Concern in the Government about the crisis in Algeria and the "miscalculation" of Foreign Affairs

A great concern has been installed in the Government for the unforeseen dimensions that the crisis with Algeria has reached. The Executive, which was satisfied because it closed the stage of tension with Morocco thanks to the turn on Western Sahara, highly criticized by United We Can and also with significant misgivings within the PSOE, now sees how the break with the other strategic partner is aggravated of the Maghreb and main supplier of gas for Spain. And all this at a time of serious energy crisis. Several ministers, not only from United We Can, very critical of this shift, but also from the socialist sector, privately show their concern about what they consider a “miscalculation” by the Foreign Ministry, led by José Manuel Albares, when measuring the consequences that a decision such as the turnaround on the Sahara, designed to end the crisis with Morocco, could have in Algeria.

The biggest concern is that the conflict becomes entrenched and could cause Algeria to make less efforts to control irregular migration from its territory and that will generate some tension on the Andalusian coasts or the Balearic Islands in the coming weeks, although this year the arrival of immigrants from Algeria has dropped by 35%, according to data from the Interior. Algeria’s ability to exert pressure on this matter is not as strong as that of Morocco, which on two days in 2021 allowed more than 10,000 people to pass through the fence in Ceuta.

Sources from La Moncloa insist that the continuity of Albares is not in question and the minister has the “full and resounding support of the president”, who has piloted with him the main decisions of this crisis in recent months. But in the Government, in the PSOE and in United We Can there are many doubts about the management of the conflict given the result. Sánchez and Albares, in permanent contact – which also indicates that their continuity is not in question – have reacted with indignation to Algeria’s decision. Both have opted for a hard line in which they have found the support of the EU to pressure Algiers to reconsider its position that the Executive sees as “unjustifiably harmful to the interests of Spain”. In the Government they believe that Algeria is indirectly questioning the sovereignty of Spain when it comes to establishing a position on something that does not directly affect Algerians, such as Western Sahara.

Foreign sources point out that Spain has done absolutely nothing that affects Algeria and that could justify such an aggressive reaction, which in the opinion of the Executive is questioning the country’s ability to make an autonomous decision on its position in the conflict of Western Sahara. No one, not even in Foreign Affairs, expected such a reaction. The ministers were convinced, because that was how La Moncloa and Foreign Affairs had reported it, that things with Algeria were under control. The reaction caught everyone by surprise after the plenary session on the Sahara in Congress and that has unleashed those doubts about the possible “miscalculation”.

Albares, who replaced Arancha González Laya less than a year ago, dismissed precisely because of the crisis with Morocco, received from the president the task of resolving it as an absolute priority. And he did it in a few months. But he never imagined that the cost of achieving it would be such a harsh reaction from a historical and fundamental ally like Algeria, which began by withdrawing the ambassador, continued to suspend the friendship treaty and is now directly blocking trade with Spain, with the exception of gas. , the most delicate matter.

Business sources from the energy sector express great concern about the negotiations that Naturgy has underway with the state company Sonatrach to review gas prices, which was already complicated and was being delayed and now with this political tension it will undoubtedly be more difficult. No one considers the possibility that Algeria will cut the supply, because it has a long tradition of respecting contracts and because it is interested in Spain as a client, but it is taken for granted that the rise it will raise will be very important.

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This time, given the dimensions of the crisis, United We Can has decided not to make bloodshed, at least publicly, and has avoided criticizing the minister. Only Pablo Echenique, the spokesman, with a much softer tone than usual, reiterated that his group “regrets the Government’s position on the Sahara, which is the trigger for this situation” and added “if our Government were defending the Saharawi , today we would not be talking about Algeria”. “Hopefully relations can be normalized,” he concluded. But the ministers of United We Can avoided criticism in public. In private, several members of the Executive in this sector insist that Sánchez and Albares made a serious mistake in believing that they could make a turn of that caliber without generating a very serious problem with Algeria.

The most novel thing is that some socialist ministers also privately expressed their doubts given the result and above all because nobody anticipated that something like this could happen. Three months ago, when the transfer was announced through a statement from the Government of Morocco, something that puzzled many, the Foreign Ministry moved to all the ministers who asked that Algeria had been informed, and insisted that there would be no problem with them. The withdrawal of the ambassador has already unsettled the Government and this last gesture has confirmed that things were far from being resolved as Foreign Affairs predicted. Even so, everyone insisted that the main person responsible for this escalation is Algeria due to an “exaggerated reaction” that in no way corresponds to the Spanish decisions.

In Foreign Affairs they are very clear that the one who has made an aggressive decision has been Algeria, not Spain, and therefore the victim cannot be blamed. La Moncloa insists that the new Spanish position, which Sánchez defended on Wednesday in Congress, is far from being an attack on Algeria, which in theory is not a party to the conflict, nor on the Saharawis, because at all times he speaks of a solution “within the framework of the United Nations and mutually acceptable”, something that implies that there will be nothing that the Saharawis will not accept. The hard core of the Government does not understand why Algeria reacts in this way with Spain but it has not done so with the US, which has gone much further in favor of Morocco over the Sahara, or with France, Germany or the Netherlands, which have followed very similar to the Spanish without any Algerian retaliation, or the United Arab Emirates, which has gone further and has opened a consulate in El Aaiun, in the middle of Western Sahara, thus recognizing sovereignty. In La Moncloa they are especially indignant with the attitude of the PP, which was the one who forced Sánchez’s appearance again -with some key partners of the Government- that ultimately has precipitated events and is also pointing out that Algeria must differentiate between the Government and the Spanish. Neither Sánchez nor Albares have contacted Alberto Núñez Feijóo or any other interlocutor of the PP to talk about this crisis, which shows the enormous distance that is taking place between the two parties on a very sensitive matter of foreign policy. In fact, Feijóo has already told Morocco that he does not feel implicated by Sánchez’s turn and will not support anything that does not have the support of the majority of Congress, according to PP sources. In fact, in the Spanish Government they believe that the attitude of the PP, with this rejection of the Government’s line in foreign policy, gives Algeria wings to make decisions like the one on Wednesday, and that is why they demand loyalty from the popular, but it does not seem that there are intentions to call them to try to lower the tone. Nobody sees a way out of the crisis in the short term at the moment, and the Algerian question could become one of the great headaches of the remainder of the legislature, as the Moroccan one was before.

The Pope and Bolaños will speak in Rome about the abuses of the Church

The Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, will travel to Rome on Monday to meet with Pope Francis, who has invited him to a meeting to discuss the main issues that are on the agenda of both governments, among them and as a priority, the cases of abuses in the Spanish Church and the investigation that the Spanish Executive is promoting and directed by the Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo. Bolaños, who has relations with the Church among his powers, has already held several meetings on this matter and others with Juan José Omella, the president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. Despite the doubts that some members of the Spanish leadership had, they finally decided to participate in the process that the Ombudsman is carrying out, as requested by the Government. They have also commissioned their own investigation in which, however, most of the groups of victims have decided not to participate due to the mistrust it generates in them. The Spanish Executive has a very good relationship with Pope Francis, highly criticized by very conservative sectors in Spain, and considers that his influence has been decisive for the Spanish Church to agree to participate in this investigation by the Ombudsman in which the Government has set high hopes. Other relevant issues that will be on the table of the Pope and Bolaños will be registrations, also with a report recently presented and agreed between the Government and the Church, and the most delicate issue of the taxation of the Church and especially the IBI, which in Spain the buildings owned by this institution do not pay, something that the Executive wants to change. There does not seem to be any progress or imminent reforms at this point, but the visit itself is a demonstration of the good relations between Pope Francis and the Sánchez Executive.

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