When the Shoe is on the Other Territory


In 2007, the Spanish King and Queen traveled for the first time during their entire reign to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, located in Morocco. When Morocco officially expressed its discomfort with the visit, temporarily suspending diplomatic relations with Spain, the Spanish government and press fully and unapologetically defended the trip.

The Spanish press pulled out every argument in the book: Ceuta and Melilla were Spanish prior to the establishment of the modern Moroccan state and before the Alouite reign, were there a referendum in the two cities the citizens would overwhelming vote in favor of Spanish rule, etc. The government argued that as the cities were Spanish territories the royal family had every right and the obligation to visit their land and subjects; thus totally ignoring local sensitivities, as these lands have been regularly contested, sometimes violently, since the 15th Century. In yet another classic example of the Zapatero government’s verbal ineptitude (see the most recent), Spanish foreign minister Moratinos, against his government’s fundamental argument, repeatedly referred to King Juan Carlos’ trip to Morocco, not Spain.

Flash forward to today, and the shoe is on the other foot. This time it is Gibraltar and a member of the British royal family has traveled to that British rock in Spain. And guess who’s crying now? That’s right, the Spanish government has expressed its official discomfort with the visit, claiming that it was both unfortunate and offensive to the sensitivities of Spaniards. Sound familiar?

That is precisely the argument that the Moroccan government made to Spain — essentially a diplomatic appeal rather than a legal claim. Even though the Spanish press made it seem like Moroccans were protesting in mass numbers – which they were not — by permitting the Spanish King and Queen to travel to Ceuta and Melilla, the Moroccan government was put in a difficult domestic political bind, obliging it make a gesture that would at least mitigate any sense of injured nationalism. Nevertheless, the Spanish government completely ignored Morocco’s petition against the visit. So, should the British government be held to a different diplomatic standard in Gibraltar than the Spanish government in Ceuta and Melilla?



Filed under Essays, Living la vida española

13 responses to “When the Shoe is on the Other Territory

  1. Steve

    Well can you guess what I think?

    Of course the Spanish are being hypocrytical about this (especially since they ceded Gibralter to the UK) and the UK should obviously ignore their protests.

    Until the people of Gibralter want to change their staus i can see no reason why they should! Same goes for Ceuta and Melilla as well of course.

    Cue irate responses from Spaniards….I am used to this, I’ll get the same from my wife and parent’s in law at the weekend so it’ll be good practice 🙂

  2. eric

    I am, definitely, waiting to see if I will get any irate answers.

    The obvious pitfall, though, with the “will of the people” argument, prevalent in the Spanish justification for Ceuta and Melilla is that it (i) fortifies the British claims over Gibraltar and (ii) could potentially rationalize calls for referendum in favor of independence is say Catalunya or Pais Vasco.

    But regardless of legal claims to the territories, I think that the diplomatic ones are the strongest against these “official” visits.

  3. Steve

    But you see, if I really thought that the majority of the people in Catalunya or the Pais Vasco wanted independance I’d be in favour of granting it (same goes for Scotland, Ireland etc) but they never have been. Most people realise that it would be economic suicide.

  4. eric

    Exactly, the problem is one side asks for the referendum but never really wants it for fear of losing, while the other side would win but politically cannot allow for one for fear that it would open the door to the loser constantly asking for more referendums or chain reaction from other regions.

  5. emilio

    Desde el punto de vista legal, Gibraltar es considerado por la ONU como territorio colonial, mientras que Ceuta y Melilla no.

    Seguramente un referendum sería bueno, en caso de pedirlo la población, pero dudo mucho que quisieran pertenecer a Marruecos, tal vez me equivoque.

    Para España las dos ciudades autónomas tienen un valor estratégico, además del argumento histórico que tú das en el post, lo mismo que para UK el peñon de Gibraltar, pero… :-).

    En cuanto a la independencia de Cataluña y País Vasco, sería dificil que el resto de Europa lo apoyase, porque podría haber un efecto dominó con la Bretaña francesa, Corsega, Escocia, Irlanda del Norte, Flandes y/o Valonia, etc.. Además que esto iría en contra de la misma esencia o espíritu de lo que es la Unión Europea.

  6. steve

    Something like taht happened with Scotland in the 70’s, they had a referendum (non-binding)the independance parties lost and things quietened down for at least 15 years. High risk strategy though….

    Also it begs the question, who gets the right to vote. Only people living and registered to vote in the Pais Vasco? What about all the people who choose/had toleave because of the violence, don’t they have a right to speak as well? What about immigrants to the area? It’s a tricky one for sure. With Scotland it’s a clearer case as it is a country that voluntarily joined a union…of course the same was true of the confederate states and we all know how that one ended….

  7. Borja

    Eric, if you want to increase comments on your blog just say so, don’t write over a sensitive subject and then practically beg for irate comments…

    I am awful at history, but If I am not mistaken Gibraltar was taken by the british during the secession war in Spain, not given as Steve implies.

    In any case the only big difference that I see, is that the UK and Spain are partners in the EU, something which Morocco is not. On the rest I pretty much agree with what you say.

  8. eric


    That is exactly what I intended (and what I believe Steve was trying to aid and abet), so thank you for taking the bait.

    Spain did give it away by Treaty after the war, but of course such concessions are always more coercive than anything else, just like the latter Treaties of Fez and Algeciras where European states decided how they wanted to control Morocco.

  9. eric


    Como Ceuta y Melilla son — bien como dices — comunidades autónomas, entonces no debería ser el Árabe lengua co-oficial de España? Recuerdo que el CiU tuvo esta dilema cuando quiso pedir a la UE que el catalán fuera lengua oficial — es que la misma lógica a favor del catalán se hubiera tenido que aplicar al Árabe por Ceuta y Melilla, y ya sabes como eso les sentaba a la parte ultra-cristiana del partido…

    En fin, pueden haber argumentos legales para mantener estos terrenos, aunque procedan de partes de la historia europea curiosas. Sin embargo en lo diplomático y moral los argumentos de España y Marruecos son totalmente idénticos.

  10. Steve


    As Eric said Gibralter wes ceded in perpetuity to the UK as part of the treaty and yes, that is coercive but sadly coercien works…it’s worked for Spain and against it at various times.


    si, es cierto que legalmente Gibralter es un territorio colonial y estoy de acuerdo con tus comentarios que Europa no apoyara independencia en Catalunia o el Pais Vasco. Para que queda claro, no soy en favor de la independencia pero si es lo que quiere la populacion (cosa que no creo) hay que respetarlo.


    Me, aiding and abetting with controvesry….how dare you suggest such a thing 😉

  11. “Social progression” “social evolution” “higher moral ground” “global awareness” “enlightened perspective” … laff.

    The hominid is as it has ever been.

    Ethereal lines in the sand and claiming “rights” and “offense” at the most trivial of instances.

    On the plus side though, it is good to see that for all the touting of virtues of “the higher ground” preached by EU countries about the lowly U.S. political state of affairs ~ their politiking is equally inane, deceptive and the actions and agendas don’t ever come equal.

  12. Thomas

    We Irish know plenty about how the British got their people into Ireland in the 17th century by what was called “planatation of Ulster”.They even attempted genocide in Ireland in the mid 17th century, under Cromwell who did his butchery there. The brought colonisers from London and Scotland. As for Ceuta and Melilla, Did Spain conquer them from Morocco? How could it have since Morocco didn’t even exist?
    What a pity that the weather was unfavorable to the Spanish Armada and they were unable to take the Tercio troops from Flanders to England. It is very likely that history would have taken another course.
    I have noticed the British stiff upper lip arrogance on arriving in Gibralter. They no longer have an “Empire”. Thank God. Have a look at the messes they left around the world. Gibraltar has nothing to do with Catalan and Basque nationalism. In any case, on 16% of the Catalans want independence, and of course, they seem to think that the rest of Spain will still finance them. That is, neither want real independence or to pay their own bills.

  13. Steve

    No Thomas, Morocco didn’t exist but then neither did a united sate of Ireland….does this make that conquest acceptable? Thought not.

    Would history have taken another course if the Spanish Armada had worked – sure, but looking at the Spanish Genocides in Latin America it’s hard to tell whether it would have been any better. At the end of the day all the colonial powers left a huge mess.

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