Return to Normal: Berlin, Rabat Agree to Overcome Misunderstanding Amid Thawing Ties

Written by | Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022

Morocco “plays an important role in the stability and sustainable development of the region” and that a proposal by Rabat of autonomy for Western Sahara was an “important contribution” to a settlement, Germany’s foreign ministry has said in a statement. This is one of the concrete signs of Germany’s and Morocco’s recent agreement to overcome “misunderstandings” and renew “close amicable relations” after a year-long diplomatic freeze, including over the issue of this disputed region. The announcement, released on Wednesday (16 February), came after a video conference between German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and her Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita on the eve of a summit in Brussels between the European Union and the African Union. The two leaders agreed to “build on the special quality of bilateral relations in all spheres in the spirit of… mutual respect”, according to the joint statement. “They stressed the considerable interest of both sides in close amicable relations,” it added, and “agreed to enter into a new dialogue to overcome the misunderstandings that have arisen”.
Germany is one of Morocco’s main economic and trade partners. The relationship between the two countries deteriorated early in 2021 following Germany’s criticism of former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara. Rabat controls most of Western Sahara, which it views as its own territory. Then in March, Rabat announced it was suspending contacts with the German embassy in the North African kingdom over “deep misunderstandings” on “issues fundamental for Morocco”. Two months later, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Germany for consultations and accused Berlin of unspecified “hostile acts”. The Morocco-Germany diplomatic rift began to ease in December when Rabat welcomed “positive announcements and constructive positions” from the new German government. As a result, after keeping the post some nine months vacant, Baerbock could “[welcome] the return of His Majesty’s ambassador to Berlin,” adding a new German ambassador would arrive in Rabat “shortly”. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has also recently invited Morocco’s King Mohammed VI for a state visit to “seal a new partnership between the two countries” — yet another concrete sign of the thaw between both countries.
Meanwhile, on the occasion of the AU-EU Summit, Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, has called on both European and African leaders to take advantage of this opportunity “to set common strategies” and emphasized the importance of the summit “for Europe and in particular for Spain”. During the summit, Sánchez also took part in a round table discussion on the subject of immigration, which was chaired by Moroccan Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita. Coinciding with the current diplomatic crisis between the two countries, the summit was widely seen as an opportunity for both Spain and Morocco to bring their positions closer together on such a delicate issue as immigration. As analyst Pedro Canales points out, the solution to the bilateral crisis is not economic, but political “and passes through the explicit recognition by the Government of Pedro Sanchez of the mistake committed with Operation Ghali, by not duly and previously informing Morocco.” Canales adds that “certainly the Spanish gestures in the economic and commercial field towards Morocco are important and from the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar they are probably appreciated as such. But the solution to the crisis is still political, and it affects credibility, confidence and the fulfillment of the commitments made between the parties.”

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