Relations between Spain and Morocco have once again rocked Spanish national politics, this time as King Mohammed VI will not receive the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, for an audience during the bilateral summit in Morocco on February 1 and 2.
Sánchez was received on Wednesday by the Moroccan prime minister, Aziz Akhannouch, upon his arrival at the Mohammed V international airport. In this crucial week when the aim is to seal a lasting cooperation, (which was only possible after Spain’s historic turnaround over the Sahara) no meeting between the Spanish prime minister and the Moroccan king will now take place.
Moncloa has always stressed that this was a meeting between governments. However, in conversations with the media in the days leading up, the meeting between the Moroccan king and Sánchez was never ruled out. It was as if they did not want to rule out this possibility yet. The combination of this expectation and the history of misunderstandings between Spain and Morocco that unleashed a controversy that almost tainted the RAN.
Sánchez had a telephone conversation with the Alaoui monarch before his departure for Rabat, in which he accepted the invitation to pay “an official visit” to Rabat in the near future, the government said in a statement. The Royal House of Alaoui also confirmed this. This did not stop the PP’s undersecretary for institutional affairs, Esteban González Pons, from writing a tweet shortly after it was announced that there would be no audience with the king, stating that there is no “greater humiliation” than this “rejection”.
The Spanish foreign minister himself, José Manuel Albares, had to publicly clarify, revealing that the phone call had been ‘agreed days ago’, which he defended as a sign of the king’s ‘personal involvement’ in the development of the RAN.
The Spanish government claimed that ‘no one can doubt the extraordinary relationship between Mohammed VI and Pedro Sánchez’, recalling that he was the only head of government to hold a dinner with him and his family, which preceded the signing of an institutional declaration on 7 April, laying the foundations for the new relationship between the two countries.
The king’s absence from the RAN, they stress, “does not diminish the importance of the summit, which they describe as the ‘most important’ of all summits because of the number of ministers – 28 – and the number of agreements to be signed – 24.
Further strengthening relationship
Besides all this, Alaoui’s royal house in its own communiqué gives specific weight to Sánchez’s next visit to Rabat, revealing that it will be “an opportunity to further strengthen bilateral relations, through concrete actions characterised by efficiency and tangible projects in strategic areas of common interest”.
Mohammed VI and Sánchez already met in Rabat 10 months ago, during the visit that was supposed to lead to rapprochement between Madrid and Rabat following the crisis over the Sahara. On that occasion, the two shared the ‘iftar’, the breakfast used to break the fast during the month of Ramadan. A gesture full of symbolism reserved for few international leaders. Morocco’s royal palace has always controlled the timing of the reconstruction of the bridges with Spain, but the monarch is currently out of the country. His last public appearance was on 20 December, when he hosted the national football team after reaching the semifinals of the World Cup.
A ‘historic’ summit
All in all, Moncloa has high hopes for the outcome of the high-level meeting, an event they describe as ‘historic’. Because of Morocco’s ‘importance’ to Spain – more than 1.2 million people of Moroccan origin live in our country and we are its third largest trading partner – the timing and the guests: despite the fact that it is supposed to be annual, it has been eight years since a high-level meeting between governments took place. The last one took place in Madrid in 2015, with Mariano Rajoy, although it was attended by half of the ministers who will now accompany the president, Moncloa said.
The government expects to sign some 20 agreements on issues such as water, transport, railway development in the North African country and education. A new financial protocol will also be signed with the main aim of increasing investment by Spanish companies in Morocco, although the current amount is already significant.