Spain has officially expressed its discontent towards a letter from Morocco sent to the European Commission. The Moroccan objection was primarily focused on the characterization of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla as Spanish territories, and as borders of the European Union on the African continent.
Ceuta and Melilla, both claimed by Morocco, are under Spanish sovereignty. Madrid refers to them as “the two Spanish cities”, whereas Morocco regards them as “the two occupied Moroccan cities”. This instance of renewed tension between the two nations follows a diplomatic crisis from the previous year.
Spanish media outlets have reported that the Madrid government has dispatched a memorandum to Morocco to protest the letter sent to the European Commission. The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the letter to the Moroccan embassy in Spain, as per the third Spanish radio station’s website.
The site’s report detailed that the Spanish letter categorically rejected the terms used by the Moroccan government in its protest letter to the European Commission.
Morocco had previously objected to the Deputy President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, referring to the two cities as Spanish, causing Moroccan outrage.
Earlier, Mustafa Baytas, the official spokesperson for the Moroccan government, stated that the Moroccan letter to the European Commission was in response to the Deputy President of the Commission’s comments on the “occupied” cities of Ceuta and Melilla.
Spanish radio suggests that the Moroccan letter could further strain relations between the two countries. This follows an agreement signed in April last year, in which each country agreed to avoid causing offence to the other, especially concerning sovereignty.
Spanish analyst, Bernabe Lopez, addressed the possibility of strained relations due to this matter. Speaking to “Al Hurra” website, he acknowledged that this is a difficult moment in the two countries’ relationship following a year of warming relations.
Lopez pointed out that the two countries had signed an agreement last April committing to silence on this matter and to avoid public discussion on it. “And now there is a public statement, which breaches the agreement,” according to Lopez. He recognises that this makes the situation especially difficult in light of the upcoming Spanish elections.
Relationships with Morocco are often part of the election campaign topics in Spain. Some opposition parties accuse the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, of making concessions to Morocco, especially after Madrid shifted its position to support the proposal of self-governance as a solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
In February last year, Morocco and Spain signed bi-lateral memorandums of understanding in several areas to enhance their “strategic partnership” during a high-level ministerial meeting. This came after the two countries had moved past a severe diplomatic crisis concerning the issue of Western Sahara, despite criticism in Madrid of Sanchez’s “concessions”.
Moroccan analyst, Abbas Al-Wardi, does not expect a crisis to erupt, stating that the situation merely involves signals from both sides concerning the two cities.
Al-Wardi believes that Morocco has never claimed that the two cities are Spanish and describes them as “occupied,” a fact Spain understands. He adds that the Spanish response maintains the mutual respect between the countries, especially since the improvement in relations.
The Moroccan analyst says Spain knows that Rabat will not give up “its sovereignty over the two cities,” as he put it, pointing out that Morocco has protested against the European Commission, not against Spain.
Ceuta and Melilla are located in the north of Morocco and under Spanish sovereignty. Rabat refers to them as “the two occupied Moroccan cities.”
They represent the only borders of the European Union on the African continent, making them a destination for migrants seeking to reach Europe via Morocco.