IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2005


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year


France and Spain Bring Positions Together in the Maghreb

Andreu Claret

European Institute for the Mediterranean, Barcelona

2004 may well go down in history as the year in which Spain and France started, albeit hesitantly, to harmonize some of their policies with regard to the Maghreb region. This at least seems to be the direction pointed to by some of the initiatives proposed by both countries with a view to reinforcing multilateral action in the western Mediterranean in the context of the re-launching of the Barcelona Process. The most outstanding of these initiatives is undoubtedly the proposal that the European Union should establish a stronger partnership with the three countries in the central Maghreb, i.e., Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. A similar interpretation can be given to the proposal, announced by ministers Michel Barnier and Miguel Àngel Moratinos during the October meeting in Paris of the Mediterranean Forum, to grant certain non-E.U. countries which  participated in the Barcelona Process (and starting in this case with the northern region of Morocco) access to funds and administrative procedures which had hitherto been exclusively utilized in the context of the regional development policy of the European Union. If this tendency towards a harmonization of policies between the two southern European neighbours with regard to E.U. cooperation with the Maghreb is confirmed, this would represent not only a very significant change after the tense relations between France and Spain during the second term of office of prime minister Aznar, but also a historic turning-point which could bring to an end the traditional  confrontations which have arisen between the French and the Spanish during a large part of the twentieth century in North Africa, since the time of the two countries’ respective colonial eras.

It is still too early to tell whether this harmonization of policies corresponds to strategic aims which will be able to withstand the pressures of the inevitable competition existing between two neighbouring countries like France and Spain

with regard to their southern interests,  but both the lines of  conduct marked out by the foreign affairs ministers, and the policies adopted during 2004 in the main Europe/Maghreb (“5+5”) and Euro-Mediterranean (Barcelona Process) forums of discussion, show a change of approach which should be noted. The principal multi-lateral forums have witnessed an increasing level of Franco-Spanish cooperation, especially in the case of the Barcelona Process, where France has supported right from the start the Spanish proposal to hold an extraordinary meeting with the greatest possible impact in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary  of the 1995 conference. Zapatero’s proposal to hold the celebration on 28 November, during the British rotating presidency of the E.U., was supported from the outset by the French, as was the suggestion that the meeting should take the form of a summit, which would thus be the first of its kind to be held between the European Union and its Mediterranean partners. With a view to this tenth anniversary, France and Spain prepared a “non paper” containing a certain number of strategic aims, proposing a “pilot programme” to adapt the projected “Neighbourhood Policy” towards the North African countries to the methods applied within the framework of E.U. regional policy. This proposal, inspired by the structural funds allocated to the less developed regions of the U.E., originated from a French initiative, and represents the first ever attempt to develop the European Neighbourhood Policy in the Mediterranean context. It is also a way of putting into practice the idea this policy can be applied to all areas of cooperation up to the institutional level, which is reserved for member states of the E.U. and for countries which are candidates to join the Union. The proposal also reveals a more complex vision of the Euromediterranean Partnership, which, despite being open to all members of the Partnership, could advance at a faster pace for the Maghreb countries, and so go beyond the existing association agreements.

Through this initiative Madrid and Paris reaffirm the central importance of the Barcelona Process, and stress that the new Euopean Neighbourhood Policy, and the methods of funding by means of which it will be put into place from 2007 onwards, should complement the Euromediterranean Partnership. Unlike the programmes launched within the framework of the Partnership, the Barnier-Moratinos proposal offers a new scenario to the countries of the Maghreb, in that it delegates responsibility for setting up and administering the programmes and credits to the national and local authorities in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The supervision of the results would then be undertaken by a commission of control similar to the one that operates in the case of the structural funds, with the participation of local and regional authorities, leading business figures, and representatives of civil organizations cooperating in the various projects. The “non paper” mentions the North of Morocco as one of the possible recipients of the funds from 2007 onwards, and announces the creation of a work-group between France and Spain to prepare projects accordingly. The first ideas relating to this initiative were floated at the 11th. meeting of the Mediterranean Forum, an informal discussion group concerned with relations between eleven countries on the Mediterranean shoreline, which was held in Paris in October 2004. The Forum, created in 1994, has acted as a laboratory in which to test out ideas concerning the harmonization of Franco-Spanish policies in the Mediterranean.

France and Spain have also enjoyed closer cooperation in other contexts, and particularly in the “5+5” workgroup, founded in 1990, which brings together three other European countries – Portugal, Italy and Malta – as well as the five countries of the Maghreb, from Mauritania through to Libya. Although the annual meeting of the “5+5” for 2004 was focused on the subjects of security and control of illegal immigration, its very continuity, fifteen years after its creation, witnesses to a common desire to seek specific solutions for the Maghreb within the framework of the Barcelona Process. It also represents  a window of opportunity left open for participation by Libya, a country to which Chirac made an official visit in 2004, and whose offer to join the Euromediterranean Partnership is supported by both the French and the Spanish.

France and Spain are also present in NATO’s European Dialogue workgroup,  a regional forum set up by the Atlantic Alliance in 1994, and in which Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria participate, among others. France and Spain have nevertheless kept a low profile on NATO’s southern flank during 2004. French governments have always been wary of American influence in the       Mediterranean (especially in the Maghreb), and the Zapatero government had difficult initial relations with the United States, affected by the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq after the Socialists’ electoral victory. The overriding importance of security questions in the Maghreb, the home region of the majority of Islamic terrorists arrested in Europe after the 11 September and the Casablanca and Madrid terrorist attacks, has encouraged a greater U.S. presence in the area. The Free Exchange Treaty with Morocco and the U.S. military cooperation agreements with Algeria are examples of a presence whose strategic expression is to be found in the Broader Middle East Initiative, aimed at a wide range of Muslim countries from Morocco to Afghanistan.

France and Spain sent their respective Defence ministers to countries in the Maghreb during the year 2004 in order to improve ties with each of them, and in particular with Algeria and Morocco, while at the same time promoting a first meeting of Defence ministers of the “5+5” group at the end of the year to draw up a common security initiative for the western Mediterranean. The ministers agreed to strengthen surveillance measures at sea, improve civil protection strategies in case of natural disasters, and improve air security measures against terrorism such as, for example, mutual identification of suspicious people travelling on commercial flights. The meeting was held after the NATO decision to transform its Mediterranean Dialogue into a more ambitious initiative, taken during the Istanbul summit held in June that year. This may explain why some observers have interpreted the Franco-Spanish rapprochement concerning defence and security questions in the western Mediterranean as a way of providing a counter-balance to U.S.-inspired  initiatives.

During 2004 France and Spain have shown their willingness to raise the status of their bilateral relations with the Maghreb countries, which they have fêted with various state visits and a string of ministerial journeys intended to  reinforce cooperation in the most important fields: foreign affairs, security and terrorism, trade and economic affairs, and immigration policy. Zapatero continued the tradition established by Felipe González of choosing Rabat as the destination for his first official visit abroad as prime minister, going there in April, shortly after coming to power. Gestures made during this trip made it clear that relations between Spain and Morocco had acquired a new dimension, marked out not only by a new atmosphere but by a diplomatic gesture with regard to the Western Sahara which was welcomed by Rabat, and characterized by a readiness to negotiate over questions which had unsettled relations under the previous government, and a commitment to promote a Spanish economic presence in the North African kingdom. As for relations with France, the most significant decision was undoubtedly the acceptance of the need to become more involved in the Saharan question and to give greater importance to the construction of the Maghreb region. The new Spanish position, based on an exploration of the chances of resolving the Saharan conflict through a process of regional negotiation capable of complementing the process continuing under the aegis of the United Nations, brought Madrid closer to the position favoured by Paris, which has always been sceptical of the chances of finding a solution based on the full recognition of the right to self-determination of the inhabitants of the Sahara. “I think the essential thing is that there should be a Franco-Spanish understanding, and that we should be able to propose an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties,” Moratinos declared in an interview with the newspaper El Mundo. The new Spanish position, closer to that of France, was received with joy by Morocco, with reservations by Algeria, and initially with bitterness by the Polisario Front, which talked of “an alliance (of Madrid) with Paris to the detriment of the Saharaui people.” During 2004 the Spanish government took the necessary steps to nuance its diplomatic gesture. The Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation visited the Saharaui camps in Tinduf, and Zapatero, acting in his position as leader of the Spanish socialist party (PSOE), received the secretary-general of the Polisario Front in Madrid. Nevertheless, Spain remained faithful to the idea of encouraging active diplomacy in the region, justified in its view by the fact that the Saharan conflict is an obstacle to the regional construction of the Maghreb, and even hinders the free circulation of goods and people between Morocco and Algeria. France and Spain seem to be in agreement on the need to promote the regional integration of the Maghreb countries, without which the announced intention to widen the sphere of action of the E.U. towards this region will come up against the problem of the closed frontier between the two main countries in the zone.

With the proposal for an Alliance of Civilizations that he formulated before the Assembly General of the United Nations in 2004, his announcement of an extraordinary meeting to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Process of Barcelona, and his journeys to Algeria and Morocco, Zapatero has gone out of his way to reaffirm the priority Spain gives to its relations with the Arab world, with the Mediterranean, and, in particular, with the Maghreb. In 2004 Spanish diplomacy reinforced its bilateral relations, especially with Algeria, through the confirmation of the projected Medgaz gas-pipeline, due to link Algeria and Europe passing through Almerìa, and with Morocco, where the visits made by Zapatero and by King Juan Carlos in January 2005 consolidated and enlarged the network of investment already existing, and signified the opening of a new era. In the same year Chirac also travelled to three countries in the area: Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, whilst the French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin received his Moroccan opposite number in Paris, where they discussed a proposal for an “enlarged partnership” suggested to Rabat by the French government in the context of the Barcelona Process.

Spain’s Mediterranean policy has again come to be based on the reinforcement of the Madrid-Paris-Berlin axis that gave such good returns to Spanish foreign policy during the last government of Felipe González. It is well known that the 1995 Barcelona Conference took place against a backdrop of  close cooperation between Gonzàlez, Kohl and Mitterrand. Everything appears to indicate that Zapatero is seeking the same close relationships to re-launch the Barcelona Process and defend its importance against the two other major projects proposed for the Mediterranean: the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Broader Middle East Initiative. France and Spain seem more interested in harmonizing their policies so as to be able to act in more favourable conditions as a Mediterranean lobby  within the enlarged E.U., and also to have a better capacity of reply to the U.S. world-view, instead of competing through bilateral policies. The most interesting aspect of  this harmonization process, even if it is a case of making a virtue of necessity, is that it could open up a whole new perspective for the Maghreb at a decisive moment for the re-defining of Mediterranean policy in the European Union.