“We demand that the government clarify whether it plans to give into pressure from Morocco and allow Ceuta and Melilla to become an annex of the neighboring country.”
Dorset – Spain’s far-right political party Vox has called on the coalition government to stop Morocco from “annexing” Ceuta and Melilla. The party asked the government to clarify the agenda for the June 10 meeting with Morocco.
“Is the Government going to detail what kind of talks it is carrying out with Morocco?” asked Ceuta delegate for Vox Teresa Lopez. Will “territorial questions” be put to Rabat during the meeting, she asked.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Madrid and Rabat were set to discuss the 2020 Operation Marhaba, the annual program to facilitate the return of Moroccan diaspora for the summer vacation. Vox, however, saw the meeting as an opportunity to lash out at Madrid and Rabat over fears about the future of Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla.
“We demand that the government clarify whether it plans to give into pressure from Morocco and allow Ceuta and Melilla to become an annex of the neighboring country,” the Vox deputy said.
In a statement ahead of the scheduled Rabat-Madrid meeting, Vox said it “has been denouncing and warning of the Moroccan strategy to suffocate Ceuta and Melilla for months.” The statement regurgitated Vox’s traditional anti-Morocco rhetoric, accusing the North African country of “attempting to suffocate” the two enclaves in its northern territories.
The statement quoted a report published on May 31 in El Espanol, citing the newspaper’s claims as evidence of Moroccan plans to “annex” Ceuta and Melilla.
A new economic strategy?
El Espanol claimed that Morocco intends to impose new customs regulations on the enclaves, meaning an end to atypical trade. The newspaper says that when Morocco reopens the land borders after the COVID-19 lockdown, Moroccans and tourists alike will have to pass into the enclave through passport control and will not be able to use Moroccan ID cards or cross the border without a passport stamp.
Anyone entering the cities carrying merchandise will have to declare the imports and pay the necessary tariffs. Export and import will be regularized, meaning that the queues of people carrying goods on their backs at the borders will become a thing of the past.
“The merchandise will have to arrive in Morocco from the peninsula,” wrote El Espanol, quoting “Moroccan sources.”
El Espanol emphasized that, as yet, there has been no confirmation of these plans. “We have no evidence that Morocco is going to end porting in the city,” sources within the Ceuta and Melilla administrations told the newspaper.
The report then claimed that, if Spain does not agree to the proposed measures, “Morocco will completely close the borders.”
To a reader unfamiliar with the dossier, the plans outlined in El Espanol may not seem controversial. However, for Vox and the governments of Ceuta and Melilla, a clampdown on illegal trade rings alarm bells.
Morocco decided in 2018 to impose restrictions on the Ceuta and Melilla land borders in order to curb the hemorrhage of tax revenue loss from the informal economy. While the move was defensive and came as a last resort to protect Morocco’s economy, the impact on the economies of the two enclaves has been devastating.
Since the border restrictions, Melilla alone has lost in excess of €47 million in revenue. The governments of the two enclaves are now fighting to keep their economies afloat and lay the blame firmly at Morocco’s door.
Vox and Morocco
The latest call from Vox for the central government in Madrid to “stop” Rabat’s new economic strategy to “annex” the enclaves comes after months of angry tantrums.
In late May, Vox senator for Ceuta Yolanda Merelo slammed the Spanish government over the lack of action in Ceuta’s economic crisis. She said the “siege and strangulation of Ceuta” and its economy at the hands of Morocco “violates good neighborly relations.”
Merelo asked the coalition how they intend to “alleviate the suffocation that Ceuta is suffering and by which trade and tourism are being damaged.”
The government responded calmly to Merelo’s calls, underlining the strong diplomatic relations between Madrid and Rabat and the need to maintain a respectful dialogue with Morocco.
Madrid assured the Vox party senator that it understands Ceuta’s situation and is taking measures to cushion the enclave’s economy.
Spain pledged to examine the situation in Ceuta and set up a “meeting with the general directors of Customs of Spain and Morocco to discuss these issues and understand the object and scope of the measures taken.”
The coalition government emphasized that “bilateral relations between Spain and Morocco are based on dialogue, respect, and mutual understanding.”
“This constant dialogue, at all levels, between two strategic partners serves to resolve possible existing disputes, without having to resort to other measures such as protest, retaliation, or countermeasures,” the government underlined.
“It is hoped that within the framework of the excellent relations that are maintained with Morocco, it will be possible to agree on the best way to address this issue for the benefit of the Autonomous Cities of Ceuta, Melilla and the rest of Spain.”
Though Morocco officially views the two enclaves as “occupied zones,” it has been over a decade since Rabat has voiced any intention to enter into “territorial” negotiations over Ceuta and Melilla, preferring to concentrate its diplomatic efforts on positive relations and cooperation with its European neighbor.
However, rather than focusing on mitigating the effects of the economic crisis in Ceuta and Melilla and mapping out a route to building a strong and regularized economy with Morocco, the Vox party and the governments of the two cities appear to be fixated on the idea that, behind Morocco’s strategy to clamp down on smuggling and build a healthy, regularized economy for its northern regions, is a plan to “annex” the cities.
Fortunately, the irony of a nationalist group in a colonized zone spewing hostile rhetoric and accusations at the host country does not appear to be lost on Madrid, and the coalition government, though emollient in tone towards Vox, maintains a healthy dialogue with Rabat.
And, if the reports in El Espanol are true and Morocco does intend to regularize trade in its northern regions, it would be within Ceuta and Melilla’s best interests to work with Rabat to build a strong, mutually beneficial economy, rather than continuing to rail against progress and cooperation.