The absence of the Moroccan minister in Barcelona frustrates his first meeting with Albares | Spain

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, José Manuel Albares, this Sunday at the wake of the writer Almudena Grandes, in Madrid.Alejandro Martínez Vélez (Europa Press)

The foreign ministers of Morocco, Naser Burita, and Algeria, Ramtane Lamamra, have excused their presence at the last minute at the forum of the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM), which brings together the 27 EU countries this Monday in Barcelona with 15 coastal states of said sea. Both have spoken by phone with their Spanish counterpart, José Manuel Albares, and, according to diplomatic sources, they have regretted not being able to attend, claiming that the meeting coincides with the summit held on Monday and Tuesday in Dakar (Senegal) between the African Union and China. , the first lender and one of the largest investors on the continent.

Burita’s absence has frustrated what was going to be the first face-to-face interview between the foreign ministers of Spain and Morocco since a diplomatic crisis broke out last May that led Rabat to call its ambassador in Madrid, Karima Benyaich, for consultations. and culminated in the irregular entry of more than 10,000 young Moroccans into Ceuta. Albares and his Moroccan counterpart were scheduled to meet in September at the UN General Assembly, but finally the latter canceled his trip to New York and the interview was postponed without a date.

Although King Mohamed VI has had conciliatory words towards Spain, the relationship has not normalized and a week ago Spain complained diplomatically about the installation of a fish farm in the waters of the Chafarinas Islands. Albares downplayed the protest, claiming that it is a matter of common friction between neighboring countries, and was convinced that the incident will not detract from the recovery of bilateral relations. In his telephone conversations, the minister has met with his Moroccan and Algerian counterparts to “continue working together to strengthen the common relationship,” according to diplomatic sources.

The absence of the Algerian minister is less significant, because Albares already met with him on September 30 in Algiers and on October 21 in Tripoli (Libya), both times with the aim of ensuring the flow of gas to Spain after the closure of the gas pipeline that runs through Moroccan territory, which occurred on November 1. However, the absence of the Moroccan and Algerian ministers will prevent a crisis from being addressed on the margins of the meeting that worsened in August with the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the two Maghreb states. Both countries have been on the brink of war for a few weeks after the death of three Algerian truck drivers in a Moroccan bombardment in the former Spanish Sahara.

The Sino-African meeting in Senegal and the new variant of the coronavirus, which has led the foreign ministers of Israel and Austria to also cancel their trip, have played against the Barcelona appointment. Despite this, the record of attendance at a UPM forum has been broken: a score of foreign ministers and some secretaries of state. Among others, the heads of diplomacy of France, Italy, Portugal, Egypt and Palestine have confirmed their presence. As a prelude to the formal meeting, Albares is offering this Sunday a dinner for his counterparts at the National Museum of Art of Catalonia, to which no representative of the Generalitat is expected to attend.

The UPM was born in 2008 as a forum for dialogue between the countries bordering the Mediterranean, focusing on those areas in which it is easier to promote cooperation (protection of the environment and the fight against climate change; sustainable economic development; inclusion and equality of gender; digital transformation and civil protection) and avoiding the many conflicts that face the neighbors of this sea: from the Israeli-Palestinian to the crisis between Algeria and Morocco or between Greece and Turkey. It is also expected that the vaccination strategy and the fight against the pandemic will be addressed in Barcelona, ​​which last year forced the ministerial meeting to be held electronically.

Meetings on the margins

To prevent these disputes from contaminating the meeting and preventing progress in other fields, no final communiqué is expected to be approved. Despite this, diplomatic sources consider it a success that the UPM has remained alive and with growing participation despite the numerous crises and wars in the region. In fact, it has become one of the few forums shared by countries facing each other, which encourages the holding of bilateral meetings on its margins. The co-chairs of the UPM will be the High Representative for EU foreign policy, Josep Borrell, and the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, as well as the organization’s secretary general, the Egyptian Nasser Kamel.

Then, on Monday afternoon, the third EU-South Neighborhood ministerial meeting will be held, in which diplomatic representatives of the 27 and nine countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean will participate: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt , Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. Syria is suspended as a member of this cooperation mechanism and excluded itself from the UPM.

The meeting, attended by the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, will address the implementation of the new agenda for a renewed partnership between the EU and the South Bank, which was approved last February. The EU’s multiannual budget 2021-27 foresees an economic and investment plan for this region endowed with 7,000 million euros.

The start of this forum coincides with the celebration, for the first time, of Mediterranean Day, instituted in 2020 to promote common identity and cooperation between the inhabitants of the countries bathed by this sea every 28 November. On this date, the so-called Barcelona Process, antecedent of the UPM, began in 1995.


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