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Macron, Sánchez to ink Franco-Spanish friendship treaty

French President Emmanuel Macron meets Spain's Pedro Sánchez for a joint summit in Barcelona Thursday, with Paris seeking Spanish support for its uncompromising stance on a dispute over US protectionism.

Macron, Sánchez to ink Franco-Spanish friendship treaty
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) and France's President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

The summit takes place as France braces for a disruptive nationwide strike over a controversial pension reform drive, battening down the hatches for a “hellish” day of protest over plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

After talks at the National Art Museum of Catalonia, the two leaders will sign 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.

But Macron’s main aim is to seek “a joint position with Madrid” over Europe’s response to Washington’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a massive investment plan to accelerate the US transition to green energy.

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

Macron, who bluntly denounced the subsidies as “super aggressive” on a visit to Washington in November, wants Brussels to quickly follow suit to avoid a flight of European companies relocating to take advantage of the US subsidies.

But so far, EU nations have been divided on how to respond to the IRA, with Macron’s hard-ball approach gaining little traction in Spain.

Divisions in Europe

Speaking to CNBC earlier this week, Sánchez admitted Europe had “some homework to do”, notably rethinking its own subsidies policy “to send a message to industry worldwide that Europe – and of course, Spain – is a good place” to invest.

The French leader is also hoping to enlist Olaf Scholz to his position, although the German chancellor has so far appeared more inclined towards dialogue than dispute with Washington.

Scholz is expected in Paris on Sunday to mark 60 years since the signing of a Franco-German post-war friendship treaty.

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 – Barcelona-Marseille pipeline: an ambitious but risky project

Barcelona was chosen to host the summit because “it will be at the heart of this strategic project”, said Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez of the H2Med pipeline, also known as BarMar.

Madrid also wants to show that the situation in the northeastern Catalonia region has normalised since 2017 when separatists there staged a failed independence bid, triggering Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

But pro-independence groups have promised to hit the streets en masse to protest at the summit being held there.

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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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