King Felipe VI sends a message of understanding with Morocco

The president of the government, Pedro Sánchez, backs the monarch's words to ease relations with the Alawi kingdom in a new attempt at rapprochement
Rey Felipe VI

PHOTO/Casa de S.M. el Rey  -   General view of the Throne Room during His Majesty the King's address

King Felipe VI on Monday opened a new period in the diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco since the admission in May of the Polisario Front leader, Brahim Ghali, to a hospital in Logroño. In his speech during the traditional reception for the diplomatic corps at the Royal Palace, the monarch advocated a reunion between the two nations, which must "walk together".

The King's words served to highlight the intentions of the Royal Household, which is committed to an understanding with his Moroccan counterpart. Felipe VI's objective is to "find solutions to the problems that concern our peoples". Solutions that should put an end to the tensions that have marked relations between Madrid and Rabat in recent months.

"Our respective governments have agreed to jointly redefine a relationship for the 21st century based on stronger and more solid pillars", said the monarch at an event attended by both the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, and the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, José Manuel Albares, who replaced the former minister, Arancha González Laya, who was dismissed due to the diplomatic rupture with the Alaouite Kingdom.

PHOTO/Casa de S.M. el Rey  -  Their Majesties the King and Queen during their greeting to the Diplomatic Corps accredited in Spain

Morocco's ambassador to Spain, Karima Benyaich, who left Madrid on 18 May in the midst of escalating tensions, when she was summoned for consultations by Rabat after the irregular entry of 10,000 people into Ceuta, was not present at the meeting. She was replaced by the Kingdom's chargé d'affaires. This absence reflects the current state of relations, which are at a kind of stalemate, albeit with discreet progress.

This is the first time that King Felipe VI has spoken out since the institutional rupture. He did not want to miss this opportunity to refer, implicitly, to the regional dispute between Morocco and Algeria, which reached its zenith with the breakdown of bilateral relations and the closure of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, all at the proposal of Algiers, which accused Rabat of killing three Algerian lorry drivers.

In this respect, the monarch pointed out that Spain 'will continue to make every effort necessary for the creation and consolidation of a common space of peace, stability and prosperity in the Maghreb', an area in which Madrid faces serious strategic risks that materialised with the reduction of gas supplies in the country as a result of the closure of the pipeline. The rivalry puts Spain in a delicate situation in which it has little to gain but much to lose.

PHOTO/ Casa de S.M. el Rey  -  Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain during the speech of Monsignor Bernardito Cleopas Auza, Nuncio of His Holiness

Ghali's entry into Spain behind Rabat's back was not the only reason that distanced the two countries' agendas. The issue of Western Sahara represents another 'a priori' sticking point due to the disparity of strategies. Morocco offers an autonomy plan for the region under its sovereignty, while Spain adheres to UN criteria. Rabat is disappointed by Madrid's immobility and is pushing for a change of direction.

The Moroccan monarch, Mohammed VI, spoke out in August, months before King Felipe VI, to 'inaugurate' a new stage in bilateral relations with Spain. Minister Albares considered these words to be a clear sign of détente. The diplomat assured that progress had been made in talks with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita. Although Mohamed VI's declarations did not mean the return of the ambassador to Madrid.

Sánchez and Scholz, Spain and Germany

The Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, followed in the King's footsteps and invited the Alaouite Kingdom to build a new relationship, thanking it for "strategic cooperation". "Spain logically sees Morocco as a strategic partner with which we have to walk together over the coming months and years", he stressed during a press appearance in the company of the new German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz.

PHOTO/ Casa de S.M. el Rey  -  Their Majesties the King and Queen during their greeting to the Diplomatic Corps accredited in Spain.

Sánchez received Scholz at La Moncloa on Monday in what was the first visit to Spain by Angela Merkel's replacement. Germany is a partner of the European Union with which Spain shares a position on Western Sahara. At least for the time being. The diplomatic crisis with Rabat is sure to have been discussed in the dialogue between the two leaders now that Berlin is reorienting its foreign policy.

The new coalition government between Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals in Germany seems inclined to ease diplomatic tensions with Morocco and described Rabat's plan for Western Sahara as an 'important contribution'. A nod that President Steinmeier seconded with his invitation to King Mohammed VI to visit the country, and which aims to thaw relations between the two countries. The question now is whether Spain will make a move in this direction.