The Spanish diplomat Gustavo de Arístegui spoke into the microphones of Onda Madrid's 'De cara al mundo' programme to analyse the upcoming High Level Meeting between Spain and Morocco and current events in Ukraine

La Reunión de Alto Nivel, una muy buena noticia para la Unión Europea


In the latest edition of 'De Cara al Mundo' on Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Gustavo de Arístegui, diplomat and international analyst, who spoke about the upcoming High Level Meeting between Spain and Morocco and the importance of sending Western battle tanks to Ukraine. 

Why is the High Level Meeting between Spain and Morocco so relevant? 

First, because we have not had a summit between Spain and Morocco for many years. If I remember correctly, it was the first since it was held under Mariano Rajoy seven years ago. In any case, we are neighbouring countries, we have maritime borders and land borders, even though our Moroccan neighbours are often reluctant to recognise Ceuta and Melilla as land borders, they are. Ceuta and Melilla are Spanish cities, they are neither presidios nor colonies.  

Consequently, until now they have been very reluctant to accept or recognise the need and existence of bilateral trade between these cities and Morocco, especially with the opening of formal customs. This is going to be one of the points to be dealt with and, of course, I believe that it would be very good if the claim - which is not such a claim - to sovereignty over the two cities were to take third or fourth place in Moroccan policy and if we were to focus on improving bilateral relations and on trying to clear up misunderstandings which often end up unnecessarily degenerating into a cooling or worsening of bilateral relations.  

We are condemned to understand each other, and not only because of geography, as Hassan II once said. We are obliged to understand each other because we have more than a million Moroccans living in Spain and many of them already have Spanish nationality. We have common interests, we are one of the few countries in the world with Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, we are interested in stability in the Sahel and stability in the Maghreb is essential to us, our fight against Jihadist terrorism is a common objective and our economic interests are extraordinarily intertwined. Let us not forget that Morocco's main customer and destination for foreign trade is the European Union, and of this bilateral trade, more than 60% is Spanish. Spain is Morocco's largest trading and investment partner, 30% more than France. In fact, this has been the case for many years now, and however much Morocco's trade with the United States, China and Turkey has improved, the European Union remains by far Morocco's main trading and investment partner.  

The High Level Meeting is therefore an urgent necessity. The need to address the many, many issues that have been on the back burner for years cannot be ignored.  

The signing of agreements between the ministries is going to cover and promote a whole series of projects estimated at one billion euros in trade relations between these agreements, is this going to mean a more notable increase? 

Yes, it will. In fact, more than 20 bilateral agreements are being negotiated at this very moment. We do not know how many of them will be concluded in time to be signed by ministers at the High Level Meeting. Negotiations are underway against the clock to get as many of these bilateral agreements signed as possible. In any case, they will most likely be the same number as those signed during the visit of His Majesty the King of Morocco. 

I believe that this is a particularly important moment in bilateral relations, not only because, as you say, the symbolic figure of EUR 10 billion in bilateral trade is going to be reached, but also because this is another step towards even greater integration of the European-Moroccan economies. We must bear in mind that Morocco has the highest status of bilateral trade and other relations between the European Union and a third country, i.e. the highest possible level without being a full member of the European Union. Therefore, all of this plays in favour of healthy, deep, transparent and sincere bilateral relations without any kind of misunderstanding between the two countries. Of course, I believe that if bilateral relations between Spain and Morocco improve and are consolidated, it will also be very good news for the European Union as a whole. 


Do you think that there is someone who is not interested in seeing this good relationship move forward? There is a lot of coincidence, for example, in the European Parliament resolution that is very critical of Morocco, promoted by left-wing parties. 

I think it is more an ideological than a national issue. Obviously there are countries in the spirit of competition that is inevitable and that are not very happy with the fact that Spain, which is only the fourth largest economy in the euro, has a much larger and much more important weight in bilateral trade between the European Union and Morocco than countries with much larger economies than ours, such as France, Germany or Italy.  

I frankly believe that the governments and leaders of those countries, far from being in the petty, short-sighted and even petty spirit of sterile competition between Member States of the European Union, are clearly promoting the spirit of understanding between Spain because they know that it is in the interests of the European Union as a whole. 

However, what you say, when mention is made of the European Parliament's resolution, there is indeed more of an ideological charge in this than anything else. It is not a question of analysing the political regimes with which we have diplomatic relations - I am not a practising diplomat, I am on leave - because prudence and respect inspire us to be necessarily cautious when it comes to making this kind of courageous trade.  

In any case, what I can say is that there are elections in Morocco, and the elections are internationally recognised. There are parties of every conceivable ideology, the government comes out of parliament, is accountable to parliament and has responsibilities beyond what we can imagine outside Morocco. The King is the head of state, but it is the head of government and his executive that govern the country. That is a point that needs to be made very clear. 

And Justice acts, we assume, according to professional criteria, as is the case in Spain.  

To use bilateral trade as an example, in order for a trade relationship of the intensity and depth that exists between the European Union and Morocco to exist, and for it to have the highest level of status - Morocco's status as an associated state - it must necessarily have legal security based on the independent and balanced action of the courts of justice. So much so that in commercial disputes between EU or Spanish companies and their Moroccan partners or competitors, more often than not, the courts of justice have found in favour of EU companies. One could say that, if justice were not independent, it would be judged on the basis of nationalistic criteria and not on the basis of legal criteria. And the lawyers of the companies of those who instigate the Moroccan courts of justice, being foreigners and defending their interests, have so far not been able to complain about the proceedings because statistically more cases are won by foreigners than not.  

We also called you to analyse developments in Ukraine. "The Leopard 2: much more than just sending tanks", we read your article in La Razón, why do you think this is much more than just tanks? 

Let's start with the easiest part, which is the military part and the effectiveness of the battle tanks as your team was analysing now. I have even read in the comments of the articles that have been published in the different Spanish media the discussions about the capabilities of one or the other. The latest generation battle tanks all have very similar conditions and capabilities.  

However, there are some that have a great deal more. For example, in the case of the Leopard, they have the lowest fuel consumption, the highest top speed and some of the best armour. They are almost as good, if not equal, to the Israeli Merkava, which is the best with its reactive armour. The 120 millimetre gun on a Leopard 2 is the best in the world and the firing system is without doubt the best in the world.  

All the latest generation tanks shoot on the move, but this one shoots faster than the others. It has independent navigation systems, not just GPS, which obviously depends on satellites, but inertial, which is completely independent, which is how aircraft were navigated in the old days. We are talking about a weapons system that was 20 years ahead of its time and which is essential for the reconquest, recovery and maintenance of the territory.  

Now, the more geopolitical part is precisely what I wanted to analyse in my article, hence the title, i.e. the sending of the tanks was testing the real willingness to support Ukraine in this absolutely senseless war, which has been provoked by unjustified and unjustifiable aggression by Russia. Let us be very clear: this kind of aggression, if it is not reacted to and if the political thuggery that the Russians have displayed in recent years is not stopped, will do nothing but inspire other conflicts, will encourage not only Russia to engage in other kinds of aggression against other neighbours but may encourage other countries to do the same in their regions. 

The whole world is seeing very clearly what the reaction of the West and the allies is and how united or divided they really are. That is why every dispute, every disagreement and every divergence between allies is being analysed and dissected in depth by the West's adversaries and rivals. Consequently, among the 27 member states of the European Union, among NATO allies and among what is called light mine in democracy, that is, democracies that share common principles and values, we obviously have nuances and differences among us. The important thing is that we agree on the essentials.  

And although we have taken a long time, what we cannot do now is take a step backwards. And even if it looks as if we could end up in an escalation, sending battle tanks is essential. Nor can we ignore the fact that it is not only the battle tanks but also, as you rightly said, the logistical support. For example, one of the reasons why the Americans were hesitant to send the M1A1 Abrams is because the preferred fuel for the turbine, which is not an engine that the Abrams uses, is aviation paraffin. They can also burn other fuels, but then the tank would not be as efficient. The Leopard has the advantage that it has the same 1500 horsepower as the Abrams, but it burns diesel and is also the most fuel efficient. As a result, it has a much longer range. To be really effective it has to be combined with infantry, armoured transport such as the Bradley and self-propelled artillery. If you don't combine the three elements, you're not going to be successful in the other actions.  

You talk about criticism of Germany from the Anglo-Saxon countries, the United States and the United Kingdom. Do you think the Allies are going to be able to maintain our unity in the face of the Russian challenge? 

Look, I am very concerned about what I am seeing on the far right and the far left, not only in Europe but also in the United States. There are Trumpian sectors, if we want to call them something in the United States, for example the son of former President Trump, who went so far as to call Zelenski a "drunken, war-mongering crybaby". It's perfect nonsense to say such a thing when they have never sought this conflict.  

I am seeing that some extreme right-wing parties see Russia and Putin as the guardian of certain essences of a supposedly white and Christian Europe. Europe is diverse, multicultural and multi-religious. Therefore, Putin does not represent that, but the opposite: he is oppression, expansionism, aggressiveness and the negation of all the values and principles that moderates in Europe, from the centre-left to the centre-right, stand for. 

I think it is essential that allies in Europe, the United States, Canada and the democracies with which we share principles and values know how to look for what unites us and that we manage to try to put aside or seek solutions to what separates us. And this, I believe, is precisely the important step that has been taken with the sending of the battle tanks, which is why the symbolism of the gesture is perhaps even more important than the gesture itself. 

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