Selfies in a boat from Morocco

Immigration as a factor of destabilization and insecurity against Spain

The use of immigration as a weapon against Spain is no longer a secret. Behind the flow of boats that arrive almost daily during this month of July 2020 to the Spanish coast, either to the Canary Islands or to the south of Spain, there is the simple reason of bending Spain to follow the Moroccan policy within the European Union. Other underlying reasons are to accept the fait accompli of the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara, as well as to be entertained and subsidised by Madrid to stop the illegal outflows of immigrants.

For example, Morocco no longer allows so many ships to leave its shores after having concluded agreements with Madrid and Brussels, agreements which are conditional on economic aid.  It should be noted that since the Turkey-EU agreement on immigration in 2016, following the closure of Italian ports in 2018, the Moroccan sea immigration route to Spain had become the busiest by 2019. Since January 2020, 15,683 immigrants have arrived in Spain by sea, 45% less than in the first eight months of 2018, according to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.

Geopolitically, Morocco has observed that the immigration charter is a very useful and easy lobbying tool. In fact, for years, bilateral relations between Morocco and Spain had a pattern of behaviour in which when there were tense negotiations there were increased departures of boats with illegal immigrants, but when there were no negotiations there were almost no departures of illegal immigrants. The pattern is repeated when Morocco wants more money; it opens the way for illegal immigration, and when it receives the money, it closes it again.

With this in mind, Spain had granted Morocco 32 million euros in August 2019 for the control of illegal immigration, after granting 26 million euros in July of the same year for "the supply of vehicles to the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior". And yet Madrid continued to stress to the EU institutions the crucial importance of Morocco as a strategic partner in migration and other issues. "Europe will have to continue making a greater effort towards Morocco", according to the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Carmen Calvo. However, Morocco is using illegal immigration to blackmail Spain, as José Manuel García-Margallo, the[i] current High Representative for the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy, underlined.

Therefore, Morocco will become the winner of this immigration game by taking advantage of the financial aid, and will manage to push the EU and Spain to follow their policy in Western Sahara. Otherwise, Spain will have to pay a high price for its security, and this will help keep Morocco's monarchical institutions strong and in continuity without changing to modernity.


Pedro Sánchez and Mohamed VI negotiating in 2018 the terms of the High Level Meeting in 2019 between the two countries.

Moroccan strategy to strengthen the Alaouite monarchy

In 1978, Spain ratified a new constitution by which it was declared a parliamentary monarchy, after four decades of dictatorship. During this transition, the emergence of political movements and parties demanding independence for the regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country augured well for Moroccan foreign policy. The idea was to amalgamate the question of Western Sahara and the Catalan question in order to sow discord in the Spanish position and move it away from respect for international legality. That is, if you ask for the independence of Western Sahara, why do you deny that of Catalonia? It is one of the games of Moroccan diplomacy towards its Spanish counterpart.

Since the ascension of King Mohammed VI to the throne in July 1999, the most striking thing has been his ability to preserve and extend the monarchy's monopoly on the exercise of political and economic power. The authoritarian structures of political rule he inherited from his father remain strong. Many thought, or hoped, that controlled political liberalization would lead to the breakdown of constitutional and informal measures that hinder free political activism, and prevent the construction of a stable democracy[ii]

The model of the Moroccan political system is still governed by extra constitutional features that prevail over legal rules and norms. In fact, the monarchy is less constrained by constitutional rules than by the informal characteristics of social norms, royal protocols and customary law. Morocco, since the era of Hassan II, wanted at all costs to play the role of mediator between the African and European continents, it wanted to open the country to Europe to play the role of hinge. This is reflected through the association agreement between Morocco and the EU signed in 2002, where Spain and France played a decisive role in finalizing this agreement. However, Makhzen's Moroccan elite finds the Spanish miracle a potential political danger because it forces despotic Moroccan institutions to commit to structural reforms in order for the regime to continue and reduce the popular threat.

Therefore, according to UNDP, Morocco ranked 121st in terms of human development by the end of 2019, with more than 10% of Moroccans in a situation of total extreme poverty. What irritates the Moroccan elite is that, while praising the merits of the kingdom, they often insist on the bleak situations of Spain in order to create imaginative conflicts, such as the issue of immigration. Now Spain is entering recession with a historic fall in GDP of 18.5%[iii]. In this light, Spain is leading an unprecedented collapse that all the major economies of the single currency are suffering[iv]. Morocco's intelligence has the capacity to benefit at the right time from the difficult moments of its adversaries and its neighbours to unleash offensives that bend them to their interests, as is currently happening in Spain due to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Misión Militar de la UE en República Centroafricana, Misión de España
EU Military Mission in the Central African Republic.

Moroccan companies have increased cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa in banking, telecommunications, insurance, and manufacturing. In fact, according to the African Development Bank, 85 percent of the kingdom's FDI went to sub-Saharan states in 2018[v]. Morocco uses its presence on the African continent as the gateway to the accident countries in West Africa, allowing it to improve its international position, shore up regional support and improve its economy. This is why Morocco rejoined the AU in 2017, more than three decades after leaving it. Since then, the regime has demonstrated its interest in joining the Economic Community of West African States. The King of Morocco has personally worked to build ties with sub-Saharan countries. He has made numerous visits to various states and signed nearly 1,000 economic, political and security agreements.

This new Moroccan approach is part of the French-Moroccan strategy to curb the Spanish presence in West Africa and maintain the presence of French companies through Moroccan companies. The strategy in this sense is no longer hidden because the Paris-Rabat axis is very influential in Africa, and Spain had already lost the only Arab territory in the Maghreb that spoke the Spanish language. The Moroccan objective is to be the main link between Africa and Europe, and not Spain. That is why Morocco is negotiating an agreement with Great Britain in this direction, thinking of using Gibraltar as a link between continents. Spain is going to be surrounded by France and Great Britain, creating a policy of new axes.

In terms of regional security, instability has grown in North Africa and the Sahel over the last decade, allowing Morocco to rise as a key player against terrorism and to play the role of a stable zone. Or to play the role of a secure ally for Western actors. Meanwhile, the kingdom's willingness to contain terrorist activity in Libya and Mali has strengthened its position as an actor that can help with counter-terrorism efforts in the region. Spain's presence has lost its meaning in Africa, where the services of the Spanish CNI go unnoticed and weak, despite its presence on African territory through dispersed agents without a real security strategy, nor by the Spanish economy and Spanish companies. The terrorist attacks in Madrid on Thursday 11 March 2004 were the most deadly terrorist act in Europe since 1988, a situation that demonstrated the weakness of the CNI's services in comparison with those of Morocco.


Emmanuele Macron y el rey Mohamed VI de Marruecos.
Emmanuel Macron and King Mohamed VI of Morocco. France wants to strengthen its ties with the Maghreb country.

The Spanish urgency for a total strategic change

The tensions between Morocco and Spain, revealed by the conflict over the [vi]maritime delimitation of the borders between the two countries, including the territory of Western Sahara, reveal in more than one way the nature of the underlying confrontations between the two countries. Spain tries to camouflage this reality which is as clear as the sun.

In this perspective, bilateral cooperation is aligned with Morocco's strategy to acquire the same economic development as Spain, which implies advantages in all areas of cooperation. The implementation of major projects such as the Algeria-Morocco-Spain gas pipeline reflects a clear Moroccan attempt to influence the Spanish economy as a prelude to political influence. The economic embargo against Ceuta and Melilla is part of this new Moroccan strategy, as is the historical effect and impact of the 1909 Rif War on[vii] Spain's political life. The line of action from Spain would have to be to contain the attempts to surround Morocco in vital sectors (defence industry, security of information systems, terrestrial and space telecommunications, financial circuits, energy resources, mode of operation of institutions...), knowing very well that Morocco will play the French card in terms of subcontracting. The second line concerns the strengthening of Spanish power within and beyond its borders. In both cases, everything has to be built almost from scratch.

Since the end of the Cold War, a fundamental change in the international arena has developed a dual phenomenon: the extinction of the nation-state through the globalization of trade, and the weakening of the notion of the enemy. The latter seems to me to be the most decisive point, since it overshadows the quest for power that has marked the history of international relations since the beginning of time. The reflection on the balance of power between Morocco and Spain has been revealed as a hard reality now. This reality reflects the paradox of Morocco as a cooperating neighbour and enemy at the same time. This contradiction must be taken into account by Spanish strategies. They must include it in their calculations and circumscribe it in another register far from the calculations of the EU, where French and German policy is still the most dominant.

In the age of the information society, human networks are duplicating with other forms of sounding board. Discussion forums, mailing lists, personal pages, and websites belong to this new geography of message circulation that is disrupting the old information tree. Thus, disinformation has been the other fundamental contribution to the Moroccan strategy. Because the Moroccan practice uses disinformation as an art of information warfare to weaken Spain and sometimes even demonize it, it is the practical game against the Polisario Front and that was echoed in various Western institutions.

El Rey Juan Carlos se reúne con el monarca marroquí Mohamed VI en ...
Emeritus King Juan Carlos meets with his adoptive nephew, the Moroccan monarch Mohamed VI. Marrakesh, 2011.

One of the main weaknesses of political decision-makers in Spain is the ability of Moroccans to make friends with the Moroccan thesis in Western Sahara, or to acquire Spanish or European investment markets. For example, King Mohammed VI offered his friend Juan Carlos, known for his support of the Moroccan occupation of the Sahara, 45,000 square meters near the tourist city of Marrakech[viii]. We must also include Spanish political leaders such as Felipe Gonzales, former president of Spain, who is a fervent defender of Morocco within Spanish, European and Latin American institutions and whose influence continues to this day in the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party.

Therefore, Spain needs to re-launch the debate on power strategy to reveal the real situation of national, European, and international antagonisms. Refusing to be a vassal state is a logical development in the history of power struggles. It leads the most astute to develop spaces of movement by systematically resorting to indirect strategies of counter-influence. The western Mediterranean has thus become a highly militarised space, and the lack of cooperation structures remains detrimental to the handling of the tensions that converge there. But in this equation, Morocco represents the real threat, but it is hidden and camouflaged by cooperation treaties without any impact on the strategy of lasting peace.

Redefining Spain's Industrial and Technological Defence Base, maintaining the vitality of this military industry is a sovereign issue. Likewise, Spain must guarantee the supply and maintenance in operational conditions of the armed forces' equipment, particularly those that contribute to the implementation of deterrence and the defence of Spanish interests, since this constitutes a pillar of its strategic autonomy and contributes to Spain's influence in the world. On the other hand, one must be aware that giving up operational capability, even temporarily, risks permanently losing certain skills. In general terms, Spain needs a new strategic reorganisation for a real management of the risks that weigh on the future of Spain economically, militarily and politically. From the outset, it is necessary to understand and know that the Moroccan objective of this new offensive strategy is to acquire more economic advantages and encourage Spain to share with it the natural resources hidden by the sea in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, mainly the territory of Western Sahara. At the same time Morocco wants to force negotiations on the future of Ceuta and Melilla, strategically the Moroccans think that it is time to play in this territorial change.

Spain is obliged to take strategic decisions, that is, to define political-military objectives in accordance with the knowledge acquired about the problem given in order to guide Spanish society towards a peaceful adaptation to national and international transformations, without any risk of conflict. In both cases, instability will grow. From this perspective, Morocco is playing the subcontractor's card of the French power in Africa and the Western Mediterranean, a situation that the Spanish strata do not take seriously and that makes Spain an easy object to weaken. In the future, more countries are likely to serve as theatres of great regional competition. Conflict will arise in those countries where it did not exist before, and will deepen in those where it already exists. In both cases, instability will grow. The use of power will mitigate the potential for direct regional power conflict like Spain with Morocco, but tensions will rise as the world becomes smaller and the opportunities for conflict increase.

[i] 25/06/2020 Ceuta lighthouse.

[ii]Pierre Vermeren, Le Maroc en transition, La Découverte, Paris, 2001.

[iii] Agustí Sala , El Periódico - Friday, 31/07/2020

[iv] Lluís Pellicer, la zona euro sufre un derrumbe del 12,1% en el segundo trimestre por la pandemia, El País, 31 july 2020.

[v] "Banking in ECOWAS: why Morocco is welcoming to sub-Saharan Africa", The Economist, 19 July 2018, a-sub-saharan-africa.

[vi] Ali El Aalaoui, The Moroccan objectives of its new maritime delimitation, Living Tradition magazine, 29/04/2020.

[vii]Max Schiavon, the Rif War. A forgotten colonial conflict. Maroc (1925-1926), éditions Pierre de Taillac, 2016.

[viii]Philippe Tourel, Il y a chose de pourri au royaume chérifien et espagnol, Revue AFRIQUE ASIE, July 28, 2020.

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