Algeria makes a second move to the Foreign Minister. The authorities of the Maghreb country announced this Monday to the Spanish that they will not be able to receive Arancha González Laya on Wednesday in Algiers, as planned, as indicated by EL PAÍS sources from abroad. The appointment is postponed in principle to March 4. The Foreign Minister had scheduled meetings among others with her counterpart to discuss security, migration and a controversy that has faced them in recent days: the pulse by maritime borders. The minister will go to Mauritania on Tuesday to participate for the first time in a meeting of the five countries that make up a military force in the Sahel.
González Laya wanted to open his agenda to the two neighborhoods that pose the most challenges to Spain, the Maghreb and the Sahel. In this new stage, Spanish diplomacy aims to “expand and diversify” the links with these strategic regions, according to Foreign sources. The visit to Algeria, however, will have to wait for a last minute cancellation. As happened at the end of January, when González Laya planned a visit to Algiers just after the traditional first trip of the Foreign Minister to Morocco, the Maghreb country has canceled the trip without a clear reason. On this occasion they have at least offered an alternative date. If there is no news, the trip will finally take place on March 4.
The sources consulted abroad say that the Algerian Foreign Minister, Sabri Bukadum, alleges that he has to accompany his prime minister that day on an official trip and that is why he cannot receive González Laya. It is strange that the Algerian authorities did not count on this trip of their president when the agenda was organized that included the meeting with González Laya, just a few days ago.
In Algiers, Exteriors sought to address “topics of great interest and sensitivity such as the management of migratory flows, the fight against terrorism or energy,” explain ministry sources. More controversial is another issue with which Spanish diplomacy also counted for this displacement: the setting of waters for economic exploitation. Algeria approved by decree, almost two years ago, a delimitation of its waters that overlaps with Spanish waters in the Balearic Islands, although the problem has now transpired. The Spanish Government will propose to start a negotiation to try to reach an agreement.
Algeria is the second most important Maghreb partner after Morocco and supplies Spain with half of the gas that matters. This country, which, despite its proximity to Spain, did not have open migration routes in the era of Abdelaziz Buteflika’s iron mandate, is now also land paid for the mafias. Between September and October of last year, more than 40% of migrants arrived on the shores of the Western Mediterranean came from Algeria, according to data from Frontex, the EU border agency. And the exercise closed with the Algerians as the second largest nationality in arrivals, when in 2018 they represented the fourth.
Beyond the Maghreb, a good part of European security – and in particular that of Spain – is played in the African strip of the Sahel. “I do not hide that this is a risk for Spain and for Europe that we have to take seriously,” admitted the minister last Thursday in Congress when asked about the position of the Government towards the Sahel. Although it constitutes the country with more troops deployed in that area after France, Spain has had much less political involvement than its neighbor in the projects that have emerged to appease the region. This Tuesday will be the first time that the Foreign Dome participates in these forums. Previously there had been presence, but of lesser rank. The meeting will also be attended by the French minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as senior European officials and organizations such as the World Bank.
A priority area
The Sahel constitutes a “priority area for Spain in which efforts and resources have been deployed for years,” Foreign sources explain, who do not clarify whether the minister intends to commit additional support on this tour. The Spanish Army has about 350 soldiers deployed in Mali and the Civil Guard directs a training project in several countries in the region. In addition, Spain provides continued support in the maritime surveillance of Mauritania. At the end of 2018, the Government agreed to allocate 85 million euros in a G5 donor conference, the alliance that includes Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad to address the security challenges of the region and that celebrates this Tuesday a summit of heads of state in Mauritania.
In that African country, where she is invited by the Government, González Laya has a double agenda. In addition to the meeting of the G5 Sahel force and the Sahel Alliance, a European initiative for the development of the region and in which Spain does participate directly, the minister will meet with the country’s authorities in the capital, Nouakchott. The immigration challenge will be one of the main topics of discussion. Diplomatic sources admit concern about the evolution of arrivals through a route that had been practically sealed for years: that of Mauritania towards the Canary Islands. Arrivals to the islands last year added 2,698. This year, more than 1,000 had been registered until February 15, according to Interior data. Fishing agreements, which allow European ships to fish in the waters of this country, are also a matter of mutual interest.
Together with the Mauritanian authorities, the chief of diplomacy will take advantage of the presence of the presidents of other Sahelian states to deal with very similar issues, particularly security threats and migration.
In this migration dialogue, third countries usually ask for legal avenues to reach Spain. Having a realistic scheme constitutes an incentive to curb irregular departures. González Laya seems willing to develop this formula. “In countries like ours, which is of destination, it can be done better, opening legal migration routes and looking for mechanisms to insert this population into our labor market,” said the minister in her first appearance in Congress.