RABAT, Morocco (AP) — The governments of Spain and Morocco held wide-ranging meetings Thursday aimed at turning the page on diplomatic tensions and striking deals on customs crossings and business development.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez arrived in Rabat on Wednesday along with 11 government ministers, and spoke alongside Moroccan couterpart Aziz Akhannouch at an economic forum. The two leaders met again Thursday while other ministers convened separately.
They are expected to sign agreements later Thursday that include the opening of customs offices at the border crossings for Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which Morocco doesn't officially recognize as Spanish territories. This should be a boost to the local economies on both sides of the border.
The frontiers are also a flashpoint for occasional migration tensions. The border policing methods of both Spain and Morocco fell under intense scrutiny after the death of at least 23 African men, many reportedly refugees from Sudan, when they stormed a border fence at Melilla last year.
Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community with 800,000 residents in Spain, and Spain is the largest foreign investor in Morocco, making economic cooperation a top priority for the Moroccan government.
Morocco, in similar fashion to Turkey and other countries in north Africa, has reaped economic benefits from the EU in exchange for curbing irregular immigration to Spain. That, however, hasn't stopped thousands of migrants and refugees, including young Moroccans looking for a better future in Europe, from attempting a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, or a perilous Atlantic journey to the Canary Islands.
One person was notably absent from the Spanish visitors' agenda in Morocco: King Mohammed VI.
He and Sánchez spoke by telephone on Wednesday about a “new era" in relations, according to the Spanish prime minister's office. Sánchez was scheduled to pay a visit Thursday to the gravesite of the king's grandfather, Mohammed V.
Sánchez met with the king last year to put an end to a diplomatic crisis that had erupted in 2021 over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. During that meeting, Sánchez declared “a new phase of bilateral relations” with Morocco, an important partner with the European Union in fighting extremism and aiding the bloc’s migration policies.