Spain complains to Rabat for referring to Ceuta and Melilla as 'Moroccan cities'

Spain complains to Rabat for referring to Ceuta and Melilla as 'Moroccan cities'
3 min read
01 June, 2023
This recent friction between Rabat and Madrid coincides with a national crisis in Spain. 
Madrid and Rabat agreed last February to avoid "everything that we know offends the other party as far as our respective spheres of sovereignty are concerned." [Getty]

Madrid has sent a complaint to Rabat over its labelling of Ceuta and Melilla, the Spain-controlled enclaves in North Africa, as "Moroccan cities", marking the first crisis in the two states' year-long amicable ties.

In a document Rabat sent to a Morocco-based EU delegation, the North African kingdom expressed its discontent over recent statements made by Margaritis Schinas, the vice president of the European Commission, in which he defended the legitimacy of Spain's control over the enclaves.

Rabat's letter has reportedly referred to the enclaves as "Moroccan cities."

"Madrid responded by a letter to the Moroccan government categorically rejecting the language used to refer to these two Spanish cities and recalling that their borders are internationally recognised," reported AFP on Wednesday.

Ceuta and Melilla, located on the north coast of Morocco, are the only European Union (EU) land borders on the African continent and susceptible points at the migratory level.

Spain captured both Ceuta and Melilla in what is known as the Reconquista - the military campaign to evict the Muslims from what is now Spain and Portugal.

Live Story

After its independence, Morocco has continued to demand their return, along with four other smaller territories in the Mediterranean, located along the narrow strait of Gibraltar.

Today, Spain categorically rejects any talk of negotiation between the two cities, insisting that they have been Spanish for more than five centuries and are an integral part of the Spanish state.

Morocco's pursuit to regain control of Ceuta and Melilla has been lukewarm, with only Rabat's B-listers speaking on the matter. The palace and the government tend to not wade into this conversation. 

This complaint-correspondence between the new allies marks the first public high-level talk on the situation of the enclaves.

The recent friction between Rabat and Madrid also coincides with a national crisis in Spain. 

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is in hot water after his Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and its junior ally, Podemos, lost ground in the municipal elections in the country. After the results, Sanchez decided to dissolve the parliament and announced an early election on 23 June.

Live Story

"These results suggest Spaniards should clarify which political forces they want to take the lead," Sánchez said, adding that it was time to let the people "take the floor and define the country's political direction."

This bold move leaves Sanchez with a very short timeframe to reverse his current political misfortunes and seduce disenchanted leftists and moderate voters.

Last February, Sanchez shifted Madrid's long-standing neutral policy vis-a-vis its former colony Western Sahara by supporting Morocco's autonomy plan for the territory.

Sanchez's policy shift ended a year of bitter diplomatic rifts with Rabat, however, it took a stroke on the politician's socialist legacy driving people from his coalition to openly oppose his decision.

Last February, Madrid and Rabat agreed to avoid "everything that we know offends the other party as far as our respective spheres of sovereignty are concerned", as indicated by Sanchez at the time.