Moroccan – German Relations Started more than five Centuries ago
September 22nd, 2009
Since his accession to the throne in July 1999, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has initiated a great number of political, social, and economic reforms. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the King’s accession to the throne, ARAB FORUM talked to H. E. Mr. Rachad Bouhlal, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco in Germany, about the progress and future development in his county and about Morocco’s relations with Germany and the European Union.
ARAB FORUM: Excellency, this year Morocco is celebrating the 10th year of His Majesty King Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne. Which are the most important reforms launched since then?
Bouhlal: Since his accession to the throne in July 1999, His Majesty King Mohammed VI has launched important political, economic and social reforms, which allowed Morocco to step into the 21st century with confidence.
For the emancipation of women, for example; His Majesty has initiated a new approach and a new vision by reforming the status of women through the revision of the family law. This reform is considered as a cultural and social revolution in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
According to this new law, the family is now under the responsibility of the two spouses. The patriarchal supervision concerning marriages of women has been abolished. For marriage, both genders should have reached the age of 18. Repudiation has been suppressed and replaced by divorce under judiciary control. For the first time, on the other hand, women are nominated to the council of oulemas (theological council). It is also now possible for women to become preachers (“morchidades”). Finally, following the legislative elections in September 2007, the new government includes seven women ministers in key departments, such as foreign affairs, health, culture, energy, mining and environment, social development, youth and sports and education.
Concerning the human rights issue, His Majesty the King installed in January 2004 the Equity and Reconciliation Authority, which is in charge of establishing the truth of charges of human rights violations from independence to 1999. Within the framework of its mandate, the Authority sets up victims hearing, missions of inspection, inquiries, investigation and arbitration. Furthermore, a national program of education on human rights has been introduced in school manuals.
The judiciary system has also been modernized to fit within international conventions. A law condemning torture has been adopted.
Moreover, His Majesty the King launched the National Initiative on Human Development to fight poverty, exclusion, ignorance and illiteracy.
ARAB FORUM: Can you give us a general view on Moroccan-German relations?
Bouhlal: Very few people know that the relationship between Morocco and Germany started more than five centuries ago. In 1506, the German Welser and Fugger families established the first commercial outposts in Safi. To mention the most important agreements at that time, I can recall that in 1792, the first one was signed between Morocco and Prussia, Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck. In 1802, a first maritime shipping agreement was concluded with the Hanseatic City of Hamburg and, in 1890, the first commercial agreement was signed.
The first step in our diplomatic relations started in 1872 when Chancellor Bismarck designated a consul in Tangiers.
Since its independence in 1956, Morocco has maintained permanent diplomatic relations with Germany. Even nowadays, there is a mutual interest from both sides to strengthen these ties and this tendency is well reflected in the increasing frequency of official visits from both sides. In 2008, twelve Moroccan ministers visited the Federal Republic of Germany.
Approaching 120,000 persons, the Moroccan diaspora contributes strongly in the strengthening of these ties. Germany is also very attractive to Moroccan students. There are close to 8,000 students enrolled in the German universities.
Morocco is a key partner for Germany in the Maghreb and Middle East region. On the other hand, Germany is among Morocco’s major trading partners in the world.
To speak about development aid, the last inter-governmental negotiations took place in July 2008 in Bonn. The German Government pledged a total of 98.5 million euros dedicated to hydroelectric projects, drinking water, sustainable economic development, environment and climate change, water management, as well as wastewater and solid waste disposal. As early as 1965, the financial cooperation between the two countries reached 1.56 billion euros.
As far as the promotion of investment is concerned, the two countries are linked by an investment promotion and protection agreement. There exist further opportunities to boost bilateral cooperation, especially in infrastructure, renewable energy and environment.
ARAB FORUM: Since your arrival in Germany, you and the Embassy have organized various events and exhibitions to support Moroccan art and artists. What is the concept behind this initiative of presenting your country through art?
Bouhlal: We conceived the idea of establishing this cultural centre in 2005 dedicated as a new means of strengthening German-Moroccan cooperation, particularly in the fields of art and culture.
We understood that in an increasingly globalized world in which people are able to travel and exchange information faster than ever before, where there is also a growing interdependency between nations and inter-cultural interactions, has become a major challenge for international relations in the 21st century. Cultural diplomacy has, nowadays, increased in importance
Opened for the benefit of both Moroccan and German artistic creativity, this cultural space is in effect a continuation of the established bilateral relations between Morocco and Germany.
The center was first of all meant to promote and disclose the richness of Moroccan culture and traditions to Germans and the international community. Therefore, through the organization of exhibitions, our main aim is to present to the broad German public the authentic and modern aspects of Morocco, the openness of its culture and its commitment to inter-cultural dialogue.
Secondly, we wanted to reveal to the public that many Moroccan artists live in Germany and that they can be as productive as their German counterparts.
Thirdly, the exhibitions, held almost monthly, are our choice of ways to continuously address, in an artistic language, our German friends and public.
ARAB FORUM: Morocco is investing a great deal of money in its infrastructure, agriculture, and tourism. What are the most important projects?
Bouhlal: Over the last decade, Morocco embarked on an ambitious structural reform program aimed at further liberalizing its markets and enhancing the competitiveness of the economy. This policy was designated to allow our economy to achieve more solid growth, to improve the living conditions of the people, and to reduce social and regional gaps.
Therefore, it is obvious that today the Moroccan economy is much more robust, because economic growth reached 5% in 2000. Tourism, telecommunications and textile register the best figures. Moreover, we successfully installed a more diversified economy and the improvements were felt in various key sectors, such as industry and agriculture.
My country launched several national planning and development strategies. “The Green Plan” is among the most important ones. To be enacted over a period of 10 years, this ambitious plan aims at developing the agricultural and food production sectors at a cost of about $13.8 billion USD.
Not only are the public sectors involved in the investment of the project, but also local and foreign partners. The project consists of $1.4 billion of investment yearly. It is mainly concerned with 1,500 agricultural projects devoted to improve rural production of olive oil, vegetables, fruits, and grains. All of those activities benefit from the free trade agreements with the USA and the European Union.
Regarding infrastructure, on the other hand, Morocco is working hard to expand, modernize and enlarge the transport sector through rebuilding high-speed train rails, ports, and airports. All these initiatives have been launched to suit industry and tourism needs. The motorway network, which should be 1,500 km by 2010, is growing yearly by 160 km.
The very important Tangiers-Med port complex has an integrated infrastructure with a sustainable development perspective. Started in 2004, it consists of a commercial and industrial port on the shores of the straits, east of Tangiers, in line with the strategic decision to transform the region into an investment hub with a regionally integrated development approach. Tangiers-Med is the result of this vision supported by transnational considerations that are of strategic importance for Morocco to ensure competitiveness, a new basis for territorial planning, and local development.
We can take pride in this project, because in the course of one year, Morocco was able to build a modern port in the Strait of Gibraltar region. It is not only the low costs that attract investors but also the range of benefits that the State accords to investors, as noted recently even by the German press.
The Tangiers-Med terminus has just been completed at a cost of 140 million euros. This year more than one million containers should be unloaded. In total, the port managers expect seven to eight million containers per year. We have to recall that the Strait of Gibraltar is situated at a strategic location on the way from the Far East region to Europe and to the east coast of the United States.
Many international investors such as the Eurogate group of Hamburg have discovered the north of Morocco to be a new investment site right at Europe’s doorstep.
Morocco will have invested 10.29 billion USD in the energy sector by 2015. The National Energy Plan of Morocco includes the building of more power plants, expanding oil storage capacity, the modernization of distribution networks, and the offering of additional loans for the exploration for hydrocarbons.
All of these major projects being carried out across the country are not hindered by the global economic gloom. We should stress that these projects provide greatly diversified business opportunities for the German private sector with a very good business legal framework. We notice that Morocco is attracting an ever increasing number of German companies, which contributes in part to the economic development of the country.
ARAB FORUM: Morocco is among the first Arab countries to open bis 2015 its gates to so-called low cost airlines. What are the effects and expectations of this open-sky strategy? How important is it to the relationship between Morocco and Europe and the Moroccan tourist industry?
Bouhlal: The “Open-skies Agreement” that Morocco concluded with the European Union is the first of its kind that the EU signed with a country outside its borders. This agreement came into force in summer 2006.
The latest European report on Morocco’s reforms and the implementation of the EU-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement indicated that the open skies agreement has achieved an increase of 17% in air traffic; it also allowed the creation of 52 new routes and the entry into the Moroccan market of 12 new airlines. Moreover, the agreement lowered the prices and widened the choice for the European tourists. It contributed to the development of the tourist industry, as well helped to create jobs.
On the other hand, “The 2010 Vision” is a cornerstone strategy as regards tourism. Its main aim is to attract 10 million tourists by 2010 and to create some 160,000 new hotel beds, efforts that will bring the total national capacity to 230,000 beds. The country also hopes to create 600,000 new tourism sector jobs.
A key component of the Vision 2010 is the “Azur Plan,” which identified six key resorts to be developed along the country’s extensive coastline.
I might stress that German tourists are very familiar with the highly diversified and beautiful Moroccan tourist destinations. The Moroccan Office of Tourism based in Düsseldorf works to promote Moroccan destinations in Germany, which is considered to be one of the major targeted markets in Europe.
ARAB FORUM: What are the benefits and improvements provided by the Euro-Mediterranean integration-process through the Union for the Mediterranean initiated by French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarcozy compared to the original ideas and initiatives of the Barcelona process?
Bouhlal: Morocco believes that the initiative of the Union for the Mediterranean is part of an innovative logic which further boosts the EuroMed Partnership through the consolidation of relations between the European Union (EU) and its immediate neighbors. This part of the world is strategic for the EU, in terms of culture, economic development, peace, security, and environment protection.
This initiative allowed putting the Mediterranean region at the top of the European agenda as a main issue. From the outset, Morocco welcomed the idea to set up this project, considering it to be an opportunity to enhance the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership at a higher level and improve its efficiency and visibility, allowing, at the same time, to achieve the following:
- Making the Mediterranean a union among equal partners;
- Establish a real balance between the three pillars of the Euro-med Partnership, namely political, economic and financial, cultural and social;
- Embody the principle of joint ownership, especially at the institutional and decision-making levels;
- Give more importance to cooperation, which is necessary for the development of the region;
- Strengthening the dimension related to the implementation of projects;
- Involve the civil society more, including local and regional authorities, especially in the implementation of the partnership.
In this context, Morocco has participated actively in the drafting of the Paris Declaration. It has contributed to the first decision of the ministers of the Union, which took place in November 2008. This decision aimed to enhance the Mediterranean partnership in the fields of finance, investment, energy and the technology of information.
Interview: Natalia Gorzawski