Abdo Alaoui
24 January 2024

Europe and Morocco: The End of an Asymmetrical Partnership

Morocco is being targeted because it is expanding its economic and trade influence in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as capitalizing on centuries-old cultural and spiritual ties.

On January 18, 2023, the European Parliament adopted, for the first time in twenty-five years, a resolution calling on Morocco to respect media freedom and to release all political prisoners and jailed journalists. This was intended to interfere with the Moroccan legal system, which was depicted as lacking transparency and being disrespectful of the rule of law.

According to many independent observers, the adoption of this resolution was nothing more than insipid blackmail used by some influential members of the European institutions to quell the resistance of a country that has increasingly signaled it is tired of letting them get everything they need without even frowning.

For the record, this isn’t a new practice. What is new is that segments of Moroccan society, including individuals who have always believed in the Western values of democracy and human rights, have rejected the resolution. Even though people concede that the democratic process in Morocco needs to speed up, they share the view that notable progress has been made over the past three decades. They assumed that the rationale put forward to support the European Parliament resolution is disproportional, hypocritical, and absurd.

Binding feudal system of partnership no longer an option

In fact, Morocco is being targeted because it is expanding its economic and trade influence in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as capitalizing on centuries-old cultural and spiritual ties. Morocco is ranked as the first African investor in West Africa and the second overall in Africa. 

The country is thus being acknowledged for initiating, since 2009, the African Atlantic States, a project to bring together 23 countries and promote interstate cooperation and shared prosperity. All this has brought about a shift in the balance of power in the African subsystem and its relationship with other regional systems, mainly the European Union.

In 2020, a report commissioned by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs was leaked in Germany, warning the government to prevent Morocco from extending its lead over neighboring Algeria and Tunisia in several fields, mainly economic. Another report advised that it would be best for Europe to avoid making the same mistake it made in the past with respect to Turkey and that it would be wise not to have another Turkey in North Africa that might jeopardize European geostrategic interests.

In France, a leaked report—some observers believed it was intended to be a deception to intimidate Morocco—advised France’s president to side with Algeria, which was using the saga of la rente mémorielle to gain momentum. This would be better than benefiting Morocco, which has made it clear that foreign countries ought to show their support for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity if they really are willing to do business with it.

When one digs deep and takes a look at the story from a political, diplomatic, and geopolitical perspective, it is clear that what we are dealing with in Morocco-Europe relations is a change of paradigms. 

For far too long, the relationships between some European countries and their former colonies have been based on what is called the “binding feudal system of relationships.” This means the relationship has long been predicated on preventing the former colonies or protectorates from taking decisions on matters such as economy, security, politics, and diplomacy without referring to the former colonial power.

This binding feudal system also nurtured what J. Roseneau calls “linkage politics,” which is the correlation between the internal system and the foreign policy of the state actors. This proves to be particularly accurate when applied to developing countries. It can be used to understand the foreign policy behavior of some countries in North Africa, such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on Morocco and Algeria.

For almost forty years, the main concern of these two countries has been to highlight their foreign policy behavior at the expense of their internal political systems. However, starting in the late 1980s, Morocco chose to take a different direction. This has materialized in a gradual process aimed at reforming the internal political system and, by the same token, promoting a coherent foreign policy that works for both systems.

The main goal was to keep the balance between interests and constraints under control. Indeed, reforms on both levels wouldn’t work if the binding feudal system wasn’t removed or dismissed. Morocco made the decision to take the lead in this respect. It was faced with several suspected actions aimed at halting the entire process, jeopardizing internal stability, and even working for regime change.

This brings us to the second set of paradigms that require meaningful thought. These paradigms are known in the academic world as the “bitter end” paradigm and the “joint survival” paradigm. The bitter end situation means that the fight between two opponents ends up with the victory of one and the defeat of the other, who, as a result, accepts all conditions imposed on him by the winner.

As for the joint survival situation, it means that neither of the opponents wins. They accept the status quo and keep watching each other in some sort of consensual balance of power. These paradigms may be addressed on two levels. On the one hand, with respect to the relationships between the North African countries, mainly between Morocco and Algeria, and on the other hand, between these countries and Europe, mainly France and Spain.

It is well known that Morocco and Algeria have a set of disputes that date back to the early 1960s. Among the many pending issues, scholars mention border disputes, political rivalries, and personal animosity that have poisoned the two countries’ relationships over the last sixty years.

However, it is worth remembering that Algeria, more than Morocco, has sought to apply the “bitter end” paradigm from the start. Algeria thought that sooner or later it would win. Algerian decision-makers made a wrong assessment when Morocco, as a gesture of good will, agreed, in 1972, to sign a bilateral agreement to stir up the status quo on the border dispute. Yet, to their disappointment, “the joint survival” paradigm has prevailed.

Morocco has shown a level of respectful maturity that has so far prevented war with Algeria. However, one has to admit that the agenda of each party is different and that the minimum conditions to resume the dialogue are out of reach. Algeria wants Morocco to give up its sovereignty over its southern provinces or accept the partition of the territory. 

In this, Algeria’s main ambition is to create in southern Morocco a failed proxy state that would secure the Algerian regime access to a corridor onto the Atlantic Ocean. One may thus assume, rather tragically, that should this outcome fail to come about, Sahrawis who live in refugee camps in Tindouf could be kicked out and sent to the north of Mauritania.

The regional dispute over the Sahara as a hidden script

Recently, Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune couldn’t help stressing in remarks before an audience of the governors of the regions that the Sahrawi in the refugee camps in Tindouf should be entitled to choose, through an organized free referendum, between two options: either to be part of Morocco or Mauritania. However, he insisted, it is out of the question that they would be offered the opportunity to become Algerians.

The Algerian president’s statement is an expression of deep anxiety, admitting indirectly that Morocco has won the war and that the southern provinces are definitely part of the Kingdom, as the wave of recognition of Moroccan sovereignty and territorial integrity is growing. Since the United States’ recognition in 2020, more than eleven European countries have openly supported the Autonomy Plan, describing it as the only realistic proposal to resolve the conflict. Only France keeps playing the “Catch me if you can” game.

The Algerian president feigns to ignore that the option of a referendum has been ruled out by the UN Security Council since 2007, when Morocco presented an Autonomy Plan. Indeed, the fear is increasing in Algiers that the Sahrawi might be thinking of staying in Tindouf forever and seeking to build their chimerical state on Algerian territory. These people argue that the majority among them was born there, and they have always participated in the different elections, local or general, as Algerian citizens.

The Algerian president’s proposal is, of course, unacceptable both in Morocco and Mauritania. Because if such a scenario were implemented, this would mean that the whole of North and Sub-Saharan Africa would fall into total chaos, instability, and disorder.

Algeria claims that it has no specific interest in the Sahara issue, alleging that it only champions the right to self-determination, no matter what. 

Read Also: New EU Resolution Against Morocco: France’s Frustration and Machinations

Every time Algeria was requested to apply the same principle to other issues worldwide, including within its own borders in the Kabylie region, it reacted with such violence that it was on the verge of waging an absurd war, using Morocco as a scapegoat. Nevertheless, it is believed that the best approach to punishing Morocco, so to speak, would be to implement what is called the “proxy state.”

This is the first installment of a two-part analysis. The second part will be published on Friday, February 3.

source : moroccoworldnews.com

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