EU warns it may act to defend Spain in dispute with Algeria

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MADRID (AP) — Top European Union officials said Friday the bloc was treating the crisis between Algeria and Spain with the “utmost concern” and warned it was prepared to take action to defend the interests of its members.

In a joint statement, European Commission executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the decision by Algeria to suspend a two-decade-old friendship treaty with Spain, potentially freezing trade between the two countries, appeared “to be in violation of the EU-Algeria Association Agreement, in particular in the area of trade and investment.”

“This would lead to a discriminatory treatment of an EU member state and adversely affect the exercise of the Union’s rights under the Agreement,” the statement said.

While urging dialogue to resolve the dispute, the EU officials said “the EU is ready to stand up against any type of coercive measures applied against” an EU nation.

The statement came after Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares traveled to Brussels on Friday to discuss the country’s crisis with Algeria.

The treaty suspension was the latest move by Algeria to put pressure on Madrid after the Spanish government changed its long-standing policy regarding the contested territory of Western Sahara. Algeria recalled its ambassador to Spain in March after Madrid came out in support of Morocco’s attempts to keep Western Sahara under its rule. Algeria supports the territory’s independence movement.

After the meeting with EU officials, Albares said “the unilateral measure” taken by Algeria violated the accord with the EU.

He sad the EU and Spain agreed “to make a firm defense of our businesses and Spain’s interests, which are also European businesses and the interests of the European Union.”

Albares insisted that “what we want is dialogue and we’re not going to give any excuse for any escalation.”

The statement Friday came after the EU on Thursday urged Algeria to reverse its decision.

Spain’s chief worry has been that the suspension might affect important gas supplies from Algeria, but the government said that so far this has not happened. Algeria supplies 23% of Spain’s gas needs.

Spain and the rest of the 27-nation bloc are hustling now to find alternatives to Russian energy imports to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Industry ministry figures show Spain exported 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in goods to Algeria last year while it imports were valued at nearly 5 billion euros.

Spain was the colonial power in Western Sahara until it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, neighbors Algeria and Morocco have been at odds over the fate of the region.

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