Spain parks its response to Algeria waiting for it to unfreeze bilateral trade

Spain has decided to open a waiting period in the crisis with Algeria and check whether, in the coming days, bilateral trade relations are thawed before asking the EU to adopt measures in response to what it considers a “unilateral and unjustified” decision ”, according to government sources. Twice, on Thursday and Saturday, the Algerian authorities denied that the funds used to finance operations with Spain had been frozen, but the information available to the Government confirms that it is still impossible to carry out this type of transaction.

There is also no evidence that the circular of the Association of Banks and Financial Establishments (Abef), a public entity whose decisions are mandatory, which ordered “the freezing of direct debits of foreign trade operations of goods or services directed ao coming from Spain” as of last Thursday. “The circular is still in force,” says a European source in Algeria who requests anonymity. “In practice, the direct debit of invoices is being prevented and, therefore, it cannot be exported from Spain to Algeria.”

It was this circular that led the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, to travel to Brussels last Friday to meet with the Vice President responsible for trade policy of the Union, Valdis Dombrovskis, and request the support of the European Commission. In a statement, the community executive expressed its “maximum concern” about the measures adopted by Algeria and warned that these could entail a violation of the association agreement between the Maghreb country and the Union, especially in the section referring to trade and investment.

Community sources explain that the European Commission is gathering information on the scope of the decisions of the Algerian authorities and last Sunday the ambassadors of the EU countries accredited in Algiers held a meeting in which they offered their support to Spain.

The EU Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali, stated this Monday that the EU is in contact with the Algerian authorities to analyze the impact of the suspension of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborhood and Cooperation with Spain and the suspension of bilateral trade. “We want to promote dialogue to resolve differences and the High Representative [Josep Borrell] is ready to provide support if necessary”, he explained.

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The Spanish Government does not want to anticipate what the next steps to take in this crisis will be, but underlines that it is committed to dialogue and refers to the statements made last Thursday by Albares, who announced an “adequate, serene and constructive response, but firm in defending the interests of Spain and its companies”. The Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, has limited himself to pointing out that “what the Government and the European institutions are going to do is work continuously so that commercial, economic, cultural and all kinds of relations in Algeria are restored as soon as possible” .

Spain could request that the arbitration mechanism provided for in the 2005 EU-Algeria association agreement be activated, but it is a slow and bureaucratic procedure, the resolution of which could take months, so the sources consulted do not rule out “another type of measures”, outside the treaty.

First, wait

For now, the Government prefers to wait to see if the statements by the Algerian authorities, in the sense that the freezing of bilateral trade “only exists in the minds of those who have rushed to stigmatize it”, as the Algiers delegation in Brussels said ; or that “the supposed suspension of trade and investment relations with Spain has no basis”, as his Foreign Ministry added, end up coinciding with reality. “We are going to give him one last chance, we are going to believe what his communications say,” state government sources. “Spain has not done anything to justify this aggression nor is it going to do anything to fuel the escalation, but it is going to defend its interests,” they add.

The Government insists that, in the face of the unilateral aggression of a foreign power, it is time to close ranks and not to question whether or not the shift in the Spanish position on the Sahara was a correct decision. “It is a legitimate debate between Spaniards, but it is unacceptable that a third country tries to condition Spain’s sovereignty under pressure to decide its own foreign policy,” they add.

Djamal-Eddine Bou Abdallah, president of the Hispanic-Algerian Circle of Commerce and Industry (CCIAE), ratified this Monday from Algiers that “for the moment” operations with Spain are “frozen”. “I am in contact with several banks and they have confirmed it to me. I think it’s just a technical issue. Algeria is trying to apply several measures to protect its Industry. These are measures that affect all foreign trade, not just Spain”, he assured this newspaper.

Bou Abdallah was confident this Sunday, in statements to Cadena SER, that a Council of Ministers would be held that same day in which it would be decided to unblock the situation. Despite the fact that this council was never held and that banking operations are still blocked for Spanish companies, Bou Abdallah insists that the unblocking will take place in the coming days. “The Council of Ministers has simply been delayed by a week,” he stresses.

Sources from the European Union based in Algiers told this newspaper that, in reality, the Council of Ministers was never convened for last Sunday. “It is likely that the freezing of operations with Spain will be unblocked in the coming days,” said the aforementioned sources. “But in reality, nobody knows anything. Very few people make those kinds of decisions.

Algeria’s diplomatic crisis with Spain began after the royal palace of Morocco released on March 18 the content of a letter sent by the President of the Spanish Government in which Pedro Sánchez affirmed that the proposal for autonomy with respect to Western Sahara is the “most serious, realistic and credible basis” for achieving a solution to the problem.

With that letter, the Government renounced the line that it had maintained since Spain abandoned its colony in 1975. Until then, no Spanish Executive had shown its preference for the autonomy offer presented by Rabat instead of the self-determination referendum advocated by the Front Polisario and its great ally and protector, Algeria.

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