The European Commission has welcomed Spain’s new position on Western Sahara as an autonomous region in Morocco, although it continues to support another potential path for UN efforts to find a fair and mutually acceptable solution.
Commenting on a sudden change last week in the position of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government, which met with strong internal opposition, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Nabila Masrali, said: “The Union The European Union welcomes any positive development in bilateral relations between its member states and Morocco, which would benefit the implementation of the European-Moroccan association.
But he reiterated the support of the European Union for the efforts of the Secretary General of the United Nations to reach a “just, logical, practical, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the question of Western Sahara”.
Morocco considers Western Sahara its own, but an Algerian-backed separatist movement demands a sovereign state. For years, countries like Spain backed an independence referendum to decide their fate.
Madrid told Rabat last Friday that it considers the autonomy proposal for Western Sahara “the most serious, realistic and credible basis to resolve the dispute”, in a move that is expected to contribute to improving the tense relations between the two countries.
In recent years, the possibility of a referendum on independence waned and the United Nations stopped talking about the referendum and talked about seeking a realistic and mutually acceptable solution.
The change in position by Spain, led by Sánchez’s Socialist Party, came as a surprise to the coalition government’s junior partner, the left-wing opposition Podemos, who criticized the move and joined dissenting voices from experts, media and NGOs.
Relations between Spain and Morocco cooled last year after Madrid allowed the separatist leader in Western Sahara to be treated with Algerian documents.
Apparently in response, Rabat eased restrictions on the border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Morocco, prompting an influx of at least 8,000 migrants, most of whom were later returned.
As a result of Spain’s change of position, Morocco will return its ambassador to Madrid, while Algeria, Spain’s strategic partner as its main gas supplier, called its ambassador for consultation.