On Monday, on the occasion of the 240th anniversary of Morocco’s diplomatic relations with Vienna, Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) traveled to the North African country as the first Austrian Chancellor. On Tuesday, Nehammer agreed to cooperate with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in the fight against people smugglers and rapid returns.
Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP), who accompanied Nehammer to Morocco, met his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit on Tuesday to talk about improving return cooperation. A joint working group is to quickly implement the agreements reached by the heads of government. A trip by an Austrian expert delegation led by Gerald Tatzgern, head of the anti-smuggling department at the Federal Criminal Police Office, is also planned.
Morocco is one of the countries with which the European Union has been negotiating a readmission agreement for rejected asylum seekers for years without success. According to the Federal Chancellery, Austria is the number one destination for Moroccan citizens within the EU. In 2022, around 22,000 asylum applications from Morocco were registered within the EU, 39 percent of them in Austria (8,470 applications). They apparently get to Austria via Turkey, which allows Moroccans to enter the country without a visa, and the so-called Balkan route. Most travel on – according to the media, mostly to Germany, France or Spain. Only a few hundred are in the Austrian basic supply.
It is important for the Moroccan side that, according to the joint declaration, Austria regards the autonomy plan for the conflict region of Western Sahara presented by Morocco in 2007 as a “serious and credible contribution” to the political process led by the United Nations and as the basis for a solution accepted by all parties. Several Moroccan newspapers quoted this passage on their online portals on Tuesday.
In the mid-1970s, Morocco incorporated Western Sahara, which had been abandoned by the Spanish colonial rulers, but this was not recognized internationally. As a result, the Polisario liberation movement, supported by Algeria, was formed. Morocco is committed to making Western Sahara an autonomous province under Moroccan sovereignty.
Akhannouch called bilateral relations “friendly” in a joint press conference with Nehammer. He advocated strengthening cooperation between countries in various areas. Above all, Nehammer mentioned cooperation in economic cooperation and in security issues such as the fight against illegal migration and terrorism. Regular meetings of the institutions are planned, Nehammer told journalists. Austria will also “continue to use its role as a bridge builder in the European Union”. On the one hand, to “make visible” Morocco’s concerns. Above all, however, “Morocco’s competence, knowledge and experience” should be used “when it comes to strengthening and expanding the European Union’s policy towards Africa”.
Nehammer will also be accompanied on his trip by Foreign Office Secretary General Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal and a high-ranking business delegation. Launsky-Tieffenthal initialed another agreement together with the Moroccan foreign minister. “The agreement that has now been negotiated makes it possible for Moroccan criminals convicted in Austria to serve their sentences at home,” said Nehammer, according to his spokeswoman. As of November 1, 2022, 59 prison inmates held Moroccan nationality.
A visit to the Austrian company Hirschmann Automotives is planned for Wednesday afternoon. The company manufactures electronic components for the automotive industry in Morocco and employs more than 2,000 people locally.
“In addition to security policy issues, Morocco is also an important partner with great potential, especially for economic cooperation,” said Nehammer. “The Kingdom of Morocco is a beacon of hope in the field of renewable energy when it comes to producing green hydrogen and thus important energy for Europe.” A huge solar and wind power plant is also currently under construction in Morocco, which is to be connected to Great Britain via an undersea power cable in order to cover the energy needs of seven million households there by 2030.
Austrian exports to Morocco increased by 37.7 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year and reached 179.9 million euros. The trading volume that year was EUR 366.4 million. Morocco is the first country to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on a “Green Partnership” with the EU. The focus is on climate and energy issues, the environment including marine and maritime issues, and the green economy. This initiative should also become a model partnership for further cooperation with African countries.
Austria is one of the first countries with which Morocco formally established diplomatic relations. 240 years ago, on February 28, 1783, Morocco and the Habsburg Empire took it up by appointing Mohamed Ben Abdelmalek as ambassador to the then Sultan Moulay Mohamed III. presented his credentials to Emperor Joseph II in Vienna. A friendship treaty followed, which provided for, among other things, trade facilitation. In 1829, however, there were armed conflicts when the Austrian Navy responded to the capture of a merchant ship by bombing three Moroccan commercial ports. At the end of the 19th century, Austria-Hungary took part in European great power politics in Morocco, which had become a protectorate of France and Spain. During the Second World War, numerous Moroccans fought in the units of the French army for the liberation of Austria and were then also part of the occupation troops in Tyrol and Vorarlberg.
Morocco was only able to shake off French paternalism in the mid-1950s. Austria has again had an ambassador in Rabat since the mid-1960s. Morocco opened an embassy in Vienna in 1981. Around 200 Austrians living abroad live in Morocco. The country is also visited by several thousand Austrian tourists a year.