An opportunity for the EU and Spain in the Sahara

EU courts have again ruled that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco under international law. According to its decision, any agreement that includes its territory or its waters must make it clear that they are two different entities, in addition to having the express and free consent of the Saharawi people expressed through those who represent them internationally and not from associations or entities that are part of the Moroccan power network.

And that, at least, as long as the decolonization process through the self-determination of its population that the United Nations has been prescribing without interruption since the 1960s and despite the fact that the territory was occupied by Morocco in 1975, as a result of the abandonment of Spain, has not ended.

But the most novel thing about the sentence released a few days ago is how clearly it remembers and admits (based on its status at the UN and the process that is being followed there) the status of the Polisario Front as an internationally recognized representative of the Saharawi people while decolonization does not end. Too, the obligatory nature of their dialogue and participation in any agreement regarding the natural resources of Western Sahara.

And it is that, regardless of what the reaction of Morocco and the other EU institutions may be from the sentence, the reinforcement that it implies for the Polisario Front is an invitation to reactivate the negotiation process between the parties, lethargic since almost 20 years ago despite several attempts to revive him. This process could resume at the end of autumn with the more than foreseeable appointment of the Italian Staffan de Mistura as the new commissioner to the secretary general, António Guterres. A position that has been vacant since 2019.

“It has been three decades without war, but also without true peace, in the exile of the Algerian Hamada, and there is still no solution to the conflict”

When at the end of this month of October the Security Council has to meet to extend one more year (as it has been happening for three decades) the UN mission in the former Spanish colony, said renewal will not be, as so many times, a mere routine procedure. Because there are several factors that have changed in the Sahara dossier in the last twelve months and that can lead to a change in dynamics after the agitation of the hornet’s nest.

First, the return to hostilities by the Polisario Front after the Guerguerat border incident, which has returned us to the situation prior to the first peace plan of 1991. It is something that, as much as it displeases those of us who hate war, cannot be surprising if the conflict is known a little, since it had been incubating for a long time. Both among the 160,000 refugees estimated to be in the Tindouf camps and among the Sahrawi leaders.

It has been three decades without war, but also without real peace, in the exile of the Algerian Hamada, and there is still no solution to the conflict. And that despite the fact that the UN always agrees with the Sahrawis on paper and has promised several times a referendum with different censuses. Referendum that has not been carried out so far due to the refusal of Morocco to any possibility of independence. Something that has ended up making the return to arms inevitable.

The true scope of these new skirmishes is, however, difficult to know, since although the Polisario gives daily parts of the conflict and announces casualties on both sides, Morocco refuses to acknowledge their existence.

The second factor, in chronological order, is the recognition by Donald Trump, shortly before the bankruptcy of the Capitol and outside of international legality, the Moroccan of the Sahara in exchange for the Alawite recognition of Israel. A legal nonsense whose effects and continuity remain to be seen, but that the regime of Mohammed VI He hoped it would work as a domino effect throughout the world and especially in Western chancelleries.

“Almost no one wants a direct war in the Maghreb between Morocco and Algeria”

Twelve months later, it seems clear that Joe Biden he has frozen the outburst of that dangerous buffoon (if the new president has not backed down, it is surely because of the implications it would have in the Middle East). Virtually no one, moreover, has joined the outrage. And a good example of this is the EU ruling.

And that is what best explains the crisis in relations with Spain that began to develop then, beyond a tweet from Pablo Iglesias in which he limited himself to saying the same as the UN. Or the subsequent tantrum of the children’s march on Ceuta, with the health care of Brahim Ghali as an excuse.

Finally, the third factor, probably the most important, is the growth of hostility between Morocco and Algeria, undoubtedly related to the breaking of the ceasefire in the Sahara. Hostility made explicit weeks ago with the rupture by Algiers of diplomatic relations, the closures of airspace and the movements of troops on the border after an arms race of both actors that have generated a new Cold War and even energy implications (given the possibility that the gas pipeline through which Spain receives gas from Algeria through Morocco stops working).

But the truth is that almost no one wants a direct war in the Maghreb between the two colossi.

“It is vital for Europe, if it wants to continue painting something in the world, to be able to defend international law close to its borders”

Therefore, regardless of the formulas that are adopted from now on to preserve “the stability of relations” (as indicated in the joint communiqué of the EU and Morocco), it is more than possible that In the coming weeks we will experience an increase in diplomatic activity by the foreign ministries of southern Europe inside and outside the UN.

And its first objective should be that of a ceasefire between the parties that returns us to the situation of 1991.

Now, Spain and the European institutions would do themselves a disservice if, as happened in 2019, after the appeals that are presented, and after encountering similar pronouncements, they again try to circumvent them to satisfy Morocco, ceasing to consider the Polisario as an interlocutor. . Or if it were a matter of watering down international law in the UN Security Council, assuming the well-known theses of France to resolve the conflict without real self-determination..

In such turbulent times as those we currently live in, with democracy and the rule of law geopolitically in decline and its values ​​threatened by populism, it is vital for Europe, if it wants to continue painting something in the world, to be able to defend the law international near its borders.

And this is something that directly affects Spain if it pretends that, despite the differences that it will probably always have with Morocco with respect to Ceuta and Melilla, blood never reaches the river and a space of prosperity can be created around both cities in the fact that borders matter less and less. Not to mention the necessary delimitation of the territorial waters of the Canary Islands and the exploitation of the mining resources that exist between its coasts and the Saharawi.

Therefore, the judgment on natural resources is an excellent opportunity for Europe to reach agreements that involve all parties and that allow progress towards a global solution that is as satisfactory as possible for all once a new high is reached. the fire in Western Sahara.

*** Federico Echanove is a journalist.

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