Spain sides with Morocco and supports its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara

Unidas Podemos distances itself from the decision and defends respecting the "democratic will of the Saharawi people"

3 min
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Mohamed VI of Morocco during a meeting in 2018.

MadridSpain sides with Morocco and for the first time supports its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara. It thus puts an end to its neutrality in the conflict in Western Sahara. Spanish president Pedro Sánchez has sent a letter to King Mohamed, published by the Moroccan royal household, in which he accepts the formula for autonomy proposed by Morocco. He sees it as the "most serious, realistic and credible basis for the resolution" of the conflict. Morocco presented the plan to the United Nations in 2007, and it implies ditching "de facto" any prospect of independence for Western Sahara, which would remain under Rabat's authority in matters such as security.

In a subsequent statement, the Spanish government has assured that from this Friday Spain begins a "new stage in the relationship" with Morocco that is based on "mutual respect, compliance with agreements, the absence of unilateral actions and transparency and permanent communication", a fact that can be interpreted as a gesture in support of the Moroccan plan to provide Western Sahara with a limited autonomy. "All this to guarantee the stability, sovereignty, territorial integrity and prosperity of our two countries," they add in the statement. Spain is also committed to "cooperation in the management of migratory flows in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. As a sign of this new alliance, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, will travel to Morocco at the end of the month, just before the beginning of Ramadan. According to the Moroccan Royal Household, Pedro Sánchez is also scheduled to visit Morocco at a later date.

Unidas Podemos has already dissociated itself from Sánchez's position. Sources in Unidas Podemos explain that "they do not share the proposal because the autonomist plan defended by Rabat means abandoning the position of neutrality and consensus of United Nations resolutions". The same sources explain that the position adopted by Sánchez "would reject de facto the mutual agreement because neither the Polisario Front nor Algeria would accept the solution". They add that "the only solution" is to implement international law and the resolutions of the United Nations, which point out the need to hold a referendum. The second vice-president and minister of Labour, Yolanda Diaz, has publicly defended this position on Twitter, as has the secretary general of Podemos, Ione Belarra.

After learning of Sánchez's letter, the Polisario Front has regretted that the Spanish government has "succumbed to Morocco's pressure and blackmail". The organisation's delegate in Spain, Abdulah Arabi, said in statements to Europa Press that the executive "has been trying to please Morocco constantly for years", playing with "ambiguity" and that it should not have entered this agreement as "administering power" of a territory that is pending decolonisation.

The question is how will the countries which provide support for the Saharawi people react now, and in particular Algeria, on which Spain depends for its gas. Precisely, stopped supplying Morocco with gas last November due to poor relationship between the countries, a decision which partially affected Spain, which also received energy through the pipeline that went through Morocco. Algeria then made a commitment to the Spanish government to extend the supply through the gas pipeline which remains open (Medgaz) and which does not pass through Moroccan territory.

Diplomatic crisis over the reception of Ghali

With this Friday's letter, the Spanish government puts an end to the diplomatic crisis opened with Morocco last April, following the unprecedented clash motivated by the reception in Spain of the head of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, who was suffering from covid. After two months in hospital, Ghali returned to Algeria, but his reception was the pretext for the latest diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco, which is trying to put pressure on Madrid to recognise, as Donald Trump's United States did, Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony. The crisis used thousands of young people who, encouraged by Moroccan authorities, entered Ceuta at the end of May in worst migratory crisis in recent years between the two countries.

Despite the crisis, Morocco resumed controls at the border with Ceuta and the relationship became distant, especially because of the messages that the Spanish and Moroccan Royal House have sent in recent months. For example, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia greeted the Moroccan delegation at international tourism fair Fitur in Madrid.