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The hapless Brussels-led European Union is facing yet another major foreign policy backfiring catastrophe. Algeria, which is a major exporter of fossil fuels to Europe like Russia, is turning against the European Union. The government in Algeria, supported by President Tebboune, has decided not to renew a key partnership treaty with the pro-Washington Spanish regime. The major North African trading partner has frozen trade relations with Europe. It gets worse: the North African country could cut natural gas supplies to Spain, a move that could send already rising gas prices and inflation even higher for Europeans reeling from sticker shock.
With friends like Brussels the 27 nations of Europe don’t need enemies: On top of all these issues, there is the threat of illegal immigration from Algeria, which like Libya under NATO overthrown Colonel Ghaddafi is a major launch point for migrants from Africa seeking to reach Europe.
On June 8 alone, 113 migrants from African countries landed on the island of Mallorca, a record number this year. Madrid fears that Algeria is using illegal migration as a political means to negotiate with Spain and the European Union.
With over half of the young people of Africa seeking to emigrate and signs that a looming food crisis could push Africans to reach Europe by any means possible, Algeria knows it has a substantial bargaining chip. Morocco used the same strategy last year when it opened its borders and allowed several thousand refugees to enter the Spanish exclave of Ceuta.
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However, perhaps the most sensitive spot for the EU is energy. Algeria is showing signs it may wield natural gas as a tool to get its way. Algeria is the second-largest natural gas supplier to Spain, covering about a quarter of its consumption. Across the EU, Algeria supplies approximately a tenth of the bloc’s gas needs. Last November, the country shut flows through the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline (MEG), which runs through Morocco to Cordoba in Spain’s Andalusia and has a capacity of 12 billion cubic meters of gas yearly.
Algeria, which has aligned itself with Russia and refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has its reasons for pursuing a more aggressive strategy against Spain and the EU.
Algeria fiercely disagrees with the position of Spain, which urged on by Washington supports Morocco in the dispute over Western Sahara, according to a report from Czech news outlet Tydenikhrot. Madrid occupied this territory until 1975 when Rabat (Moroccan capital) annexed it.
The Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, also claims the desert area as its territory. In March, the Spanish government, led by the far-left Pedro Sánchez, dropped its previous stance of neutrality in the dispute and supported Morocco’s demands to make Western Sahara an autonomous region.
The move created a great wave of resentment in Algeria. President Tebboune halted an agreement to repatriate thousands of refugees from Europe back to Africa. Later, the state gas and oil company Sonatrach announced that it was raising gas prices for Spain. The state-owned company also signalled it would deepen its cooperation with Russian giant Gazprom on new gas projects in Africa.
Spain’s latest steps are likely to lead to an estrangement of relations with Algeria at a time when this is not desirable due to the war in Ukraine. The Spanish newspaper El País even writes about a new frontline being created on the southern border of Europe.
The European Commission also took part in the diplomatic battle, warning Algeria the bloc would impose sanctions if it imposed a Spanish trade blockade. Tebboune subsequently promised that the contracted gas supplies to Spain would continue; however, the EU is increasingly worried about whether the government will keep its promise.
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