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Europe’s Balancing Act in Western Sahara
Europe’s Balancing Act in Western Sahara

Europe’s Balancing Act in Western Sahara

Hugh Pope is joined by North Africa experts Intissar Fakir and Riccardo Fabiani to ask whether Morocco holds a winning hand in its conflict with the pro-independence Polisario Front in Western Sahara as Europe looks on timidly, wary of direct challenges to the regional power. 

Exactly a year ago, in November 2020, an old conflict on the south-western edge of Europe burst back into flames. After almost 30 years of ceasefire, the pro-independence Polisario Front and Morocco went back to battle stations in Western Sahara. European states have so far taken a timid stance in response, preferring not to involve themselves in another intractable conflict. Nonetheless, the new focus on Western Sahara is unsettling many relationships, particularly with Morocco. For its part, the Kingdom has taken a hardline response to even the most limited of criticisms: Rabat’s ambassador to Germany was even recalled after a public spat in May. A recent verdict from the European Court of Justice excluding Sahrawi goods and fish from a trade deal risks further ratcheting up tensions. So, how will conflict in Western Sahara affect Europe’s relations with Morocco? 

This week, Hugh Pope is joined by Intissar Fakir, Director of the Middle East Institute’s North Africa and Sahel Program, and Riccardo Fabiani, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for North Africa. They discuss Morocco’s successful hardball strategy, the Polisario’s desperate gambit, Rabat’s troubled alliance with Spain and France, and the ramifications of the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty. They ask whether Europe’s arms-length stance is another example of regional powers flexing ever-growing influence at the expense of the “big players” in the Old Continent’s capitals.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information explore Crisis Group’s work on Europe, Morocco, and Western Sahara, by checking out the regional pages on the left hand side of our website. Make sure to take a look at our recent report ‘Relaunching Negotiations’. 

Contributors

Director of Communications & Outreach
Hugh_Pope
Project Director, North Africa
ricfabiani
Intissar Fakir
Senior Fellow and Director of Program on North Africa and Sahel, Middle East Institute