A man kneeling on a beach in Ceuta while the Army cordoned off the area, last Tuesday.Javier Bauluz

1,200 kilometers of walls have been built in Europe since the fall of Berlin; Ceuta’s fence measures barely eight. But the crisis in that small, autonomous, walled city may have consequences for European migration policy. The EU urges Spain to rely on Frontex agents (the European border guard agency) to shield Spanish borders, despite the reluctance of the Spanish Executive, which systematically refuses to do so. In a letter sent last Thursday to Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Frontex considers that “the increase in migratory pressure on Spain “should lead Madrid to allow the agency’s help” in the face of this challenging situation. ” Interior rejected that option yesterday.

In Ceuta it is played with several decks. There is a diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain that was unleashed after the reception of the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Gali, but that comes from further behind, with a progressive loss of complicity. There is something similar to a migration crisis after the reaction of Rabat, which did nothing to prevent the entry into Spanish soil of some 9,000 immigrants in just a few hours. There is a potential social crisis related to the express expulsions, the raids to hunt down migrants and the situation of hundreds of children who have entered a strange legal limbo. And there is a European political dimension of the first magnitude: Brussels has closed ranks with Spain, has warned Rabat about aid related to migration if these types of episodes are repeated, but the European institutions want to take advantage of this episode to return to the table the migratory pact, which gives Frontex a fundamental role in the shielding of European borders.

Brussels already lobbied after the migration crisis in the Canary Islands, a few months ago, for Spain to rely on Frontex agents in controlling the waters of that area. Spain refused. This tension comes from afar and is a true reflection of the dispute between the national security forces and bodies and an increasingly powerful European agency, but at least the large countries do not want to see even in paint. This time, Frontex has not missed the opportunity either: the agency’s executive director, Frenchman Fabrice Leggeri, sent a letter to the Spanish Interior Minister last Thursday, in the midst of the Ceuta crisis, to offer help. “Frontex has closely followed and analyzed the events in Ceuta”, writes Leggeri, who immediately afterwards offered the European coastguards “considering the increase in migratory pressure on Spain”, “in this challenging situation”.

In the wooden language of European diplomacy, such offers are made when Brussels considers the situation to be worrying. The European institutions – and the main foreign ministries of Europe – have applauded the sudden Spanish reaction after the entry of thousands of migrants into Ceuta. They have repeatedly launched messages of pressure towards Rabat. But neither do they seem to want to miss the opportunity to underline the importance of renewing the migratory pact – stranded while waiting for the German elections, with the East’s refusal to assume any kind of solidarity and criticism from the South, which believes that solidarity is insufficient – and incidentally to highlight the strong investment that Europe has activated to strengthen Frontex.

The agency – based in Warsaw – declares itself in the letter “ready to open a debate with the national authorities, to identify operational needs and the possibility of additional support”, always according to that letter, to which THE COUNTRY has had access . Spain flatly refuses to open that melon. “Frontex was hardly in the Canary Islands and is not in Ceuta, but it is en masse in the Aegean, with hundreds of agents”, point out European sources. Diplomatic sources from one of the major European countries, however, point out that Spain “has shown that it knows how to act quickly and firmly” and prefers “to resolve this issue bilaterally, by its own means, with a pragmatic response that perhaps with Frontex it can be something more difficult ”.

Migratory pressure is on the rise in the western Mediterranean, but it is very, very far from the figures of five years ago, with the crisis of refugees from Syria. So far this year the entries were below 10,000 in mid-May, 42% above the same period last year, although the Ceuta episode will surely shoot the numbers. The Canary Islands were until now the main hole on the Spanish coasts, precisely because Morocco’s control in those waters is less than that exercised in the Strait and in Ceuta and Melilla. Europe has been dancing with successive crises since crash of Lehman Brothers, but the migration left its mark on the old continent, with several parties with high levels of populist testosterone that have not hesitated to speak of a “migratory avalanche” that is not reflected in the statistics. Much less still on the Spanish coasts: even after Ceuta the entrances are not close to those of the central Mediterranean or the Balkans, and are in line with the numbers of the Aegean, in the eastern Mediterranean.

Spanish negative

Relations between Frontex and Spain have always been tense. At the beginning of the year, the European agency threatened to suspend its activity in the Strait and the Canary Islands. By 2021, Frontex demanded that Spain greater control over intelligence and access to personal data at Spanish borders, powers in cross-border investigations (such as international drug trafficking mafias) or the deployment on the ground of the new body of European agents, armed personnel whose professionalism the Spanish police are suspicious of. That proposal was not liked in Madrid, which is reluctant to give up sovereignty. The Frontex-Spain conflict “will erupt when there is a misfortune,” said a command of the Spanish security forces in February.

That moment may have come or is about to come. Spain still does not see the need to incorporate Frontex personnel in the operations that fight against human trafficking mafias, according to the sources consulted. Interior was scheduled to reply late yesterday afternoon. And it considers that the legislative framework prevents the agency from “deploying on third country soil to carry out preventive work”, which is what Spain needs. In addition, the ministry led by Grande-Marlaska adds that the deployment of Frontex agents in Ceuta “would have come when the situation is in the process of being resolved,” according to the same sources.

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