Spain came to Brussels in search of political muscle, the institutional support of 27 states, of the largest commercial power on the planet, and returns home with it. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, has traveled urgently to the community capital this Friday (cancelling a planned trip to the US) to meet with Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for Trade, and address the crisis with Algeria. On Thursday, the Commission had already shown its “extreme concern” about what happened and, today, it has gone further, warning Algiers that it is “willing to face any type of coercive measure” to defend one of its own.
European sources suggest that perhaps there is some staging in the rush, the meeting and the presence of the minister today in the Belgian capital, because the same result would probably have been achieved without the need to travel. But they understand that Spain has gotten into a very complicated situation and that she is going to need all the help possible to get out without too many injuries. Hence the trip, the protection under the community umbrella, the highlighting that the institutions and Moncloa are “evaluating what happened in the same way” and the insistence that what has happened is not an attack, challenge or provocation against Spain, but to the entire Union.
Albares, very satisfied with the response found, has taken advantage of the support to attack Algeria and its unilateral decisions, to reiterate that Spain has done absolutely nothing to justify “this escalation” and that they will not “give excuses for more”, and to attack the Popular Party, which he accuses of “disloyal and irresponsible” for his criticism and request the appearance of President Pedro Sánchez in Congress.
The continental technical services are still not very clear about all the implications of what the North African country has done or announced. But while on Thursday they asked for more room to study the consequences in detail, today the senior officials have gotten more wet. In a joint statement requested by Spain, Vice President Dombrovskis and the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, point out that the decision taken by Algeria to suspend the Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighborhood Relations signed with Spain in 2002 “in principle appears to violate the EU-Algeria Association Agreement, in particular in the area of trade and investment. This would lead to discriminatory treatment of an EU Member State and negatively affect the exercise of the Union’s rights under the Agreement” , reads the text.
The EU has few competences in matters of Foreign Policy, but all of them in commercial matters. It is the Commission that negotiates with third countries, that signs free trade agreements. And the one that also watches over its integrity. The vice presidents stress that what happened is viewed from Brussels with “great concern” and claim to be “evaluating the implications of Algeria’s actions, including the instruction given to financial institutions to stop transactions between the two countries”, which the services legal representatives of the house (led by a Spaniard) consider a violation of the current agreement with the entire EU.
“Spain’s wish is that this be resolved as soon as possible through dialogue and normal diplomatic channels and that the commercial relationship of our companies, which have solid ties with Algeria, can be resumed as normal,” said the Minister. “Here we are not talking about something that the Government of Spain has done, we are talking about a decision that the Government of Algeria has made. The Government of Spain has not made a single decision that affects Algeria and not a single word to produce any escalation I reiterate it. What we want is the same relationship with Algeria as with the rest of our neighbours, based on friendship, dialogue, mutual respect, sovereign equality and non-interference in internal affairs. The Government of Spain affirms that the The EU, the Commission, value the same situation. We are united in the firm defense of our companies, which are also European companies, and the commercial relationship between the EU and Algeria, which is governed by an association agreement that has clear paragraphs.”
The language, very careful, is a small level jump compared to the day before. The EU reminds the Algerian Government that the bilateral relations of third countries with individual EU Member States form part of their relations with the EU. That it cannot punish one member and expect the rest to look the other way, because “unity and solidarity within the EU continue to be essential to defend our interests and values in our relations with all countries. In addition, trade policy is the exclusive competence of the EU, and the EU is ready to deal with any type of coercive measure applied against an EU Member State”. If you mess with one, you mess with all of them.
Having said that, and paying attention to form, the statement made public by the commissioners at the end of the meeting emphasizes that “the EU continues to privilege dialogue to resolve disputes. We are in close contact with the Spanish Government and contacting the Algerian authorities to quickly clarify the situation. Algeria is an important partner for the EU in the Mediterranean and a key player for regional stability. We are confident that, in the name of our strong and long-term partnership, a quick solution will be found to fully restore trade relations and We are ready and willing to support these efforts,” the Commission says in passive-aggressive language. That emphasizes the ties that unite both parties but demands, based on that “solid association”, that the Executive back down before it is too late. Without concrete threats, without marking the next steps, but explaining through more discreet channels that it would be inevitable if, beyond words, the Algerian threats materialize in practice.
That subtlety is less in the messages from Spain, comfortable with continental protection on this issue. “What the Government and the institutions want is dialogue and we are not going to give excuses for any escalation. The Commission that has competence has tools and instruments to be able to deal with any type of situation,” Minister Albares warned at the end of his meeting . “But we have proposed a rapid return to dialogue, friendly and mutually beneficial economic and commercial relations for decades. We offer Algeria a constructive response, of dialogue, to return to the channels. We have evaluated in total harmony with the institutions. We want a return to normalcy and rapid redirection but with a firm defense of the interests of our companies, which are those of Spain and the EU”, he concluded.
In his appearance before the media from Brussels, Albares, who has not admitted any mistake, made any self-criticism and stressed that what happened with Morocco and the Sahara “is not what is at stake today”, has lashed out strongly against the Popular Party , calling him “disloyal and irresponsible” for asking for the president’s appearance in Congress.
“There are times when we are the government and the opposition, but there are times when we have to be Spain. And this is one of them. Anything other than that is enormous disloyalty and irresponsibility in these complex times for Spain and the EU. How is it possible that I come to Brussels today to analyze a unilateral decision by Algeria, a third party government, and that the Commission, the institutions, the EU have an automatic analysis exactly the same as Spain’s, but the opposition seems to have another? I can only judge it from the disloyalty and responsibility towards Spain. I am perplexed to read that the appearance of the President of the Government is requested to explain a decision of a third State. Please, we have to be Spain”, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the maximum person in charge together with the president in the turn of the Spanish foreign policy that has irritated Algeria.
“We can talk about it but it is not what is at stake today. The unilateral decision that affects our companies and the commercial relationship between Algeria and the EU is at stake, that is the real debate,” he added about the mentions to which the Executive Spanish miscalculated the reactions with its change of position on the Sahara. “We want the best relationship with the people, with the Government of Algeria. The Spanish are a people that have deep feelings of friendship, but we want mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs. I hope that Algeria plays the role it has always played, supplier reliable that has given so much reliability, and that we resume the dialogue”, he concluded.
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