Spain has left behind its neutrality on Western Sahara by recognising the Moroccan autonomy plan as "the most serious, realistic and credible basis" for the resolution of the conflict in the region. This decision, which represents a radical change in Madrid's foreign policy, has been taken at a time when relations between Spain and Morocco were not at their best. However, with this gesture, ties between the two kingdoms will be considerably strengthened.
In contrast, ties with Algeria, the Polisario Front's main ally, are likely to deteriorate. For the time being, the Algerian media, TSA, quoting official diplomatic sources, reports that Spain's decision is a "second historic betrayal of the Saharawi people by Madrid after the disastrous 1975 agreement". "Finally, Morocco got what it wanted from Spain", an Algerian diplomat told TSA.
In this regard, it is worth noting the current energy crisis that is hitting Europe, a problem that has been accentuated since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It is therefore essential to closely monitor Algeria's reaction to this decision since, while most of the continent depends on Russian gas, Spain depends on Algerian gas.
However, according to Spain's Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, this political shift will not affect the supply of gas from Algeria to Spain. The head of Spanish diplomacy has referred to the Maghreb country as "a reliable partner". "I can only have good words," he affirmed.
Albares also stressed the role of the Medgaz gas pipeline, the only pipeline that connects Spain with Algeria since Algiers decided to close the Maghreb Europe gas pipeline (GME) due to the diplomatic rift with Morocco, through which this gas passed on its way to the Iberian Peninsula.
"In these times of such instability in Europe, with an illegal, unjust and unjustified war in Ukraine, precisely this strategic relationship between Algeria and Spain, this gas pipeline that unites us, can make this partnership even more valuable," declared Albares, who did not clarify whether the government of Abdelmadjid Tebboune had been informed beforehand. "Diplomacy requires discretion and not airing conversations," he said.
During the press conference, the diplomat stressed that the interests of Andalusia, Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands are "protected". Furthermore, with the start of "new relations", the aim is to guarantee the "sovereignty of both states".
The minister also referred to Sánchez's decision, explaining that this change has been taken to "close the crisis" that began in April. He also alluded to the current division in the government over the issue. Albares spoke of "nuances" that "are normal" even among members of the government "of the same colour". However, he did ask his partners for "total unity in that the interests of the Spanish people must be defended in such turbulent times as these".
The Podemos members of the government have expressed their rejection of the president's decision. "Any solution to the conflict must involve dialogue and respect for the democratic will of the Sahrawi people. I will continue to work on this", the second vice-president and minister of Employment, Yolanda Díaz, wrote on Twitter.
On the other hand, the leader of Podemos and Minister of Social Affairs, Ione Belarra, has highlighted "the self-determination of the Sahrawi people". Other politicians such as Alberto Garzón, Minister for Consumer Affairs, and Pablo Echenique have also expressed their disagreement with Pedro Sánchez. The Podemos spokesperson in Congress even accused Morocco of "violating international law and human rights".
The political opposition, for its part, is demanding explanations from Sánchez. The Popular Party and Ciudadanos have requested the urgent appearance of the president in Congress, according to EFE.
Criticism, obviously, has also come from the Polisario Front, which accuses the Spanish government of "succumbing to blackmail" and adopting a "lamentable" stance on the conflict.
The decision was welcomed by Moroccan society and several Sahrawi associations, such as the Sahrawi Movement for Peace and the Sahrawi Canary Islands Forum, which, as detailed in a statement, applauded "with great satisfaction this position, of enormous importance for regional stability in various areas of cooperation, both between the two countries and within the Saharan territory itself".
The Saharawi organisation also addresses critics of the decision, recalling "the [Polisario Front's] terrorist past against Spanish citizens, with almost 300 victims still awaiting justice, or its links with regimes such as those in Cuba or Venezuela".
In Morocco, the local press has described this event as a 'historic milestone'. In Hespress, for example, they stress the importance of Morocco for Spain in terms of its 'security and stability'. Other media also point out that Madrid has chosen to follow the path of other countries such as the United States and Germany.
Rue20 explains that this decision 'is very important and is a message of peace, of understanding between neighbours'.