The European Union should be careful to conclude migration agreements with countries outside them. This makes the EU vulnerable and blackmail itself, warning a leading Spanish security expert and political scientist. “Migration is used as a weapon, thats the problem.”
The warning follows recent events on the Moroccan-Spanish border near the Spanish enclave Ceuta. Grainy footage, filmed with a phone, shows how the fence between Morocco and Spains Ceuta suddenly opened last month.
A guard points with his hand rows of migrants the route to Spain, to Europe. The young men dont know how hard to run across the border:
The agreement is for Morocco to keep the border close and monitor terrorism in exchange for money from the EU. But with this event, Morocco ignores these appointments.
“Astunting,” says Spanish political scientist José Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the research institute ECFR in Madrid. He sees an organized operation from Morocco. “Moroccan border police that just watched and even opened the fence.”
In total, about 9000 migrants manage to reach Spain running and swimming in 48 hours. Many of them are under eighteen years old and should not be sent back by Spain.
Morocco Forcing Spain
“Morocco has jeopardized the lives of many migrants, including minors, to put pressure on Spain,” says terrorism and security expert Manuel Gazapo Lapayese. “The Moroccan government wanted to force Spain, a European Member State, to support Moroccos interests.”
Why does Morocco do this? It starts with a diplomatic crisis early this year, revolving around 71-year-old commander Brahim Ghali, an enemy of Morocco. He is the leader of Polisario, the movement that has been fighting for independence from Western Sahara since 1973. Spain allows elderly Ghali to be treated in a hospital in Logroño due to severe coronavirus symptoms. This to the Moroccan governments anger.
Morocco responds by opening the border fence, as blackmail to enforce foreign policy, says political scientist Ignacio Torreblanca. “Thats shocking. Were used to this kind of images from Libya or another shaky democracy. Not from Morocco: that country is normally a very cooperative partner, both in terms of migration and counter-terrorism. The country gets money from the EU to control its borders.”
Hard Migration Policy
The confrontation with Morocco should wake up the European Union, the Spanish experts say. Migration agreements with third countries, countries outside the European Union, are politically good to sell, but they also make the EU vulnerable.
These agreements have objections, not only moral because we let third countries do the dirty work, but geopolitics as well. Countries we agree with realise that European governments are committed to a hard migration policy because it brings voting. It is precisely that gives those third countries power: they can make demands. Morocco asked Spain to change its political position on Polisarios rebel leader. Political scientist Ignacio Torreblanca calls that “unprecedented.”
“You cant sit at a negotiating table with states that dont respect human rights, trade with people, or barely control groups of terrorists. The EU should really think about that,” warns Manuel Gazapo Lapayese, director of the Spanish think tank International Security Observatory.
Yet this is the policy that the European Commission intends to deploy. It intends, among other things, to release control of migration flows and conclude agreements with an example of the EU-Turkey deal from 2016 and the Italy and Libya agreement in 2017.
September 2020, the European Commission presented plans for a “New European Pact on Migration and Asylum”. This includes a prominent role for cooperation with partners outside Europe, third countries where migrants come from or travel through. Because “close cooperation with partners has a direct impact on policy effectiveness within the EU.”
Political scientist Ignacio Torreblanca calls Moroccos position “a dangerous road that is being taken. Especially when the fight against terrorism is used as a weapon.” Because Moroccan intelligence services have extra power. The services monitor potential terrorists and jihadists and inform affected countries such as Spain and France as soon as suspicious movements are made towards the European Union.
Terrorism expert Manuel Gazapo Lapayese: “Morocco is the lock of all migratory flows and terrorist organizations operating in the Middle East and Africa. If Morocco decides not to share that information,safety in Spain and Europe is at great risk.”
Yet political scientist Ignacio Torreblanca believes that agreements with third countries are inevitable in the future. Although the European Member States must realise that we are putting our fate in the hands of third parties. “At the moment, migration is a vulnerable point for all countries. And any kind of dependence can be abused.”
At the moment, the European Union and Morocco are negotiating EUR 3.5 billion of support for the country, in exchange for stopping migrants in the coming years.