Diplomatic crisis escalates between Algeria and Spain

Diplomatic tensions between Algeria and Spain are on the rise. In response to Madrid’s support for the Western Sahara Moroccan autonomy project, Algeria announced on Wednesday the suspension “treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation” associate it with Spain. This is a new setback in relations between the two countries after Algeria cut nearly a quarter of its gas supplies to Spain in early May, and a worrying decision in the eyes of Brussels.

sharp turn

With a 180-degree change in its foreign policy towards the burning problem of Western Sahara, a territory rich in phosphates and rich in fish waters, Madrid in March last year drew the wrath of the Algerian authorities, supporters of the separatist Polisario Front and fierce opponents of the Moroccan administration of the region. “Spain joined the United States in considering Morocco’s position on the question of Western Sahara to be correct.”Jean-Jacques Courlandsky, research fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris), explains.

At the time, Algeria withdrew its ambassador and imposed a series of sanctions, including raising the price of gas transported through Medgaz, a gas pipeline connecting Algerian facilities to the port of Almería in Spain.

Spain’s spectacular pivot towards Rabat allowed Madrid to resume bilateral cooperation with Morocco, especially on migration issues. In 2021, the Moroccan authorities, stung by the reception in Spain of the leader of the Polisario Front, opened the doors of the Ceuta enclave, causing a massive arrival of 10,000 migrants in less than 48 hours on Spanish soil. “Spain has painfully decided to give preference to Morocco, making an urgent decision for reasons of migration and security,” explains Jean-Jacques of Courland.

The recent normalization of diplomatic relations with Morocco actually resulted in a 70 per cent drop in the number of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands between February and April. But despite the reconciliation, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reminded on Wednesday that his country “will not tolerate the instrumentalization of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a weapon of pressure.”

Reverse

The European Commission responded on Thursday to Algeria’s breach of treaty with Spain, given the situation “extremely disturbing.” The Representative of the Commission also called on Algeria “reverse this decision” to avoid destabilizing the region.

The suspension of the agreement, which provided for the development of cooperation in the fields of economy, finance, education and defense, has already caused the establishment in Algeria of restrictions on trade transactions with Madrid. “But the gas, which is at the heart of the relationship between Algeria and Spain, will not be affected,” clarifies Jean-Jacques of Courland, Spain is still protected by long-term contracts concluded until 2032. Algeria still needs Spanish euros also emphasizes the researcher for whom the situation is actually a question “status quo against the background of coldness marked by the recall of ambassadors and the breaking of the treaty of friendship.”

“Big Cactus”

Due to the fact that the Ukrainian crisis is changing the structure of gas supplies to Europe, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen considers Madrid a strategic player in the search for alternatives to Russian supplies. Spain, which has diversified its sources of gas supplies since 2020, has the largest network of gas terminals in Europe for storing liquefied natural gas (LNG) imported from the United States. Madrid even became a net exporter of gas to France for several months, while flows have traditionally been reversed.

But for rebuilding ties with Algeria, Spain has few options. “This Western Sahara case is a big cactus for Madrid, it’s hard to see what concessions he can make.” explains Jean-Jacques of Courland. If you can try to negotiate on trade and finance to cheer up Algeria, according to the researcher “Spain is currently stuck.”

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