By clearly announcing support for Morocco in Western Sahara, Pedro Sánchez's Spain angered Algeria, which decided to break its friendship agreement with Madrid.
The Spanish press is almost unanimous: Iberian diplomacy has given "disastrous results", according to El Confidencial. The object of the current media wrath in Spain? Relations between Algiers and Madrid which, in recent days, have reached a point of no return.
After 20 years of cooperation, Algeria suspended, on Wednesday, the treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation which links it to Spain. In question, the position of Madrid vis-à-vis the Western Sahara, which Algiers considers "unjustifiable". Consequence: foreign trade operations with Spain are frozen until further notice, from this Thursday.
In times of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, this raises fears of the worst for Spain, which was counting on deliveries of Algerian gas. Even if the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, assures that the Algerian government "is well known for being a reliable partner, a reliable supplier" and that "assurances have been given by the Algerian government at the highest level and therefore nothing indicates to me that it will be otherwise”.
The weakened gas agreement?
An Algerian diplomatic source goes in the same direction: according to El Confidencial, "as far as gas is concerned, the Spanish party will have to pay the fair price, on the rise, like our other customers, in particular the Italians, or else it will have to leave the room for other interested buyers.
The end of economic relations between the two countries is not anecdotal: until the Covid-19 pandemic, Spain was Algeria's fourth largest trading partner. At the time, Spain was still unclear about whether or not it supported Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara. But on March 14, thanks to pressure from Rabat on migration policy, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez took a stand for Morocco.
However, underlines El Confidencial, "directly or through the EU, Spain has many more legal means to exert pressure on Morocco than any other European country". However, the Sánchez government has given its full support to the Moroccan autonomy plan in the Sahrawi dossier.
The end of Spanish neutrality
If Madrid and Algiers are therefore now angry, Spain finds colors in Morocco, putting an end to a crisis which reached its climax at the time of the hospitalization in Spain of Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, a year ago, beforea migration crisis does not further worsen relations between the two countries.
Rabat hoped that one day, Madrid would come out clearly in its favor in the Sahrawi dossier. In 2007, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero remained cautious in the face of Morocco's desire for Spain to adopt its peace plan in the region. Fifteen years later, Pedro Sánchez has therefore put an end to a certain Iberian neutrality. In exchange, deplores El Confidencial, Morocco would have promised nothing to Spain. The text of the joint Hispano-Moroccan press release "is full of announcements with generic good intentions, but does not commit the Cherifian kingdom to anything", indicates the Spanish newspaper. Especially since the customs office in Melilla, closed by Morocco in 2018, and another office, in Ceuta this time, had to be opened, it is still the status quo.
The reconciliation between Spain and Morocco comes, moreover, at a time when the Cherifian kingdom is accused of having listened to Spanish personalities, including Sánchez, with the Pegasus software. In the newspaper El Periódico de España, a few days ago, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha González Laya denounced these facts, when she too would have been listened to by Morocco in June 2021.
Migration flows as a means of pressure?
As for the Algerian authorities, they would have learned of the Spanish support for the Moroccan plan in Western Sahara via the press release from Rabat. On the side of Madrid, however, Minister Albares claimed to have, upstream, warned Algiers of his diplomatic reversal. In the Spanish Congress, the government tried to recall its links with Algeria… President Tebboune announced that Pedro Sánchez's Spain was no longer a credible partner for Algeria.
And now ? Algiers is patiently awaiting the departure of Pedro Sánchez from the presidency of the government. The next legislative elections in Spain will take place in 2023. Until then, unless Pedro Sánchez reconsiders his decision – which seems impossible – Madrid will have to be skilful in order not to lose its contract to supply Algerian gas. However, the Spanish media point out, Sánchez's announcement has been well studied: the supply of American shale gas is gradually replacing that of Algerian gas.
There remains one last means of pressure for Algeria: immigration. If Madrid's support for the Moroccan plan ends the migration crisis with Morocco, Algerian customs could let their migrants go to Almeria, Murcia or the Balearic Islands.