving infrastructure, a Spanish government source said.

Spanish companies are well positioned to win concessions in key sectors of Rabat’s development plan, such as water sanitation and renewable energy, the person said.

State rail operators Renfe and Adif are working with their Moroccan counterparts to develop new train lines, which could mean €6 billion in business.

Spain is discussing how to remove Morocco from a gray list of money laundering countries, another government source said. A delegation from the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, visited Morocco last month and is expected to announce its decision later this month on whether Morocco can be delisted.

In Rabat on Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch expressed satisfaction at Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but made no mention of an agreement to set aside all disputes over sovereignty. .

A joint statement did not mention Spain’s enclaves in Morocco, although it reiterated Spain’s new position on Western Sahara. Morocco said it expected Spain’s upcoming presidency of the European Union would mean it could act as a conduit for better relations with the bloc.

Both countries agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

($1 = 0.9168 euros)

Reporting by Belén Carreño and Ahmed Eljechtimi; Writing by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Gareth Jones, Aislinn Laing, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *