Sánchez’s letter to Mohamed VI: One year later, no one accepts the change over the Sahara

Tags : Western Sahara, Morocco, Spain, Frente Polisario, Ceuta, Melilla, Pedro Sanchez,

One year after Sánchez’s letter to Mohamed VI, partners and opposition still do not accept the turn on the Sahara

The Government claims the drop in immigration and the increase in trade, but the full opening of customs is still pending MADRID, 14 Mar. (EUROPA PRESS) – « Spain considers that the Moroccan autonomy proposal (for the Sahara) presented in 2007 as the most serious, credible and realistic basis for resolving this dispute. » With these words transferred by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, in a letter to Mohamed VI, the Government gave a 180 degree turn in the traditional policy towards the former colony and opened a new stage in the relationship with Morocco.

One year after the Spanish found out from a statement from the Moroccan Royal House of the new position regarding the Sahara, both the coalition partners, as well as those of the legislature and also the opposition remain unconvinced of the reasons that led to the Government to what they have not hesitated to describe as a « historical turn » and the benefits that this new positioning has brought with it and they were made to see it in the recent appearances of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, JJosé Manuel Albares, in Congress and the Senate

As a result of that letter, Sánchez was received on April 7 in Rabat by Mohamed VI and both signed a joint declaration with the ‘road map’ on which the new stage of the relationship is based and which was ratified at the Meeting High Level (RAN) on February 1 and 2 in the Moroccan capital.

In this sense, the fact that Mohamed VI –who was outside the country as is the case with relative frequency– did not receive Sánchez during the RAN, as had traditionally happened when the summit had been held in Morocco, was dismissed from the PP as “humiliation” and “diplomatic ninguneo”.

Moncloa downplayed the gesture, arguing that the King had spoken with Sánchez by phone before the appointment and that he had summoned him to an upcoming visit in Rabat, for which there is no date yet. He has also valued the good personal relationship between the two and the fact that in April he invited him to participate in the ‘iftar’, the dinner with which Muslims break their fast in Ramadan.


Meanwhile, the Government has endeavored to refute the “mantra” of the turn, insisting that support remains for the “centrality” of the UN in the search for a mutually acceptable solution between the parties, Morocco, on the one hand, and the Polisario Front, representing the Sahrawis, on the other.

Likewise, it has taken refuge in the fact that Spain is the main donor of the Saharawi refugee camps to refute the « betrayal » denounced by the Polisario Front and argued that what it does not want is for the conflict to continue for half a century.

But, from both houses of Parliament, the Executive has been expressly asked to return to the starting position, considering that with the support for the autonomy plan, the theses of Morocco are being supported and abandoning the right of self-determination of the Sahrawis, as stated commissioned to remind Albares recently.

Faced with unanimous criticism regarding its position, the Government has made an effort in the past year to value the benefits of the new relationship and the concrete benefits that are being felt, especially in Ceuta and Melilla as well as in the Canary Islands and Also in Andalusia.


In this sense, Moncloa points to two pieces of information: the drastic reduction in the arrivals of immigrants from the Moroccan coasts and the increase in commercial exchanges. Spain is already Morocco’s first economic and commercial partner and now the Government hopes that it will also become its main investor, with its sights set on the 45,000 million euros that the kingdom plans to spend between now and 2050 in key sectors.

With regard to immigration, during the month of January arrivals fell by 69% in Andalusia and 82% in the Canary Islands, data that contrasts with the rest of the migratory routes to Europe, which have seen an increase in arrivals in the last year.

However, the researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute Haizam Amirah Fernández downplays these advances to a certain extent. Thus, in statements to Europa Press, he stressed that the decrease in immigrant arrivals from Morocco shows that there is « a component of political will », while stressing that « there is no guarantee of irreversibility » or if it exists , has not been explained so far.

As regards the increase in trade, he stresses that in reality « it responds to a trend that already existed before the COVID-19 pandemic » and that in fact Spain was already Morocco’s main economic partner before.


But without a doubt, one of the pending issues that arouses the most interest is the opening of customs in Ceuta and Melilla. It was Sánchez himself who announced in Rabat on April 7 that the one in Melilla, closed unilaterally by Morocco since 2018, would reopen and a new one would also be created in Ceuta.

After some initial doubts regarding Morocco’s commitment to take this step, both governments announced that its opening would take place before the RAN and later that it would be throughout January. However, what has happened to date are two commercial expedition pilot tests, one on January 27, days before the RAN, and another on February 24, with some of the problems detected in the first one already resolved.

The Government has described the fact that Ceuta customs has begun to function as a « milestone », although for now in an experimental phase, and it has also been made clear that there is a schedule agreed with Morocco for its complete opening, gradually and orderly, but they do not want to make it public to avoid avalanches and the repetition of “images from the past”, in reference to the porters and the so-called atypical trade.

The Government has described the fact that Ceuta customs has begun to function as a « milestone », although for now in an experimental phase, and it has also been made clear that there is a schedule agreed with Morocco for its complete opening, gradually and orderly, but they do not want to make it public to avoid avalanches and the repetition of “images from the past”, in reference to the porters and the so-called atypical trade.

However, the lack of specific dates has generated some discomfort in both autonomous cities. In this sense, the Senate approved last week on the proposal of the PP and with the vote against the PSOE to ask the Government to make public the calendar for the opening of customs.


On the other hand, the work group for the delimitation of territorial waters on the Atlantic coast has also resumed its activity, an issue that is of particular interest to the Canary Islands, concerned about the oil prospecting that the Alaouite kingdom may authorize in waters close to the archipelago.

To date it is unknown whether progress has been made in the discussions, although the two governments had at all times expressed their willingness to settle this issue through diplomatic channels and dialogue, since the delimitation of the tectonic plate raised by Morocco clashes with the one formulated by Spain for the Canary Islands.

In a recent appearance before a Senate commission, Albares defended himself against the complaints of some senators about the slowness in the process, stressing that this group had not met for 15 years. « They will not expect us to resolve in six months what has not been resolved in 15 years, » he said.

Neither has he been informed of concrete progress regarding another of the points included in the declaration of April 7, the start of talks « on the management of airspaces. » In reality, what Morocco is looking for with this dialogue is for Spain to stop being the one that manages the airspace over the Sahara, something that today is done from the Canary Islands.

The Government has indicated in a parliamentary response to the PP that these talks « are limited exclusively to the management of airspace and the coordination between the two in order to achieve greater security in the connections », thus refuting that Spain is going to cede in this question.


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