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POLITICS

Macron, Sánchez agree joint approach to US trade dispute

French President Emmanuel Macron and Spain's Pedro Sánchez on Thursday joined forces to call for a "proactive" European response to a brewing trade dispute with Washington over alleged protectionism.

Macron, Sánchez agree joint approach to US trade dispute
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (R) and France's President Emmanuel Macron shake hands at the end of a press conference. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Speaking in Barcelona following a Franco-Spanish summit, the two leaders said they had reached a common position on how to respond to Washington’s massive investment plan to accelerate the US transition to green energy.

“We are both aware of the fact that we need to react in a very proactive way” to Washington’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Macron said after signing a friendship treaty with the Spanish prime minister.

Europe fears that the plan, which will pour billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, will distort transatlantic trade to give American companies an unfair advantage.

“Europe is facing a critical moment because of the (Ukraine) war, but also because of trade decisions being taken by Europe’s allies such as the United States,” said Sánchez.

While Europe welcomed Washington’s shift towards green energy, “we have to reach an agreement in which this commitment… does not mean the deindustrialisation of Europe,” the Spanish leader said.

Macron, who has branded Washington’s plan as “super aggressive”, wants Brussels to follow suit with a similar initiative to avoid a flight of European companies relocating to take advantage of the US subsidies.

Seeking Madrid’s support for his stance was a central aim of Macron’s Barcelona visit. He will meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday to drum up further backing.

Treaty of friendship

Earlier Thursday, Macron and Sánchez held talks at the National Art Museum of Catalonia and signed a friendship and cooperation treaty reinforcing bilateral ties on issues such as migration, defence and energy.

With the treaty, Paris is seeking to cement stronger ties with neighbours other than Germany, notably those in southern Europe, at a moment when the Paris-Berlin alliance underpinning EU unity is showing signs of strain.

The Macron-Sánchez summit comes just three months after Paris, Madrid and Lisbon agreed to build a massive underwater hydrogen pipeline connecting Barcelona and Marseille that will be key for the EU’s energy independence.

READ ALSO: Spain says new gas pipeline may take 7 years to build

Barcelona was chosen as the venue for its importance to the hydrogen project, but also because Madrid wanted to show the situation in the Catalonia region had normalised since separatists there staged a failed independence bid in 2017.

But more than 6,000 pro-independence protesters rallied outside the museum on Thursday, shouting “Independence!” and waving separatist flags, police and an AFP correspondent said.

“The Spanish government wanted to show they’ve beaten us and that we’ve given up on independence. But this is to show them that we haven’t given up on anything,” David García, a 52-year-old economist, told AFP.

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POLITICS

Spain’s Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was in Rabat on Thursday to reset a "strategic partnership" despite criticism from within his left-wing government that it has caved into Moroccan pressure.

Spain's Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Sánchez and a dozen ministers are set to meet Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch for the first “high-level meeting” of its kind since 2015.

“Today we are consolidating a new stage in relations between Morocco and Spain,” Sánchez told journalists in Rabat, saying there was “enormous unexplored potential” between them.

His visit comes less than a year after he drew a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis by reversing decades of neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco’s position.

But Sánchez has faced criticism from both the left and right for the concession to Morocco, including from his administration’s number three, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz of the hard-left Podemos party.

She has declined to join this week’s trip, in line with her party’s rejection of Sánchez’s “unilateral” U-turn on Western Sahara.

Spain’s right-wing opposition has also slammed Sánchez over the policy, with González Pons, a member of the European Parliament from the Popular Party, saying there was “no greater humiliation than bowing to the will of Morocco”.

Sánchez has defended his move as essential for Spanish interests.

On Thursday he called for new Spanish investments in Morocco, where his country is already the third-biggest foreign investor.

Investment deals

Around 20 deals were signed on Thursday to boost Spanish investments in everything from renewable energy to education, as well as doubling Spanish state support for firms setting up projects there.

Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the two countries “want to establish a new economic partnership in the service of development”.

The crisis between Rabat and Madrid had begun in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s tiny Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, an incident seen as a Moroccan move to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a “new stage” in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom’s plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

The following month, Sánchez paid a high-profile visit to Morocco and was hosted by King Mohammed VI.

The Spanish premier came under renewed fire this week for holding a high-level visit to Morocco without being hosted by the monarch.

Conservative newspaper El Mundo said the king “had shown his position of strength by standing Sánchez up”.

However, King Mohammed did this week invite the Spanish premier for a higher-profile state visit in the near future to “reinforce the positive dynamic” in their ties, according to a palace statement.

‘Honeymoon’

Cooperation over clandestine migration and terrorism is also high on the agenda during Sánchez’s visit.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain said arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared with 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from human rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter the Melilla enclave in June 2022.

Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to return deportations of irregular migrants to pre-Covid levels, according to a ministry official.

The visit comes as the European Parliament lifts the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Morocco as well as Qatar.

Morocco has staunchly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation by Belgian police has sparked tensions between key European states and the North African kingdom.

Moroccan politicians and media have accused France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of “orchestrating” a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco’s treatment of the press.

“There’s a honeymoon between Rabat and Madrid, and a cold crisis” between Rabat and Paris, French-Moroccan journalist Mustapha Tossa wrote on news website Atlasinfo.

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