1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Spanish and Moroccan leaders meet to repair ties

February 2, 2023

A group of Spanish ministers has joined Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in meeting with the Moroccan government in Rabat. Relations have begun to improve following a spat over Western Sahara.

Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez C-L, accompanied by Moroccan Royal Palace s Spokesman, Abdelhak Lamrini C, and Moroccan Health Minister, Khalid Ait Taleb C-R, visits Mohammed V Mausoleum in Rabat
Thursday's meeting marks the first high-level talks between Spanish and Moroccan leaders since 2015Image: Mohamed Siali/Agencia EFE/IMAGO

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was in Rabat on Thursday to hold high-level talks with the Moroccan government as the two try to patch up a spat over the fate of Western Sahara.

Sanchez, who was joined by several ministers, met with his Moroccan counterpart Aziz Akhannouch for the first "high-level meeting" since 2015.

The visit comes following a breakdown in relations between the two after Spain allowed the leader of a pro-independence group from Western Sahara to receive hospital treatment in the city of Logrono in 2021.

But Madrid's subsequent support for Morocco's claims over the contested region has led to criticism from Sanchez's left-wing coalition partner that it has caved to pressure from Rabat.

What are the Spanish and Moroccan leaders discussing?

The Spanish ministers arrived in Rabat on Wednesday to take part in an economic forum. Sanchez said that "the better relations are between Morocco and Spain, the better it is for Spain, the better it is for Morocco, the better it is for Europe and for the citizens of both countries."

Bilateral talks began in earnest on Thursday with business development and cooperation on immigration and terrorism high on the agenda.

The two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla — tucked into Morocco's North African coast — as well as Spain's Canary Islands, have often been sites of attempts by migrants to cross into Europe.

Morocco has been able to use its location on the border with the EU to leverage economic benefits from the bloc in exchange for policing the frontiers.

Spain is also the largest foreign investor in the North African country, making Thursday's talks highly significant to Rabat.

Sanchez under fire from left-wing allies

The two neighbors clashed in 2021 over the hospitalization of Brahim Ghali, head of the Polisario Front, for treatment of COVID-19.

The Polisario Front has been seeking independence for Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that was occupied by Morocco in 1975.

In what has been considered a response by Morocco, border authorities turned a blind eye weeks later when more than 10,000 migrants attempted to cross the border into Ceuta.

Death at Europe's external borders

In March last year, Sanchez was hosted by King Mohammed after Madrid announced a "new stage" in relations and gave its support for Rabat's plan for limited autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty.

But this move has been slammed by members of the left-wing Podemos party which governs in coalition with Sanchez's social democratic party (PSOE).

Spanish Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz, from the Podemos party, refused to join her colleagues on the trip following the criticisms of Sanchez's "unilateral" U-turn on Western Sahara.

ab/jcg (AP, AFP)