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Immigration, energy… Between France and Spain, a treaty to iron out disagreements

By proposing to Spain to sign an agreement “of friendship and enhanced cooperation” with France, Thursday, January 19, in Barcelona, ​​the Elysée had great difficulty in giving a historical meaning to the event. “We weren’t going to apologize for the Napoleonic invasion!”, smiles historian Benoît Pellistrandi, expert on Spain.

The “friendship and enhanced cooperation” agreement between France and Spain, which will be signed this Thursday, January 19 in Barcelona, ​​at the Palau Nacional de Montjuïc, on the highest hill in the Catalan capital, is primarily intended to iron out the dissensions that have accumulated in recent years on both sides of the Pyrenees.

On the migration issue, things have been stuck since the closure of six of the 39 border posts, following the Nice attack in July 2016. Madrid is pleading for a total reopening but the Treaty of Barcelona does not yet give it satisfaction. Paris agrees to a gradual lifting of the barriers but prefers, beforehand, to put in place better police coordination to control arrivals from outside the community. “The Pyrenees remain the Pyrenees”, observes with spite the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia.

Another dispute: interconnections in the energy and rail sectors. Since he became president, Emmanuel Macron has opposed the construction of the MidCat gas pipeline between Barcelona and Carcassonne, considering that France would find no advantage in it. “Madrid is protesting against a deliberate blockade intended to protect French nuclear energy when the challenge for Spain is to be able to export energy to the rest of Europe”, recalls Albert Borràs, doctoral student at the French Institute of geopolitics.

In reality, the energy shock caused by the war in Ukraine has already given rise to a plan B: on December 9, at the summit of the southern countries of the European Union, in Alicante, Emmanuel Macron and Pedro Sanchez, President of the Spanish government , kicked off an underwater “green” hydrogen pipeline, between Barcelona and Marseille.

In the railway, it is the impasse. Seen from Madrid, the SNCF does not play the game of competition. Since the spring of 2021, the French company has been running Ouigo TGVs between Madrid and Barcelona. In September 2022, it started on the Madrid-Alicante line, and this year it plans to run on Madrid-Seville. Conversely, its Hispanic counterpart, Renfe, has still not obtained authorization to bring its trains to Paris. Worse, in December, the SNCF put an end to the collaboration between the two operators on the TGV France-Spain.

“France needs Italy and Spain by its side”

Trifles, says historian Benoît Pellistrandi: “The friendship treaty completes a process of deepening relations. It’s as if our two countries were in concubinage and ended up getting married”. The old method aims to restore luster to French diplomacy. The Barcelona Treaty is inspired by the famous Elysée Treaty which ratified Franco-German reconciliation in 1963. Already in 2021, a text of the same ilk was signed with Italy.

“Since Brexit, France has needed Italy and Spain at its side to counterbalance the countries of the North”, notes the historian. This approach is facilitated by a sincere understanding between Macron and Sanchez. The two men belong to the same generation (they are respectively 45 and 50 years old) and unlike their predecessors, they speak to each other without an interpreter, in English.

On the ideological level, it is more complicated. In Madrid, the Socialist Party governs with the radical left, Podemos and the Communists, the Iberian equivalent of La France Insoumise. In addition, Spain “has lost its inferiority complex and currently considers itself in a better position than Paris, where the demonstrations against the pension reform are starting”, according to Xavier Arbós Marin, professor at the Faculty of Political Science. from Barcelona.

According to Isabel Rodríguez, spokesperson for the Spanish government, the Barcelona Treaty is “a cause for celebration” which underlines “the close ties” uniting the two countries. For Moncloa, the friendship treaty has a related interest. By signing him in Barcelona, ​​the Spanish leader wants to put an end to the Catalan crisis that erupted during the abortive declaration of independence in October 2017. “The idea is to show the autonomous government of Catalonia that we associated again with major acts of state”, explains Benoît Pellistrandi. Its president, Pere Aragones, must also attend the ceremony, while the toughest separatists had to take to the streets to protest against what they consider to be a takeover.

Source : BBN NEWS

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