Germany suspends Schengen visas for Moroccan nationals

The German embassy attributes the decision to epidemiological reasons amid growing tensions between the two countries
German Embassy building in Rabat, Morocco. The Moroccan Foreign Ministry has suspended ties with the German Embassy due to "deep misunderstandings".

PHOTO/MOSA’AB ELSHAMY  -   German Embassy building in Rabat, Morocco. The Moroccan Foreign Ministry has suspended ties with the German Embassy due to "deep misunderstandings".

The German embassy in Morocco has suspended the reception of Schengen visa applications for Moroccan citizens, subject to unspecified exceptions. The decision is in response to the epidemiological situation in Morocco, according to sources at the consulate. The measure was announced on the website of the German Embassy in Rabat, headed by Götz Schmidt-Bremme. 

The visa is required for transit or residence in the desired territory within the Schengen Area with a maximum stay of 90 days every six months from the date of entry. With this decision, the German government is blocking the entry of Moroccan citizens into Germany on the grounds of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Morocco recorded a total of 394 new infections and 16 deaths yesterday. Since the start of the pandemic, the Alawi Kingdom has recorded 485,000 cases and 8,669 deaths, but the vaccination campaign is progressing rapidly. The latest figures show that more than 4 million people have been immunised, equivalent to 11.4 per cent of the country's total population. 

The situation in Germany is significantly worse. Germany has 47 million more citizens than Morocco, but the authorities have recorded nearly 2.5 million infections and a total of 71,554 deaths since March. In addition, Germany has reported 11,393 new cases and 269 deaths in the last day. So far only 8% of the population has been vaccinated. 

While many countries have opted to block the transit of people in order to reduce contagion, the decision taken by the German government comes amid tensions with Morocco. Earlier this week, Morocco's foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, announced in a statement that he was "suspending all contact" with the German embassy. 

Bourita himself warned that any exception to this suspension can only be made "on the basis of a prior agreement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs", citing a series of "profound disagreements" with Berlin. However, the order issued by the Moroccan government "is not a freezing of diplomatic relations", according to sources close to the government, who acknowledge the existing political unrest.

Nasser Bourita, ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Marruecos, habla con los periodistas en Dajla, Sáhara Occidental administrado por Marruecos, el domingo 10 de enero de 2021
AP/NOUREDDINE ABAKCHOU - Nasser Bourita, Morocco's foreign minister, speaks to reporters in Dakhla, Morocco-administered Western Sahara, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021.

The German Foreign Ministry has summoned the Moroccan ambassador to Berlin, Zohour Alaoui, according to Bloomberg. The German government sees no reason to break off diplomatic relations with Morocco, partly because Germany is the Kingdom's seventh largest trading partner. Last year, the German government lent Morocco a total of 1.241 billion euros within the framework of joint cooperation.

The points of friction between the two states have been the subject of surprise and concern in the international community. However, the open fronts are several and include both the stance on Western Sahara and Morocco's role in the Libyan conflict. In between, there are also accusations of espionage.

Western Sahara and espionage allegations

The recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara by the US under the Trump administration, as a reward for the diplomatic opening between Morocco and Israel, was met with some hostility from the German government led by Angela Merkel. 

The European Union, led by Germany, rejected the terms of recognition, citing Western Sahara's right to self-determination under UN consensus. The German government also pushed for the convening of a closed Security Council meeting on 21 December to examine the issue in depth. 

Berlin promotes "a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution under the auspices of the United Nations" as a way out of the sovereignty dispute. This is the complete opposite of Rabat's position, which defends its authority over Western Sahara and proposes autonomy as the only solution, while the Polisario Front demands a referendum on self-determination.

El visado del espacio Schengen permite a sus poseedores la posibilidad de viajar a 26 países europeos, 22 de ellos forman parte de la Unión Europea
The Schengen visa entitles its holders to travel to 26 European countries, 22 of which are part of the European Union.

Despite the close economic and energy cooperation between Morocco and Germany, several gestures by Germany have annoyed the Alawi kingdom. The latest, and apparently the trigger for the publication of the Foreign Ministry's letter, was the placing of the Sahrawi flag in the Bremen Parliament.

The Moroccan digital newspaper Yabiladi also reported the declarations of a source pointing to an alleged suspicion of espionage by Germany. According to the newspaper, Berlin is said to have sent informants to collect "very sensitive" data from Morocco.

Morocco's role in Libya

Another disagreement between the two is Morocco's role in the peace negotiations in Libya and the establishment of the interim government in charge of the transition after the civil war in 2014. 

Berlin excluded Rabat from organising a summit on conflict resolution in Libya in January 2020, and Morocco claims to have played an essential role in international efforts to end the conflict in Libya. The Alawi kingdom felt aggrieved at being left out of negotiations on the country's future.