Melilla: The Southern Border of the European Union

On June 18, 2014, INCIPE organized a Work Breakfast under the heading, Melilla: The Southern Border of the European Union, which focused on the issues that the border city is facing. José María López Bueno, the President of FHIMADES (Melilla), was the guest speaker for this dissertation.

The Autonomous City of Melilla, which has more than 80,000 inhabitants, is one of the overseas territories of Spain. Despite the good relations between Morocco and Spain, drastic differences between the two countries are notorious. In fact, the border with Melilla is considered one of the most unequal border crossing sites in the world. The difference in GDP in terms of purchasing power is 5.47 (while the U.S. with Mexico is 3.41 and Greece with Albania is 2.53). The nominal GDP of Spain is 14 times the Moroccan nominal GDP.

Despite the high flow of people across the border, the existing immigration in Melilla nomadic and most do not want to stay in town. Rather, their ultimate goal is to join the European Union. The migration issue was not the main focus at the meeting, but José María López Bueno noted that in Melilla, fifty percent of the population is of Berber origin and Muslim. There is a seamless integration between all ethnic groups in the city. At this point, the speaker highlighted the exponential growth of the population in Melilla (in 2000 it had 66,000 inhabitants and in the 2013 census the number jumped to 83 000). Melilla has become an outlet for the people of northern Morocco.

Regarding the socio-economic field, Melilla is a significant transit space in relation to freight. The figures used in millions of euros annually are highly variable. Morocco is estimated to be worth about 1500 million, which is a disproportionate number as two billion is the total consumption of Melilla. More realistic studies in Spain estimate it to be about 350 million euros. More goods cross the border to Morocco and are usually everyday consumer products. An important part of its price is intended to pay for border officials. It is estimated that 6.5 million people and 3.7 million vehicles cross the border annually.

However, it is important to note that about 4 000 employees are under the status of commuters, with all the rights and duties of Spanish employees. An estimated 95 million per year out of the income of the Melilla border to the Moroccan territories, represents approximately 2.47% of the GDP of the adjacent Moroccan province. This economic boost corresponds mainly with the marked border workers with porters, mark-up, and healthcare. Hence, some sources indicate that Ceuta and Melilla are engines the economy of northern Morocco.

This situation makes it more vital than ever for a true European neighbourhood policy. There is a lack of agreement between the two Governments, which renders them unable to develop a plan. Overall, 200 million euros have been lost for improving relations and joint plans. Given this situation two plans have been proposed: the Atlantic plan is oriented to the area of the Canary Islands, and the Mediterranean plan deals with Ceuta and Melilla. In the words of the speaker, “We’ll see if the present situation will thaw.” The main objective to be pursued by all political European Neighbours is the economic, social and environmental promotion of regional borders, but as a bilateral action as opposed to a spontaneous action.

After the dissertation, there were numerous questions and issues that arose during the debate. The situation of Melilla in regards to the military was brought up, noting that half of Melilla Armed Forces are Muslim. There is a high rate of women in the army, because of the limited professional opportunities that Muslim women have in the area.

Other issues discussed were the infrastructure of Melilla for health and transport to the mainland, the use of pressure elements by the Moroccan Government, and cross-border cooperation.

Alexandra Rosen

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