“Strait of Gibraltar: between Europe and Africa”, on Arte: a coveted rock at the crossroads of two continents, two oceans and three countries

Summarizing the complexity of the geopolitical issues surrounding the Strait of Gibraltar in thirty-five minutes was a challenge

“Strait of Gibraltar: between Europe and Africa”, on Arte: a coveted rock at the crossroads of two continents, two oceans and three countries

Summarizing the complexity of the geopolitical issues surrounding the Strait of Gibraltar in thirty-five minutes was a challenge. Journalist Emilie Aubry noted this in a special issue of “Dessous des Cartes” devoted to this sensitive maritime corridor. At the crossroads of Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, it is the scene of major migratory, commercial and military movements.

The journey begins at the southern tip of Spain, on a Spanish rescue boat, responsible for monitoring its territorial waters. From Tarifa, the coasts of Morocco stand out on the horizon, very close. Here, just 14 kilometers separate the two continents.

Although the crossings of would-be immigrants have decreased since the sad record of 2018, when nearly 25,000 migrants were rescued by the Spanish coast guard, the latter still assist around a thousand people per year , mainly of North African origin. Sub-Saharan migrants have, for their part, taken the more dangerous Canary route since Morocco strengthened controls on the strait.

On board the ferry which connects the industrial port of Algeciras and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the Moroccan coast in one hour, Emilie Aubry encounters cargo ships and oil tankers. Nearly a hundred thousand boats cross the strait each year to connect the major trade routes between Asia, America and Europe, as well as a thousand military ships, mainly from the Frontex agency, but also American ones leaving from their base in Rota, near Cádiz. Not to mention probable international submarines.

In the upscale streets of the tiny and surprising territory of Gibraltar, which has belonged to the British Crown since 1704, and where fish-and-chips rub shoulders with paella restaurants, she addresses the consequences of Brexit, which the inhabitants rejected by 96%.

A weapon of “blackmail”

Through interviews and with the help of numerous maps, the program returns to the state of migratory routes in the Mediterranean, but also to authoritarian excesses in Tunisia, or to the consequences of the pandemic and tensions in the Red Sea on trade routes.

The migration issue is seen by the actors of the geopolitical magazine sometimes as an advantage for an aging Europe, sometimes as a flow to be stemmed. But it is also a weapon of “blackmail” used by Morocco, recalls a professor of international relations, Jesus Verdu, whatever the delegate of the Spanish government in the enclave, Cristina Perez, says, for whom “the relationship [between Rabat and Madrid] is excellent”. In 2021, Morocco opened its doors to smuggle more than ten thousand people into the Spanish enclave and thus force Spain to recognize the sovereignty of the Shereef kingdom over Western Sahara.

Interest in this strategic crossing point explains why three countries are vying for control of the Strait of Gibraltar. Morocco has never renounced its claims to the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, Europe's only land borders in Africa. Neither does Spain, in the British territory of Gibraltar. As for the United States, they did not choose at random the location in the Strait of their Rota base, a legacy of the Cold War, in 1953, where more than three thousand American soldiers live today...