Athens (Brussels Morning). Over the past few years, Berlin’s peace efforts and diplomatic actions have been evident in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Somalia. On the issue of Western Sahara, German institutions and diplomats have been quite vocal, choosing sides and bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on Rabat, which remains resolute in its unwillingness to allow an independent Western Saharan state to arise.
To this day, Moroccan soldiers patrol the 2,700km wall, actually a berm, that was built along key sections of Western Sahara. The government appears less afraid of the desert fighters than determined to safeguard its interests in the territory’s phosphates and other mineral riches.
The latest German-Moroccan diplomatic crisis is becoming more and more expensive as their commercial relationship has become subject to cancelled agreements. Morocco is the second most important investment location for German companies in Africa. Some 30,000 employees work there for about 80 German companies, generating a turnover of almost two billion euros.
According to the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Morocco, since 1997, companies have invested in heavy industry, chemicals, pharmacy, and logistics. In the course of the past few years, projects have been funded to shape a digitalised industry, based on automation and a high expertise-low paid workforce. Were the process disrupted, the consequences could be catastrophic for all concerned, Germans and Moroccans alike.
Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe are among the countries that support self-determination for the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara. Bahrain, Belarus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, and Hungary are among those that back Morocco’s claims regarding the territory.
Brussels Morning in the person of Angelos Kaskanis discussed the ongoing diplomatic crisis with journalist Abdennour Toumi, who is also a North Africa Studies Researcher at the Middle East Studies Centre (ORSAM) in Ankara, Turkey.
AK: “Germany has distanced itself from the spirit of a constructive solution with a destructive attitude on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara”, as stated by Morocco’s Foreign Ministry. Is this a historical low for bilateral relations between the two countries?
AT: Last winter, Morocco decided to suspend relations with the German embassy in Rabat, due to a major divergence with Berlin on several issues, including the Western Sahara, which has been occupied by Morocco since 1975.
Rabat summoned its ambassador from Germany for urgent discussions in seeking an explanation about the decision taken by the German authorities, which came after the Moroccan authorities’ decision to suspend all contacts with the German embassy in Rabat.
Historically, Berlin has chosen the diplomatic way, the search for a just, lasting and accepted political solution between the two parties under the auspices of the United Nations. However, the decision of former US President Donald Trump to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel has complicated the legal and geopolitical dynamics of the so-called frozen conflict.
The German approach involves a strong commitment to problem-solve. “You have to be impartial, you have to have in mind the legitimate interests of all parties and you have to act within the framework of international law”, Germany’s Ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, said on 24 December, 2020. “The final solution of the problem must be carried out within a UN framework, in accordance with the relevant international resolutions”, he added.
In so doing, it is no secret that Berlin refuses to change its position on the Western Sahara question. The Moroccan news site The Desk reports an example of this that would have greatly displeased Rabat when, in January, 2021, the flag of the Polisario Front was hoisted for a few hours in front of the German regional parliament in Bremen. Added to that, there was the appeal by Andreas Schieder, the new Austrian president of the intergroup for Western Sahara, to the European Union and to the International Committee of the Red Cross urging them to react to the “exactions” of Morocco.
AK: Why does Germany aggravate Morocco so much?
AT: Among the various reasons that irritated Morocco, Rabat was upset last year to be excluded from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s guest list for the International Conference on Libya, which took place in January 2020 under UN auspices.
In 2016, the CJEU ruled that, based on the United Nations Charter, Western Sahara is not part of the sovereign territory of Morocco and that according to the principle of self-determination and the relative effect of prevailing treaties, agreements between the EU and Morocco could not be applicable to Western Sahara without the consent of the people of Western Sahara.
More recently, in 2018, the ECJ ruled that an EU-Morocco fisheries agreement was only valid to the extent that it is not applicable to Western Sahara and its adjacent waters.
Another area of tension has been undermining relations between the two countries for several years: relates to the work of several German political foundations. In December 2019, Africa Confidential, the widely-read intelligence newsletter, revealed that the tone of disagreement between Rabat and Berlin over the Konrad Adenauer, Friedrich Ebert, Friedrich Naumann and Hanss Seidel foundations had grown so strident that negotiations on the partnership for multi-sectoral reforms had come to a halt. The tense relationship between the two capitals was further exacerbated by the thorny issue of Moroccan social media activist Mohammed Hajib, a controversy that served to add fuel to the already smouldering diplomatic crisis between the two nations.