Euro-Maghreb Agenda: Tunisia’s Slide to Autocracy, Morocco-Spain Relations’ New Phase and Algeria’s Gas Exports

Written by | Monday, April 11th, 2022

MOROCCO AND SPAIN — The leaders of Morocco and Spain announced a new phase in bilateral relations at the conclusion of a meeting on Thursday (7 April) that marked the end of a nearly year-long diplomatic chill between the two nations. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s guest for the Iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, and held a press conference afterwards detailing what the two leaders had agreed in their talks. Regarding Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish autonomous cities that sit between the Mediterranean and Moroccan territory, the governments decided on a gradual normalization of border controls for the passage of people and goods. The summit declaration said that maritime travel between Morocco and Spain will resume immediately and that Spain “recognizes the importance of the question of Western Sahara for Morocco, as well as the serious and credible efforts of Morocco in the framework of the United Nations to find a mutually acceptable solution.” The statement went on to reiterate that Madrid regards the Moroccan autonomy plan, first proposed in 2007, as the “most serious, realistic, and credible basis” to resolve the decades-long dispute over Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony. The Moroccan and Spanish governments also pledged to address issues of mutual interest through efforts to achieve consensus, eschewing unilateral measures.
The Foreign ministry of Spain has published on its website, for the first time in 47 years, a map showing undivided Morocco including the Sahara.
The new map adopted by the Spanish Foreign department no longer shows the Sahara separated by dotted lines from the rest of the Moroccan territory. This means that Madrid recognizes the Moroccanness of the Sahara.

ALGERIA — Thanks to being a major source of gas, Algeria dances between support for “strategic partnership” with Europe and “strategic partnership” with Russia. “Algeria is one of our great strategic partners”, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares has repeatedly stated at a press conference. “Algeria’s respect for gas supply contracts has always been very scrupulous. It is almost a hallmark of the Algerian government”, he added in response to journalists’ questions about the fracture in relations with Algeria. Weeks earlier, the Algerian government withdrew its ambassador to Spain, following statements of support for Morocco’s Sahara plan by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. But if the foreign minister’s words are anything to go by, relations with the Maghreb country could not be better. Also Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will visit Algeria on Monday (11 April) to sign a new gas supply deal, as Rome strives to reduce its dependence on Russian fuel following the invasion of Ukraine. It is the latest in a series of moves made by European countries to secure alternative fuel sources as they seek to cut Russia off from the global economy in punishment for the war. Italy buys about 30bn cubic meters of gas a year from Russia, 40% of its total consumption. An Italian government official said the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline — which carries gas from Algeria to Italy via Tunisia — is only operating at two-thirds of its capacity of 33bn cubic meters per year, giving Italy the scope to rapidly step up its purchases from Algeria. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Draghi has stressed the need for Italy to urgently diversify its energy supplies, especially given the risk that Russia could retaliate against EU sanctions by shutting off the flow of gas to Europe. “Diversification of our energy supplies is something to aim for regardless of what happens with Russian gas supplies in the immediate future,” Draghi told lawmakers last month.

TUNISIA —- Tunisian President Kais Saied last week moved to dissolve parliament after it voted to repeal his decision to freeze democratic institutions and rule by decree. Since then, MPs have been interrogated, and justice minister Leila Jeffal has requested the public prosecutor initiate arrest proceedings against the lawmakers who participated in the session, accusing them of “forming a criminal association” to “endanger the state and cause chaos on the Tunisian territory”. “There is a high level of public fear,” Ahmed Gaaloula, former minister from the Ennahda party and current advisor to Speaker Rachid Ghannouchi, told the press, as Tunisia’s fragile democracy faces growing threats from an increasingly autocratic president. But while the United States has announced that future financial support for Tunisia will be conditional on the restoration of democratic institutions, and Turkey’s President Recep Erdo?an has described the dissolution of parliament as “a blow against the people”, the European Union has been silent. Instead, the European Commission recently announced that it would lend Tunisia €450 million in budget support this year. Gaaloul believes that geopolitics has contributed to the EU’s silence, pointing out that President Saied did not want to vote against Russia in the United Nations and that supplies of Algerian gas to Europe, which EU states want to increase, go through Tunisia. “I cannot understand why the EU has taken this stance,” he said. “It is true that the EU considers that Tunisia is on its doorstep and they do not want to lose Tunisia.” However, Gaaloul points out that the amount of financial support on offer from the EU to Tunisia will not solve the economic crisis in the country.

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