have recently begun to crack down
on Islamist militants in its exclaves Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. In an email interview, Gerry O’Reilly
, senior lecturer in geography and international affairs at St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, discussed Spanish policy toward both autonomous territories.
WPR: What is Spain's logic for maintaining its two North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla?
: Spain maintains the exclaves for historical and security reasons: Spain acquired these territories as part of the 15th-century “Reconquista” crusade. Spain’s security imperative remained with Ceuta given its geostrategic importance, as it faces the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar on Spain’s coast and is useful for monitoring transit between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. When Spain joined NATO in 1982 and the precursor to the European Union in 1986, Ceuta and Melilla were included as part of Spain’s membership.
Spain’s argument for maintaining sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla cites the territorial integrity of the state principles of U.N. Resolution 1514 and U.N. Resolution 1541 on self-determination, saying the majority of citizens there do not want the decolonization of their territory. The 1978 Spanish Constitution asserts the status of the exclaves and the army's duty to defend them. The same constitutional position applies to three minor, largely uninhabited Spanish territories just off the Moroccan coast. Sovereignty over these territories entitles Spain to legal maritime zones under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, giving Spain power and potential economic benefits.
Ceuta and Melilla, which together measure 12 square miles, are constitutionally autonomous cities and function as garrison towns and ferry ports, as well as fishing, trading and smuggling centers. Together they have a civilian population of 146,000 people and are home to 20,000-27,000 military forces. Ceuta, which is 7.3 square miles, ranks among Spain’s major ports, with a population of 76,000 citizens, including 15,000 Muslims, and large number of asylum seekers. Melilla, which is 4.6 square miles, lies 124 miles east of Ceuta and has an official population of 69,440 people, though estimates place the total population at closer to 80,000.
WPR: What are the main current policy challenges the exclaves pose to the Spanish government?
: The exclaves are subject to EU laws and U.N. conventions to which Spain is party, including those related to asylum seekers and refugees, which entail huge humanitarian and security budgets. The location of Ceuta and Melilla gives the EU a land and maritime border with Morocco and North Africa’s larger illegal migration routes. Security fences around Ceuta and Melilla have not stemmed flows of people trying to enter Europe. For jihadist organizations, the exclaves offer an opportunity to penetrate mainland Spain and the rest of Europe in order to perpretrate attacks resembling the 2004 Madrid bombings. Nonetheless, the exclaves offer enhanced international security for transiting the Strait of Gibraltar.
WPR: What has been the impact of these policy challenges on Spain's relationship with Morocco and North Africa more broadly?
: Morocco has never renounced its claims to Ceuta and Melilla, citing U.N. decolonization and territorial integrity principles as well as claiming that the Spanish military bases pose a security threat to it. All Arab, Muslim and African organizations support Morocco’s calls for decolonization.
Spain and Morocco have positive relations, but they have come under strain due to increasing humanitarian and security incidents with illegal immigrants trying to get through the Spanish security fences.