Morocco is bracing itself for a potential recalibration in its bilateral dealings with Spain because the looming Spanish general election is likely to bring about a change of government in Madrid.
This will come as a serious blow because, under Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government, bilateral ties have improved immeasurably over the past year. Madrid’s decision to endorse Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara in March 2022 opened the way for a new phase of understanding and rapprochement, and enabled the two countries to put the period of antagonism behind them and start afresh. This was a major foreign policy success for Rabat which, under the stewardship of Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, has made the Western Sahara the central tenet of its international relations.
The future of this close bilateral relationship is now suddenly looking less certain. Spain’s late-May local and regional elections brought victory for the conservative Partido Popular (PP), with Sánchez’s Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) suffering major losses including control of a string of key city halls and regions.
The shattering results set alarm bells ringing in Rabat which were amplified when Sánchez responded to defeat by calling for snap parliamentary elections that are due to take place on 23 July. As things currently stand, the PP looks to be on course for victory although it will almost certainly need to enter into a coalition with the far-right Vox party in order to secure enough of a majority to form a government. A 12-14 June nationwide poll commissioned by the El Pais newspaper showed the PP increasing its lead over its Socialist rivals, and predicted it to win 128-142 seats in the 350-member lower house, with the PSOE on course to win 99-109 seats.
A PP led victory could well see Madrid backtrack on its commitment to Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, and will almost certainly result in a return to a policy of more balanced relations between Morocco and Algeria. The PP’s leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has been especially outspoken in this respect and has attacked Sánchez for the breakdown in relations with Algeria. In a television interview last year, he condemned him for having ‘lost a strategic partner like Algeria,’ especially given its importance as a gas supplier. Although Algeria has continued to supply around 40% of Spain’s domestically consumed gas, many Spaniards view Sánchez’s apparent prioritisation of relations with Morocco over those with Algeria as misguided. In an interview, Núñez Feijóo promised that, if he came to power, he would ‘restore relations with Algeria.’
Although Rabat may be forced to recalibrate its relations with Madrid, however, it is not going to veer away from its main foreign policy preoccupation of gaining recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed territory. This could mean a return to tensions in bilateral relations.This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.
The June 2023 issues of Morocco Focus also includes the following:
- Rabat braces itself for a political change in Spain…
- Justice Minister Abdellatif Ouahbi’s controversial appointment
- Disquiet in the government…
- African Lion 2023 deemed a success
- Competition Council to investigate fuel distribution companies