France, the weak link in the pulse between Morocco and Spain

France, the weak link in the pulse between Morocco and Spain

President Emmanuel Macron and King Mohamed VI in 2018 (Reuters)

© Reuters
President Emmanuel Macron and King Mohamed VI in 2018 (Reuters)

And what does France say? This is one of the great questions of the diplomatic and migratory crisis between Morocco and Spain. The French authorities and diplomacy are in a particularly uncomfortable situation in the dispute, in which another partner of the French like Germany has taken a tough position against the Moroccan authorities due to their migratory pulse and the situation in Western Sahara.

Following the outbreak of this crisis in mid-May, with the arrival of some 10,000 Moroccan migrants to the Spanish enclave – many of them unaccompanied minors – the statements of French leaders have been scrutinized. From the colonial period to the present, the relationship between Morocco and Spain cannot be understood without France. The conflict over Perejil in 2002 was marked by Paris’s support for Rabat in its brief occupation of the Spanish islet. This made a common EU support for Spanish interests impossible, which preferred to have the United States as its main intermediary. Almost 20 years later, does the situation has undergone a Copernican turn?

© Provided by El Confidencial

Ignacio CembreroAfter the migratory and diplomatic punishment, Morocco attacks the Spanish economic flank with a decision that harms, above all, its citizens in Europe. The expensive measure is of doubtful legality

Rabat now has the support of Washington as his great asset to pressure the European countries on the Sahara, while Brussels has shown solidarity with Madrid in a crystalline way. Even the European Parliament passed a very critical resolution last week with the action of the Moroccan authorities, an unusual fact. A scenario in which France does not feel comfortable. Its authorities do not wish in any way for Morocco to become a hostile ally, taking advantage of its status as an immigration gatekeeper to establish a lasting pulse with the EU. But neither can it ignore the interests of Spain or Germany.

“We support Spain”

After the massive arrival of young migrants to Ceuta, the French Government “showed solidarity” with the Government of Pedro Sánchez. “We bring complete solidarity to Spain, since entering Spanish territory is an entry into Europe, and protecting Spain’s borders means protecting Europe’s borders,” said the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. “This is not a European migration crisis, but an incident. A difficult moment, and we support Spain ”, he added in an interview for BFM TV.

“The time has come to abandon a naive vision of Morocco”

These statements were in part surprising, since they marked certain distances on the part of the French authorities with respect to Morocco. “The time has come to abandon a naive vision of Morocco. The kingdom undoubtedly has some precious qualities (…). But its diplomatic capital has hidden for too long from the foreign ministries the reality of a power immersed in a worrying authoritarian regression ”, stated the newspaper ‘Le Monde’ in a harsh editorial, in which compared the Moroccan intervention with Erdogan’s Turkey. Nails very unusual criticism in the press in France, where the most important Moroccan community in the Old Continent resides.

The French historian Pierre Vermeren, a specialist on Morocco, recalls that the European dimension of this dispute upsets any historical affinity from the French elites to Rabat: “As a member of the EU, France is suffering the political consequences of this crisis. Morocco tried to pressure Spain, but in reality it did it on all European countries ”. As this Sorbonne I University professor explains to El Confidencial, “the French authorities cannot support Morocco as they did with the Parsley crisis, because national and European circumstances have changed”, In reference to the importance that the migratory issue has both on a continental and national level.

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E. Andrés PretelWashington’s backing has emboldened Morocco beyond its diplomatic capabilities. The question is, how far is Rabat willing to go?

Macron prioritizes reconciliation with Algeria

The fact that a real migration crisis broke out in Ceuta would be a nightmare for Emmanuel Macron and his executive, a year before the next presidential elections, probably marked by the ambush of the Lepenist extreme right. “There is no longer the same trust between France and Morocco as in the past,” says Vermeren, author of the book ‘Le Marroc. A royaume of paradoxes in 100 questions’. Although the young president considers the Moroccan kingdom a key ally in the fight against terrorism, immigration and drug trafficking, her ties to King Mohamed VI are not comparable to brotherly relationship that he maintained with the conservative Jacques Chirac.

José María Aznar tells in one of his memoirs that the real “older brother” of Mohamed VI was not King Juan Carlos, but Chirac. This romance between Paris and Rabat was maintained during the presidency of the also conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, but deteriorated with the socialist François Hollande. The Moroccan authorities suspended their judicial cooperation with the French throughout 2014, after the French justice accepted a complaint for “torture” against the head of the Moroccan counterintelligence services, Abdelatif Hamuchi. “The French authorities do not want a repeat crisis of this kind,” recalls Vermeren.

© Provided by El Confidencial

Ignacio Cembrero

Rabat cut off counter-terrorism cooperation with Paris and French espionage retaliated by turning to Twitter to reveal hundreds of confidential Moroccan documents

According to this historian, “Macron is perceived in Rabat as a successor to Hollande”, of whom he was one of his main collaborators in the Elysee. Like his socialist predecessor, the young leader has made reconciliation with Algeria one of his priorities. Specifically, he is committed to healing the wounds still present from the 1954-62 war in French and Algerian societies through memorial gestures. However, this initiative forces him to show himself conciliator with the Algerian regime and to put oneself in profile in dossiers as sensitive as that of the Sahara, which fuels the cold war between Algiers and Rabat.

French MEPs protect Rabat

“After the withdrawal in Mali, Algeria and Morocco are fundamental allies for security in the Sahel area. France cannot do without any of them, especially Morocco, which, unlike Algeria, immersed in a political crisis, represents a pole of stability in the region ”, defends political scientist Khadija Mohsen-Finan, specialist in the Maghreb , referring to the announcement that French troops will put an end to Operation Barkhane. In the Ceuta crisis, “France is in an intermediate position. It cannot turn its back on Madrid, but neither can it adopt a position as tough as Germany, which practically severed its relations with Rabat for the Sahara ”, adds this professor at the Sorbonne in Paris and member of the magazine ‘Orient XXI’ to this newspaper.

The will of the French political class not to over-tighten the rope with the Moroccan kingdom was evident in the recent debate in the European Parliament. Of the 79 French MEPs, 64 voted against or abstained in the vote on the resolution critical of Morocco, approved by a large majority. “It is essential that the dialogue between the EU and Morocco does not consist only in singling out Morocco for the migration issue”, said to the digital newspaper ‘Mediapart’ the MEP Nathalie Loiseau. Like most representatives of Macron’s party, voted against the text, despite having been promoted by Jordi Cañas, Citizens MEP, who is part of the same group of European liberals, Renew Europe.

In fact, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, maintained a conciliatory tone with Rabat: “Morocco is an essential partner in terms of cooperation in the Sahel, the fight against terrorism and clandestine immigration.” This experienced minister offered to calm the entrenched tensions between the Moroccan and Spanish authorities, although he has not yet revealed how he will do it. Contacted by the Confidential, French diplomats and Gallic representatives close to the Moroccan kingdom they preferred not to make statements. A revealing silence of the discomfort with which this crisis is lived in France.


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