Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares fiercely defended in parliament on Wednesday the country’s decision to side with Morocco over the status of Western Sahara.
For decades, Spain has subscribed to the UN-backed view that Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has the right to self-determination. But last week, that position changed.
In a letter to Morocco’s King Mohamed VI, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez endorsed Morocco’s plan to operate the region autonomously under Rabat’s rule.
Spain’s new position was only made public when a Moroccan newspaper published excerpts from the letter on Friday.
But the foreign policy stance, which was not reportedly communicated to Spain’s junior ruling coalition partner Unidas Podemos or Algerian officials beforehand, has drawn fury from many quarters.
READ: Spain informed Algeria in advance of the change in its position on Western Sahara
“It’s not state policy because it’s not supported by the People’s Party and it’s not even government policy because it’s not supported by their partners in Podemos,” said opposition politician Valentina Martinez in Albares in parliament. “Even parts of the socialist party are against it.”
Bildu politician Jon Inarritu also criticized the executive’s unilateral decision.
“They closed a crisis with Morocco to open three others with the Polisario Front, Algeria and an internal crisis with its progressive partners,” he said.
On Tuesday, Podemos politicians unveiled Western Sahara flags in parliament.
Algeria, Spain’s largest supplier of natural gas, was also outraged by the government’s decision.
Algeria’s ambassador to Spain has been summoned to Algeria for consultations and his government has condemned Spain’s “sharp turnaround”.
Algeria supports independence for Western Sahara and the issue has caused deep tensions between Morocco and Algeria for years.
Last year, a diplomatic rift also erupted between Spain and Morocco when Spain allowed the leader of the separatist Polisario Front of Western Sahara to be treated in Spain for COVID-19.
READ: EU supports Spain’s move towards autonomy for Western Sahara
Shortly after, Moroccan authorities stood idly by as around 10,000 migrants passed through Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.
After the incidents, Spain’s then foreign minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, was replaced by Albares.
“Spain has spent too many years being a spectator and now they want to be an actress,” Albares said of the matter on Wednesday. He also insists that any solution to the decades-long conflict in the region must be accepted by both parties.
According to the letter sent to the King of Morocco, Spain now believes that Morocco’s proposal is the “most serious, credible and realistic way to end this dispute”.
Sanchez also said he hopes to travel to Rabat in the coming weeks to “renew and deepen” the relationship between the two countries “to face common challenges together, especially around migratory flows in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean”. .