The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, is overwhelmed by the pulse launched by Algeria and his only clear response yesterday, Thursday, was to ask the European Commission for protection. The Algerian president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has already de facto suspended imports of Spanish products and services and there was no reaction from the coalition government beyond ensuring that it “studies” the Algerian measure. Sánchez thus gives a sign of extreme weakness in dealing with this crisis with Algeria after the one also shown with Morocco and entrusts himself to the European Commission avoiding a bilateral reply to Algiers.
Government sources tell this newspaper that they see arguments for Brussels to react for the violation of the 2005 Euro-Mediterranean cooperation agreement that binds the European Union and Algeria. Also due to the risk of “an immigration problem” if the Maghreb country maintains a lax policy with the departure of boats from its coasts such as the one experienced in recent days.
With this aim of involving Brussels, Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares yesterday had to cancel an invitation from the US to come to Los Angeles for the so-called Summit of the Americas to request an express appointment with the Belgian capital. He arranged a meeting with the Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Trade, the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis, to expose the violation of the aforementioned European agreement that, in his opinion, Algeria may perpetrate by ordering its bank to freeze the direct debits of commercial operations related to Spain.
Experts consulted point out that Algiers has been careful to avoid a strong reaction from the EU by applying this sanction without requiring rules of origin, that is, it allows the importation of Spanish products through Portugal or other member states. It also circumvents it by not acting for now with such a strategic asset in the EU now as gas, since its main supply contract to Spain, through the company Naturgy, continues to be executed as it is signed until 2032. That is, The Algerian measure consists of obstructing purchases from Spain while ensuring that it continues to sell its flagship oil and gas products.
Gas is also complex for Spain to use in the EU, because another member state, Italy, has even just achieved a large increase in supply in Algeria so as not to depend on Russia.
The government managed to get an official spokesman for the European Commission to make a public appeal to Algeria to reverse the suspension of trade and described the measure as “extremely worrying”. Also, already in a somewhat profile position, he appealed for dialogue between Spain and Algeria. A common position in the EU is not easy, because several member countries, such as Italy, have not given a lurch like Sánchez in favor of Western Sahara becoming a territory absorbed by Morocco.
The Algerian president was impassive on Thursday afternoon before the request for rectification from Brussels and, on the contrary, reaffirmed together with the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, -on an official visit to Algiers- his objective of “achieving a self-determination referendum of the Sahara”. Maduro, in a joint appearance, agreed with Tebboune, congratulated him and conveyed “the admiration of the Venezuelan people for his firmness in defense of the rights of the Saharawi people.” Maduro said that “the whole world must react” in favor of “the historical rights” of the Sahara. The parliamentary spokesman for Podemos, Pablo Echenique, insisted in Madrid that his party, a member of the coalition, does not share Sánchez’s turn.
Algeria has been criticizing the European agreement denounced by Albares for some time
Meanwhile, companies from all over Spain that exported to Algeria worth 472 million in the first quarter alone showed confusion on Thursday, but the response from the Ministry of Industry is vague. “Given the short time that has elapsed, we are studying in detail the scope of the decision and its implications in practice in order to give a timely response,” was the official statement by the head of the Department, Reyes Maroto.
State commercial technicians consulted point out that there is nothing to study, because the de facto suspension of trade with Spain is a fact as direct debits are mandatory in Algeria to be able to export to that country. However, buying time is the general trend among the PSOE ministers. Both Albares and the head of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, avoided reacting forcefully to the Algerian challenge. The Foreign Minister predicted that there will be “an adequate, serene, constructive and firm response in defense of the interests of Spain and Spanish companies.”
Brussels asks Algiers to rectify, but also “dialogue” with Spain
The main argument, the violation of the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement, is the one that unites the European Union and Algeria in an association to, among other objectives, “develop exchanges, guarantee the expansion of balanced economic and social relations.” Among other articles that, theoretically, both parties must comply with is article 17, which establishes that “quantitative restrictions and measures of equivalent effect applicable to imports or exports in commercial exchanges between Algeria and the Community will be abolished”. Or also 38: “The Parties undertake to authorize, in freely convertible currencies, all current payments relating to current transactions.”
However, Algeria has been criticizing that European agreement for some time. In fact, Tebboune himself ordered his Government last October to review that commitment signed under the Spanish presidency of the EU in 2002 -with entry into force in 2005- “clause by clause”, considering that its application has not favored everything that owed to his country.
The third vice president, Teresa Ribera, also warned this Thursday that if Algiers breaches the supply contract or abusively revises prices, it could be taken to an international arbitration court, but it is not a path that has ever worried the Maghreb country in the past. .
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