Diplomatic tensions are growing between Algeria and Spain. In response to Madrid’s support for the Moroccan autonomy project for Western Sahara, Algeria on Wednesday announced the suspension of “Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation” linking it with Spain. This is a new downturn in relations between the two countries after Algeria cut almost a quarter of its gas supplies to Spain in early May and is a worrying decision in the eyes of Brussels.
By changing its foreign policy 180 degrees over the acute problem of Western Sahara, a territory rich in phosphates and fish waters, Madrid angered the Algerian government, supporters of the separatists of the Polisario Front and fierce opponents of Moroccan rule last March. “Spain has joined the United States, which has acknowledged that Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara was correct.”explains Jean-Jacques Courland, researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris).
Algeria then recalled its ambassador and imposed a series of sanctions, including raising the price of gas transported through Medgaz, a pipeline connecting Algerian installations to the port of Almeria in Spain.
The impressive Spanish meeting with Rabat allowed Madrid to resume bilateral cooperation with Morocco, in particular on migration. In 2021, Moroccan authorities, shocked by the reception in Spain of the leader of the Polisario Front, opened the doors of the Cecla enclave, resulting in a mass influx of 10,000 migrants in less than 48 hours to Spanish soil. “Spain has painfully decided to favor Morocco by taking an urgent decision on migration and security issues,” explains Jean-Jacques Courland.
The recent normalization of diplomatic relations with Morocco has actually led to a 70% reduction in the number of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands from February to April. But despite reconciliation, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez recalled on Wednesday that his country “Will not tolerate the instrumentalization of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a weapon of pressure.”
The European Commission reacted on Thursday to Algeria’s breach of the agreement with Spain, given the situation. “Extremely exciting.” A spokesman for the Commission also called on Algeria “Cancel this decision” to avoid destabilizing the region.
The suspension of the agreement, which enshrined the development of cooperation in the sectors of economy, finance, education and defense, has already led to the imposition of restrictions in Algeria on commercial transactions with Madrid. “But the gas that underpins Algeria-Spain has not been affected.” points out Jean-Jacques Courland, Spain is currently protected by long-term contracts signed until 2032. “Algeria still needs Spanish euros,” also emphasizes the researcher for whom the situation is actually a case “Status quo against the background of the cold, marked by the recall of ambassadors and the rupture of the treaty of friendship.”
As the Ukrainian crisis has changed the pattern of gas supplies to Europe, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sees Madrid as a strategic player in creating alternatives to Russian supplies. Spain, which has diversified its gas supply sources since 2020, has the largest network of gas terminals in Europe for the storage of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imported from the United States. In a few months, Madrid has even become a net exporter of gas to France, while flows have traditionally been reversed.
But there are few options to restore ties with Algeria in Spain. “This file from Western Sahara is a big cactus for Madrid, it’s hard to know what concession he can make.” explains Jean-Jacques Courland. According to the researcher, if you can try to conclude agreements on trade and finance to lift the spirits of Algeria “Spain is currently stuck.”