Which city is better Ceuta or Melilla

Ceuta shows how open to blackmail the EU has become

There are pithy words that Margaritis Schinas chooses in an interview on Spanish radio: Europe will not be "intimidated" by anyone and will "not be a victim of such tactics". The Vice President of the EU Commission is referring to the thousands of migrants who swam from Morocco to the Spanish exclave of Ceuta - which in such large numbers was only possible because the Moroccan security forces let them pass, unlike in agreements with Spain and the EU detained.

Alberto-Horst Neidhardt considers the words of EU Commissioner Schinas to be "sad irony". Because it is the EU itself that - especially since the major migratory movements in 2015 - has outsourced control of the Union's external borders to other states, says the analyst at the European Policy Center (EPC), a think tank in Brussels.

The Spanish exclave - and Moroccan enclave - Ceuta are surrounded by high fences

If these states do not like the actions of the EU or an EU country, they could reciprocate by no longer controlling the borders - as is now the case with Ceuta. "The tragic human dimension of this political power game is that migrants and asylum seekers have to serve as bargaining chips," said Neidhardt.

Blanca Garcés, migration researcher at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB) describes the events in Ceuta as a "warning" to put more pressure on the Spanish government and the EU. "The idea is to show what could happen if Morocco were to stop control of the Spanish border and thus also the external border of the EU," says Garcés.

Morocco has so far been considered a model example

It is nothing new that people from Morocco and other parts of Africa are trying to get to Ceuta - or Spain's second exclave in North Africa: Melilla. The two cities are remnants of the Spanish colonial era and the only land border between the EU and the African continent.

Morocco was actually seen as a model example when it comes to cooperation in the area of ​​migration, says Alberto-Horst Neidhardt from the EPC in Brussels. "The events of the past few days paint a much more mixed picture."

The fact that so many migrants made their way this time is due on the one hand to the catastrophic economic situation in the region bordering Ceuta. The other reason is a diplomatic conflict between the Spanish and Moroccan governments. The dispute is about the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco claims for itself. Because Spain is treating the leader of the independence movement, Frente Polisario, the Moroccan minister for human rights, Mustapha Ramid, accused Madrid in a Facebook post of taking the side of the Polisario front.

A spokesman for the EU Commission made it clear this week that the EU's position on the Western Sahara question has not changed. Accordingly, the European Union regards the Western Sahara as a sovereign territory without self-government and supports the process of the United Nations, which should lead to a final status. This EU position has remained the same for years - and was not influenced by the decision of former US President Donald Trump to recognize Morocco's claim to Western Sahara.

The Moroccan government is unlikely to succeed in changing the EU's stance. But you can use migrants again and again as bargaining chip, says Blanca Garcés of CIDOB. "That is the price the EU pays because it puts its borders in the hands of neighboring countries."

Garcés considers the situation in Ceuta to be comparable to that on the Turkish-Greek border at the beginning of 2020. The main difference is that Turkey used refugees as political leverage, Morocco mainly uses its own nationals.

In the past few days, high-level EU representatives have heard that there are talks with Rabat. The Spaniard Josep Borrell, who is responsible for foreign policy, said he was sure that solutions would be found in terms of cooperation. His colleague, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, who is responsible for migration, described it as the most important task that Morocco prevents further irregular departures.

The EU depends on Morocco for migration

A spokeswoman for the EU Commission referred to currently 346 million euros in EU funds that would have been approved for various projects in Morocco - among other things, to fight people smugglers and to help migrants on site.

A diver with the Spanish Civil Guard rescues a baby from the water on May 18, 2021

It is extremely unlikely that the European Union will cut such payments in response to Ceuta. "We still have to wait and see whether the events affect mutual trust," says Alberto-Horst Neidhardt from the European Policy Center in Brussels. "However, there is a great deal of interest on both sides in re-establishing a mutually beneficial cooperation with regard to migration, but also other areas."

In the whole debate about Ceuta, the EU Commission always likes to refer to its migration pact presented in autumn 2020. An important building block of the proposal is to work more closely with neighboring countries to prevent illegal entry into the EU. So Ceuta could be a harbinger of what is to come.