The political dispute over Western Sahara is now creating new difficulties for the EU. Because Algeria is threatening to stop supplying natural gas to Spain, as well as a new wave of refugees to Europe.
Europeans are currently piling on one problem after the other. After the already disastrous corona lockdowns with the upheavals in the supply chains and the destruction of part of the economic infrastructure, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was followed by devastating sanctions and countermeasures by Moscow, which led to skyrocketing energy and food prices. Now there is another problem on the southern periphery of the European Union: Algeria is threatening to take drastic measures because of the Western Sahara conflict.
For example, the leadership in Algiers Spain has threatened to raise natural gas prices significantly or even stop deliveries. The Algerian government under President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has decidednot to renew an important partnership agreement with Spain and to unilaterally freeze trade relations with Europe. This would push inflation even higher and jeopardize Spain’s energy security. Algeria is Spain’s second largest supplier of natural gas, covering around a quarter of Spanish consumption. In the EU as a whole, Algeria supplies about a tenth of the Community’s gas needs. In November last year, the country already shut down the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline (MEG), which runs through Morocco to Cordoba in Spanish Andalusia and has a capacity of 12 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Adding to all these problems is the threat of illegal immigration from Algeria, which is a major gateway for migrants from Africa wishing to move to Europe. Madrid fears Algeria is using illegal migration as a political tool to negotiate with Spain and the European Union. After all, tens of thousands of migrants could again push their way to Europe via Algeria. With more than half of young Africans looking to emigrate, and with a looming food crisis pushing Africans to reach Europe by any means necessary, Algeria knows it has a powerful bargaining chip. President Tebboune therefore stopped an agreement on the repatriation of thousands of refugees from Europe to Africa.
But that’s not all. Like the English language newspaper”Al-Araby” reported, the Algerian Ministry of Tourism has ordered all tour operators to suspend their tourism ties with Spain. For Algerians, Spain is the second largest holiday destination after Tunisia. But thanks to Madrid’s support for Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara, that may now be over.
Spain’s latest moves are likely to result in a tightening of ties with Algeria – at a time when the war in Ukraine makes this undesirable. The Spanish newspaper El País even writes about one new front line, which arises at the southern border of Europe. The European Commission also got involved in the diplomatic battle and warned Algeria of sanctions if it imposed a trade embargo on Spain. President Tebboune then pledged to continue contracted gas supplies to Spain – but the EU is increasingly concerned that the government will deliver on its promise.
It should be noted that Algeria has good relations with Moscow and, like most countries in the world, refuses to support anti-Russian sanctions. On the contrary: the Russian gas company Gazprom will develop new natural gas deposits in the North African country participate. Algiers and Moscow also work otherwise good together.