The Government does not fear a punishment from Algeria for its change over the Sahara: “It always respects its contracts”

In the legislature of the gaseous times, of the convulsion and the constant shock, Pedro Sánchez is now going through, perhaps, his moment of greatest loneliness. With the social protest burning in the streets (and in the ports), the opposition, left and right, are urging him to take measures to curb the impact of rising energy prices. But it also closes him and marks him for the historical twist on the Western Sahara, the abandonment of sustained neutrality for almost 47 years, a turn criticized also from within the Government, by its coalition partners, United We Can.

That feeling of isolation was projected without duplicity this Wednesday in Congress, in the first plenary session and in the appearance of Minister José Manuel Albares in the Foreign Affairs Commission. The groups reproached both for the forms, for not having counted on them, for not giving details, as well as the sudden change. Both accusations were denied by the Executive. “We hide nothing” said the head of diplomacy, and Spain, he promised, “will not abandon” the Saharawi.

But the swerve has been so surprising that it has triggered speculation about the commitments that our country has acquired with Morocco and the reasons why the diplomatic conflict is ending precisely now. The Polisario Front believes that the war in Ukraine has been used to make it go unnoticed. The Government has come to wield just the opposite: that with the uncertainty that the Russian invasion has caused in Europe, it cannot have so many open fronts. The reality is that the chosen moment has generated even more confusion. The problems with Rabat are over but the direct consequence has been the increased tension with Algeriawho has called his ambassador in Madrid for consultations.

Algeria, “reliable partner”

This reaction does not seem to worry the Executive much, despite the fact that this country is Spain’s second gas supplier and that one of the great open debates in the EU after the attack on Ukraine, and even before, due to the rise in gas prices, is that Europe cannot depend on Russia for energy. That is why in Spanish politics the question of how the Government now dares to ‘bother’ Algeria has resonated with force. The truth is that there is no fear that Algiers will penalize Spain because it is a “gas supplier that has always respected its contracts”.

“It is a solid, reliable and strategic partner”, defended Albares in Congress. The seriousness of Algeria as a supplier of energy is something that Polisario sources also point out to this newspaper. The Executive has not yet clarified if it previously notified this country of the reconciliation that it has sealed with Morocco. But this Wednesday the minister did reveal that there have been no contacts with Germany, which a few months ago similarly bowed to Rabat’s wishes to shore up its position on the Sahara, and that it did not advance its plan to the US either.

The President of the Government has already said publicly that he will “everything in his power” to resolve the disagreements with Algeria. This Wednesday he flew to Ceuta and melillawhere he was accompanied by the two presidents of the autonomous cities —John Vivas (PP) and Edward de Castro (former of Cs) who do support the “new stage”—, and there he answered questions for the first time. He argued that the pact with the Alaouite kingdom is also the guarantee for the “territorial integrity” of Spain. Security in the two cities, he stressed, “has prevailed” in the work of these months to close a crisis that was already “unsustainable.”

“New stage” with Morocco

However, that was not the axis of discussion in Madrid, in the lower house. It was the Sahara. The agreement with Rabat by which the Government clearly opts for the autonomy proposal offered by Morocco in 2007, considering it as the “more serious, credible and realistic basis” for the “resolution” of the conflict. The Executive has hidden the details of the negotiation all this time, a fact for which the opposition severely reprimanded it, and also United We Can. Nor did he enter into many concretions this Wednesday. The minister went to Congress with the idea of ​​selling the benefits of the new stage with Morocco to the groups, and it even made them ugly that this issue was not the reason for his questions. The Government has deployed in recent days an argument that is difficult to digest, trying to deny that it has changed its position. No group bought it (not even the purple ones) and even the head of Foreign Affairs missed the concept of “change” and the president himself, that of “deepening.”

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But the Executive tries to turn the page and is already focused on the visit that the Foreign Minister will make next week, on April 1, to Rabat, to address the new bilateral relationship and prepare the next trip that, as yet without a date, the Prime Minister will do to Morocco. For this first visit, Albares has already agreed with his counterpart, Nasser Bourita, on the issues to be discussed: “The complete normalization of maritime connections“and the operation of the Operation Crossing the Strait, and the “reestablishment, in a controlled way, of the movement of people and goods” between the two countries. Rabat unilaterally closed the borders of Ceuta and Melilla in March 2020, due to the pandemic, and has not allowed their reopening, despite the fact that the health situation has improved. Spain also wants to activate joint “working groups” to “go beyond what already existed in all relations.”

“acceptable solution”

The Government denies that Albares’ trip is going to talk about Western Sahara. If something is affected now from Foreign Affairs, it is that it will be the UN special envoy, Staffan de Misturawho should “propose a mutually acceptable solution” to the parties. The Executive does not admit that its recognition of the Moroccan autonomy plan is an accolade to Rabat and limits itself to pointing out that Spain wants to stop being a “spectator” to take an “active part” in the resolution of the dispute: “The Saharawi population in the camps You also need an answer. In fact, the minister hid himself yesterday in that the The objective of the Government has been “to defend the interests of Spain” and end the crisis. “If someone believes that there is an alternative policy,” said the minister, among other things, to put an end to the mafias that traffic in human beings, “let him say so.”

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