By Siham Ali
Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane met with his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday (January 18th) in Rabat to discuss economic collaboration and security.
“Our relations cannot but improve,” Benkirane told reporters after the meeting, adding that Rajoy’s visit opened the door to a stronger partnership.
The Spanish prime minister, who also met with King Mohammed VI, said that the goal of the two countries is to “launch a new stage of deep and solid co-operation at all levels”.
“Morocco is an example to follow for a number of other countries,” Rajoy said, adding the king’s constitutional reforms placed Morocco “at the forefront of the Arab world”.
The two prime ministers agreed to increase the number of sector-based meetings to discuss issues such as economic development and security. The visit was Rajoy’s first foreign trip as prime minister.
It is an important step in re-launching the bilateral relations, according to political analyst Magid Ibrahim, especially now that the two countries have new governments. Greater regional collaboration is needed to fight the ever-growing threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ibrahim added.
“What is happening in the Sahel requires the co-operation of all countries in the region, including Spain,” he commented. “Morocco has always worked together with this country in fighting terrorism and organised crime.”
Rajoy indicated that this first visit reflected the strategic importance of bilateral ties. Spain sees Morocco as a “prosperous, democratic and stable” nation and is determined to strengthen links both politically and economically, Rajoy added.
With some 800 Spanish businesses operating in Morocco, Spain is the second largest investor in Morocco after France.
One of the key topics of the meeting was the Morocco and EU fishing row.
The European Parliament last month cancelled a deal allowing EU trawlers to fish in Moroccan waters for annual payments, prompting Rabat to immediately ban all European fishing boats. European legislators said they wanted to wait until the interests of Western Sahara were considered before agreeing to a 12-month extension of the agreement.
Under the deal, Morocco would have received 36 million euros to let some 120 fishing boats, mainly from Spain, operate in its waters.
According to the Spanish government, Spain has 120 licences covering Moroccan waters.
Spanish Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Cañete called on the European Union “to negotiate an agreement as soon as possible” with Morocco, so that fishing could resume.
Morocco will build on the points where the two countries agree and discuss areas where they diverge to find solutions, Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani pledged when he was appointed. The new administration will work to boost co-operation not only at the official level but within civil society and political parties, he said.