The Spanish Government is not going to back down on its decision to change its position on the Sahara conflict, aligning itself with Morocco’s autonomy offer, despite Algeria’s decision to suspend the treaty of friendship, cooperation and good neighborliness between Both countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tried to temper bagpipes with the North African country and its head, José Manuel Albares, has responded with good words to the unfriendly gesture of Algiers. After reiterating his desire to have “the best relations with Algeria, as with all our neighbors”, the head of Spanish diplomacy has maintained his adherence to the principles contained in the treaty that Algiers now denies, especially “mutual respect” , “non-interference in internal affairs” and “mutually beneficial cooperation” for both countries. But the new position on the conflict in the former Spanish colony has not moved one iota.
Albares’s words do not seem to have calmed the Algerian authorities who, a few hours later, have announced that the Association of Banks and Financial Entities (Abef) has sent an instruction to the banks of his country announcing the freezing of the direct debits of the foreign trade operations of products directed or coming from Spain as of this Thursday, which is a serious obstacle to commercial exchange between the two countries.
The opposition has taken advantage of the new twist in Algiers in the escalation of tension with Spain to charge against the Government and the Popular Group and Citizens have requested the appearance of Albares in Congress. “Pedro Sánchez has done it again”, wrote the PP spokeswoman, Cuca Gamarra, for whom the decision in Algiers constitutes “another consequence of the lack of State policy”. The spokesman for Cs, Edmundo Bal, has stressed that the decision of Algiers occurs “just after Sánchez showed how well he does everything and demanded that the opposition set our sights high and have a sense of state.”
Diplomatic sources acknowledge that the decision to suspend the friendship treaty is a political gesture whose consequences are difficult to foresee. The treaty is in reality a mere declaration of good will, a list of principles and good intentions, a list of practical commitments. Its eminently political nature is reflected in its approval date: October 2002, three months after the Perejil islet incident, the moment of greatest tension between Spain and Morocco, when both countries were on the verge of armed confrontation.
One of the few specific points included in the treaty, the annual holding of a High Level Meeting (RAN) between the two governments, is not fulfilled: the last one took place in 2018. Its usefulness lies in the fact that it serves as an umbrella for the agreements, those specific yes, in matters such as economic, military cooperation or the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration. “Concrete cooperation can be maintained without the need for the treaty, but not without the political will that reflects the existence of the treaty itself,” explain diplomatic sources. The proof of the extent to which this political will affects matters that are not regulated in the agreement is in the decision to freeze the direct debit of foreign trade operations with Spain.
What most worries the Spanish Government is the deterioration of cooperation in the fight against irregular immigration and a possible questioning of the long-term gas supply, although Minister Albares was quick yesterday to recall that Algeria is a “reliable partner” and It has given “guarantees at the highest level” that it will comply with the contracts it has signed.
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Since the beginning of the year, 7,160 irregular immigrants who arrived in Spain by sea left Morocco, compared to 1,250 who did so from Algeria; that is, less than a fifth. However, most of those who sail from Algeria are natives of that country, which does not happen with those who leave from Morocco. For this reason, the number of Algerians arriving on Spanish shores last year (11,330) was very close to that of Moroccans (13,178). Interior fears that there will be an increase in arrivals, especially to the Balearic Islands, which due to their insular and tourist nature are especially vulnerable.
Regarding the gas from Algeria, which represents 40% that is consumed in Spain and the only one that arrives by tube (cheaper than that imported by ship), it is hoped that the supply will be maintained, shielded by contract until 2032. But That does not mean that the price will be maintained, which the Spanish company Naturgy has been renegotiating for months with its Algerian partner, Sonatrach.
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