Both the Maghreb and the Middle East are a fundamental and priority pillar of our external action. Both regions are undergoing profound changes, bringing both opportunities and challenges for our country's interests. Spain establishes the strengthening of bilateral relations, stability and progress in both areas, as well as the resolution of existing conflicts, as priorities.
The Maghreb is the North African region comprising Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This area is strategic for Spain due to its geographic proximity, its historical ties and the density of human, economic and cultural exchanges that take place.
The 2011 "Arab Spring" spurred a movement for openness and citizen participation in the region's political life that required constitutional changes in some countries, such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Instability and armed conflict persist in Libya to this day.
Recent years have seen rising tensions as a result of regional rivalries, manifested in the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Algeria in 2021, the repercussions of the Sahel crisis, increased migratory pressure and the persistence of unresolved issues such as that of Western Sahara.
With regard to Western Sahara, Spain advocates a mutually acceptable political solution, within the framework of the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Spain supports the work of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy and maintains its humanitarian commitment to the people of the Sahrawi refugee camps, making it the leading bilateral donor.
Spain is a partner of reference in the Maghreb. In the political sphere, Spain has signed Treaties of Friendship, Good-Neighbourliness and Cooperation with all countries in the region, with the exception of Libya. Political dialogue is conducted through High Level Meetings (12 with Morocco, 8 with Tunisia, 7 with Algeria and soon with Mauritania).
From an economic perspective, Spain has strong ties with the Maghreb. The volume of trade with the region is around 35 billion euros per year. Since 2012, Spain has been Morocco's leading trading partner, which is also the leading African and Arab destination for Spanish exports, with almost 20,000 Spanish companies operating in the country. The economic relationship with Algeria is particularly relevant in the energy sector, the source of more than a quarter of the gas consumed by Spain.
Security in the region and the flow of migratory movements are a challenge shared by Spain, the European Union and the Maghreb countries. For more than a decade, Spain has been developing a comprehensive approach to migration issues in close collaboration with Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, countries of origin or transit of irregular traffic affecting our country in the Western Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Spain is promoting closer ties between the EU and the Maghreb countries and the strengthening and development of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Spanish Cooperation is present in all Maghreb countries with projects and Technical Cooperation Offices. It promotes sustainable development through technical and financial cooperation instruments and plays a leading role in providing emergency aid in the event of disasters such as those experienced in 2023 in Morocco and Libya.
Bilateral cooperation is also reinforced by regional cooperation processes such as those articulated through the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and, above all, through the Western Mediterranean Dialogue Forum or “5+5 Dialogue”, which has fostered political consultation and sectoral cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean.
The Middle East, comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen, is also of particular importance for Spain. In recent years, their political, economic and cultural relations have been strengthened.
At present, the situation in the region is marked by conflicts such as those in Syria and Yemen and the fight against terrorism of Da'esh strongholds, particularly in Iraq. The attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October 2023 reignited the conflict in the Middle East. Spain has been actively involved in its resolution since the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and intends to contribute constructively, both within the European Union and bilaterally, by supporting the materialisation of the two-State solution.
From an economic perspective, Spain maintains good relations with the Gulf countries and has developed strategic relations with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Commercial agreements have been signed in the area and Spanish companies have carried out emblematic projects, mainly in infrastructure, but also in leisure and culture, in line with the national visions of development designed by the Gulf countries, such as the High Speed Railway linking the cities of Medina, Jeddah and Mecca.
The desire for rapprochement between Spain and the countries of the Maghreb and the Middle East cannot ignore the cultural aspect. In this regard, the active cultural policy of our Embassies in the region, together with the existence of the Cervantes Institute centres and the activities organised by Casa Árabe, the Sefarad Israel Centre and Casa del Mediterráneo, facilitate mutual understanding and trust and the rapprochement of societies through intense public diplomacy.