New York- Spanish King Juan Carlos’ official visit to Morocco from Monday until Thursday is historic by all standards. This is the first time that the Spanish monarch comes accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes the most influential ministers in the Spanish government.
This is also the first time that the Spanish monarch is accompanied by the former foreign ministers who headed his country’s diplomacy since the establishment of democracy in Spain after the death of General Franco in November 1975.
Out of the 10 former foreign ministers who assumed office, only Fernando Moran, who headed the Spanish diplomacy during the first term of former Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, will not be able to make the trip for health reasons. What further attests to the value that Spain attaches to its relations with Morocco is the plethora of Spanish businessmen who accompany King Juan Carlos during his second official visit to Morocco since King Mohammed VI assumed power in 1999.
On the other hand, for the first time in more than three decades, the Spanish monarch’s visit to Morocco comes at a time when the relations between the two neighbors are going through a period that can be considered a honeymoon.
The visit also has a symbolic significance in that the Spanish monarch is the first head of state to visit Morocco in the month of Ramadan, which can be regarded as a token of affection towards Morocco and the person of King Mohammed VI. Moreover, this is the first visit by the King Juan Carlos to a foreign country after his surgery last March.
Another factor that should be taken into account is that given the advanced age for King Juan Carlos and his deteriorating health in recent years, perhaps this will be his last official visit to Morocco. Thus, perhaps one of the objectives of this visit is to ensure a smooth transition in the relations between the two countries for the post-Juan Carlos era and preserve their continuity and durability.
All indications point to a positive shift in the relations between Morocco and Spain since 2008, especially over the past two years.
Promotion of confidence-building between the two countries
At the political level, we can say that Moroccan and Spanish officials have learned from the past and have been able to, somewhat, establish a relationship based on the principle of overcoming all factors that would affect their bilateral relations and work to consolidate and strengthen their cooperation in issues of common interest.
In this sense, the two countries managed to strengthen their cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration, organized crime, terrorism and narcotics. Through the tremendous efforts it exerted along the borders between Ceuta and Melilla and the rest of its national territory, Morocco showed its good faith and determination to help Spain to deal effectively with illegal immigration.
The efforts made by Morocco contributed to promoting confidence-building between the political leaders of the two countries, a factor that was lacking in the past, especially during the two terms of former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, which is considered as the worst period in the relations between Morocco and Spain over the past four decades.
Furthermore, the two countries succeeded in immunizing their bilateral relations against all factors of frictions that had affected them in the past, especially the issues of Ceuta and Melilla and the Sahara. In this regard, unlike past decades, Moroccan officials refrained from including this issue in the official agenda of their meetings with Spanish officials or making any media campaign about this territorial dispute.
This has further contributed to easing the atmosphere between the two countries and promoting confidence-building between their leaders.
On the other hand, as a token of Spain’s intention to further strengthen bilateral relations with Morocco, the Spanish government has refrained from adopting a position hostile to the interests of latter regarding the issue of the Sahara. During the two terms of former Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain expressed more than once its tacit support for the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco to the Security Council in April 2007. What further strengthened the relations between the two countries is the adoption of the current Spanish government of the same position, despite the harsh criticism it receives from Spanish civil society and non-governmental organizations, which are in majority hostile to Morocco.
Spain’s support to Morocco was in display last April through the efforts it made when the former Permanent US Representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice, proposed to the Group of Friends of the Sahara, which consists of France, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Spain, a draft Security Council resolution, which included a paragraph referring to the establishment of a mechanism to monitor human rights in the Sahara.
Through its presence in the group of friends Spain, along with France and Russia, played an important role in persuading the United States to water down the language of its draft resolution in a way that preserves Morocco’s interest. In this regard, one can expect Spain to support its southern neighbor in the Security Council should it be elected as a non-permanent member for the two-year period 2015-2016.
This is what prompts experts to say that the Moroccan-Spanish relations have reached a stage of maturity in that they are no longer affected by the change of the ruling party in Spain. Unlike what happened in the past, when the People’s Party was at the head of the Spanish government, since the return of the party to power in November 2011, the relations between the two countries, have not witnessed any period of tension. Rather, they have witnessed an unprecedented shift manifested in the rapprochement between the two governments and the existence of a high level of trust between their respective leaders.
By the same token, the fact that King Juan Carlos brings with him nine former Foreign Ministers shows that the Spain’s foreign policy towards Morocco is no longer subject to the political changes that occur in Spain following each legislative elections and that there is a consensus among the main actors of Spain’s political scene, including the Socialist Party and the Popular Party – who have alternated in holding power since 1982 – about the need to further strengthen their country’s strategic relationship with Morocco. This visit shows the importance of the role played by the Spanish monarch in strengthening the relations between the two countries and promoting confidence-building between them, especially if we take into account the fraternal relationship that exists not only between King Mohammed VI and King Juan Carlos, but also between the Moroccan and Spanish royal families.
Exploration of all opportunities for economic cooperation
In parallel with the political value of the Spanish monarch’s visit, it also has a very significant economic value, especially if we take into account the fact that Spain oscillates between being Morocco’s first and second economic partner after France. Thanks to the partnership agreements signed between the two countries since the dawn of Morocco’s independence, especially over the past two decades, Spain has become one of the country’s key partners at the economic level. Economic exchange between the two countries rose steadily to the extent that Spain become, for the first time in 2012, Morocco’s major economic partner.
Through King Juan Carlos’ visit, Spain, which is going through a severe economic crisis, intends to explore every opportunity to promote its economic ties with Morocco and strengthen the presence of Spanish companies in the Moroccan market. Spanish officials are aware of the structural development projects launched by Morocco in many areas, especially as regards housing (construction of 120 thousand units per year), tourism (Vision 2020) and renewable energies, especially solar and wind energy. In view of the experience accumulated by Spain in these fields, Spanish officials count on this visit to win an important number of transactions, which would reduce the severity of the economic crisis experienced by the country over the past five years.
In addition to the importance of this visit at the political and economic level, it is also important at the cultural and educational levels. As a matter of fact, Spain seeks to strengthen the presence of the Spanish language in the Moroccan linguistic landscape. The fact that the Director of the Instituto Cervantes is part of the delegation accompanying the Spanish monarch indicates that Spain plans perhaps to open new centers in other Moroccan cities. It should be noted that Morocco is the second country in the world after Brazil in terms of the number of Instituto Cervantes it hosts. Whereas Brazil hosts eight centers, Morocco hosts 6 centers.
Spain is also seeking to develop cooperation between the two countries at the academic level, which has not yet lived up to the level hoped for by specialists despite the agreements signed between the two countries. Perhaps this visit will breathe a new life into bilateral cooperation between the two countries in this regard, especially since the delegation accompanying King Juan Carlos includes the deans of thirteen Spanish Universities.
There is no doubt that Spanish king’s visit to Morocco will result in further strengthening the relations between the two countries and immunize them against the factors of friction that affected them in the past. However, in order for these relations to be improved at all levels, the leaders of both neighbors should work hand in hand to promote dialogue and trust between their civil societies and mitigate the negative impact of stereotypes that affect how each country perceives the other.
Perhaps the academic cooperation between the two countries will probably play a pivotal role in achieving a real convergence between the Moroccan and Spanish peoples and to overcome the legacy of the past, which hinders the establishment of a relation based on mutual understanding and respect.
Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. His areas of academic interest include, relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. He has published over a 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter
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