Spanish FM travels to Brussels to discuss crisis with Algeria

MADRID (AP): Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares traveled to Brussels Friday to discuss Spain´s crisis with Algeria, after the north African country suspended a two-decade-old friendship treaty, potentially freezing trade between the two countries.

The suspension was the latest move by Algeria to put pressure on Madrid after the Spanish government changed its long-standing policy regarding the contested territory of Western Sahara.

Albares canceled a planned trip to Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas to meet with European Commission executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis.

“Spain wants to recover the relationship we have with Algeria as soon as possible,” Minister of the Presidency Felix Bolaños told reporters Friday.

The European Union on Thursday urged Algeria to reverse its decision.

Bolaños said that Algeria and Spain were Mediterranean neighbors and share commercial, cultural and economic ties.

Spain’s big worry has been that the suspension might affect important gas supplies from Algeria, but Bolaños said that so far this has not happened.

“At this moment there is no data, information or indication that this is going to affect the gas supply,” said Bolaños. Algeria supplies 23% of Spain’s gas needs.

Industry ministry figures show Spain exported some 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in goods to Algeria last year while it imports were valued at nearly 5 billion euros.

Algeria recalled its ambassador to Spain in March after Madrid came out in support of Morocco’s pretensions to keep Western Sahara under its rule.

Algeria supports the territory’s independence movement from rival Morocco.

Spain was the colonial power in Western Sahara until it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, neighbors Algeria and Morocco have been at odds over the fate of the region, at one point fighting a desert war.

Algeria’s openly hostile turn against a member of the European Union comes while Spain and the rest of the 27-nation bloc are hustling to find alternatives to Russian energy imports to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine.

European Commission spokeswoman Nabila Massrali told reporters Thursday that the treaty decision is “deeply worrying, and we therefore call on the Algerian authorities to review their decision.

“Algeria is an important European Union partner in the Mediterranean (region), and a key actor for regional stability,” Massrali said. “We are evaluating the impact of the decision, and solutions must be found through dialogue and diplomatic means.”

The practical impact of the diplomatic move is yet to be seen, although Algeria has reportedly ordered its national bank to stop facilitating payments with Spain, which could disrupt trade.