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Morocco-Spain row: Rabat refuses to back down in the wake of EU resolution

By Fadwa Islah
Posted on Monday, 14 June 2021 18:26

Thousands of migrants cross the Spanish-Moroccan border
Migrants run towards the fence separating Morocco from Spain, after thousands of migrants swam across the border, in Ceuta, Spain, May 19, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca - RC2XIN99K7FA

The European Parliament’s adoption on 10 June of a resolution condemning Morocco’s use of migrant children to apply political pressure to Spain has been met with a wave of criticism in the North African country.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday 10 June “reject[ing] Morocco’s use of border control and migration, and unaccompanied minors in particular, as political pressure against a member state of the EU [in this case, Spain]”. The Parliament’s show of intra-European solidarity with Madrid comes a few weeks after the Spanish enclave of Ceuta was flooded with migrants in early May.

While the resolution passed, not every EU parliamentarian was on board, with a final tally of 397 votes in favour, 85 against and 196 abstentions. Some have publicly criticised the approach taken by Spain and the European Parliament, including Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský, who described the resolution as “counterproductive for the relationship between Morocco and Spain”.

‘A non-binding resolution’

Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries voted against the resolution because she doesn’t think it serves European interests. “Common sense would have required Parliament to call on Spain and Morocco to step up their co-operation. Instead, the resolution pillories our Moroccan strategic partner and remains silent on the role Spanish law enforcement played in the violence reported by NGOs – and for which the Spanish judiciary has opened an investigation,” she said. In her view, “effective and pragmatic diplomacy is anything but inflammatory diplomacy”, and she referred to the resolution as “a mistake.”

According to a Moroccan diplomatic source, “The resolution is non-binding and has no fundamental impact at international level, nor can it be enforced; it’s a symbolic measure meant to appease Spain.”

Our source continued: “Spain is diminished. At home, the crisis with Morocco has exposed the shortcomings of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government, which has come under severe criticism and lost the confidence of voters. If Spain were in a position of strength, then it wouldn’t need to Europeanise this crisis, which should be resolved through bilateral talks with Morocco.”

Brahim Fassi Fihri, president of the think tank Institut Amadeus and son of former Moroccan foreign minister Taieb Fassi Fihri, expressed the same point of view: “The resolution, which is merely performative and in no way binding, is first and foremost the product of Madrid’s desire to Europeanise a bilateral diplomatic crisis, in an attempt to weaponise it to achieve its political goals.”

Surge of criticism

In addition to attracting criticism from several MEPs, the resolution was condemned by various international bodies. One such institution is the Arab Parliament, the legislative body of the Arab League, which said in a statement dated 11 June that “the resolution absurdly and baselessly criticises Morocco’s policies … in a way that completely ignores the efforts the country has made to fight terrorism and curb illegal migration and human trafficking”.

The Arab Parliament also noted in the statement that the resolution “exacerbates existing tensions” and sanctions an “unacceptable arrogant attitude when dealing with issues related to Arab countries”.

Taking the same stance, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Pan-African Parliament threw their support behind Morocco. MPs of all stripes in the Moroccan Parliament also criticised the EU’s move in scathing terms.

Following an emergency meeting held on the morning of 11 June, the Board of the House of Representatives and the chairpersons of the parliamentary groups and caucus denounced Spain and the European Parliament’s “hostile” decision, while highlighting the country’s recognised track record in combating irregular migration. According to the Moroccan Parliament’s statement, “the figures speak for themselves: since 2017, migration cooperation has enabled the foiling of more than 14,000 irregular migration attempts and the dismantling of 5,000 trafficking networks … as well as prevented countless storming attempts”.

The statement further reiterated that “neither any UN agencies, whether UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration [IOM] or the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR], nor independent reporters have spoken out regarding the issue of Moroccan minors or any breach of international commitments on the part of Morocco”.

‘The posture of the teacher’

“Procedurally speaking, even a body of a regional organisation like the European Parliament cannot unilaterally take sides with one of its member states and pay no heed to the arguments of an independent and sovereign state that is neither a member of said organisation nor legally or politically compelled to provide back-up assistance in migration matters,” our diplomatic source said.

Fihri, for his part, said: “Calling out Morocco in this way belongs to a bygone era and demonstrates not only that MEPs have been hoodwinked by a narrative of victimhood that isn’t in line with reality, but above all their profound ignorance of the pivotal role Morocco plays in the new dynamic of Euro-African relations, which are more strategic than ever for Europe.”

Morocco is totally secure in its relations with the EU today. The days of paternalism or when Europe could, standing atop its pedestal, give countries good or bad marks, are long over.

In a separate statement dated 11 June, Morocco’s foreign ministry denounced the latest chapter in the crisis pitting the country against its European neighbour: “The posture of the teacher and the student no longer works. Paternalism is a dead end. It is not punishment nor reward that induces behaviour, but the conviction of shared responsibility.”

In the same vein, Fihri added: “Morocco is totally secure in its relations with the EU today. The days of paternalism or when Europe could, standing atop its pedestal, give countries good or bad marks, are long over. As are the days when Europe allowed itself to give pats on the back for good behaviour or dole out awards of excellence to its partners south of the Mediterranean.”

A diplomat had the following take: “Morocco is a strategic partner, as much on the migration as on the economic and security front. However, if such a partnership is to last, it must be fair and balanced. What would happen if Spain persists down this path and Morocco subsequently decides to end its security co-operation, for instance? It leads one to think that Spain and the rest of Europe are handling the matter with reckless abandon.”

Rabat and Madrid have been at loggerheads for several months over various issues, including Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara and the Spanish-controlled Ceuta and Melilla enclaves. The diplomatic row reached its height in May, when Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali was brought to a hospital in Spain for treatment after contracting Covid-19. He was later transferred to an Algerian health facility.

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