Saturday

1st Oct 2016

Morocco deals don't cover Western Sahara, EU lawyer says

  • A fish monger in the Dakhla, the part of Western Sahara occupied by Morocco. (Photo: David Stanley)

EU-Morocco relations risk hitting another rough patch after a senior lawyer said that their trade treaties do not apply to Western Sahara, a disputed territory.

Advocate-general Melchior Wathelet set out his opinion to EU judges in Luxembourg on Tuesday (13 September).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He said that “neither the EU-Morocco association agreement nor the EU-Morocco agreement on the liberalisation of trade in agricultural and fishery products apply to Western Sahara” because “Western Sahara is not part of Moroccan territory”.

His opinion is not binding, but judges follow advocates general in most cases.

If their verdict, expected in November, echoes Wathelet then the EU could see a repeat of last year’s fiasco, when Morocco severed diplomatic ties with EU institutions after an unfavourable ruling.

Western Sahara is a territory in north-west Africa, known as its last colony.

Morocco occupies most of the land and claims it as its own after a war in 1976, but according to the UN it is a “non-self-governing territory” whose people, the Sahrawi, have the “right to self-determination”.

Wathelet had been asked to pronounce on a case originally filed at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2013 by the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi national liberation movement, against an annex on fish products in EU-Morocco agreements.

The Polisario Front won in December 2015, prompting the Moroccan outcry and an EU appeal.

In Wathelet’s opinion, the Polisario Front’s case and the EU appeal are no longer relevant, because the broader EU-Morocco treaties, which govern the annex, do not apply to Western Sahara.

The issue is politically explosive.

Its implications were, on Tuesday, also highlighted when a ship full of fish oil from Western Sahara, the Key Bay, rounded Spain en route to France.

The vessel can be followed online.

French customs have decided that the shipment is not liable for tariffs, in line with the EU-Morocco trade treaties, because, the EU says, those accords remain in force despite the December 2015 ECJ ruling.

Morocco’s interior minister, Mohamed Hassad, told EUobserver last week that the EU deal, to his knowledge, has not been suspended in any part.

He also recalled Morocco's role in stemming migration to the EU and in helping Europe on counter-terrorism, in what appeared to be a veiled threat over Western Sahara’s status.

An European Commission spokesperson also said on Tuesday that the trade arrangements remained in place.

"The court [in December] had annulled the EU legal act (the decision to conclude) and not the agreement as such," the spokesperson said.

Polisario’s lawyer, Gilles Devers, told EUobserver that this was the wrong interpretation, adding that EU institutions are in “defiance” of the ECJ by continuing to enforce the trade treaties in the disputed territory.

The EU’s zealous support of Morocco has raised eyebrows among some MEPs.

Morocco and the EU said to be working together on the ECJ appeal, and France, Portugal and Spain have spoken out in Rabat’s favour in court (Germany withdrew at last minute, and Belgium didn't send a representative to the hearing in Luxembourg).

A group of pro-Morocco MEPs last week also joined the anti-Polisario front.

Jose Bove, a French green MEP who was the EU parliament’s rapporteur on the EU-Morocco agreements, welcomed the advocate-general's opinion, and hoped the final ruling would put an end to "EU hypocrisy".

"The EU should immediately take measures to ensure that no products from Western Sahara illegally enter the EU market as Moroccan goods. The EU's complicity in the illegal occupation of the territory has lasted too long," Bove, who in his time voted against the EU-Morocco accords, said.

New EU rules on financial products in limbo

A feud between MEPs and the EU commission is threatening to derail financial services regulation that would protect consumers from misleading investment products.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFAEFA Supports a YES Vote in the Hungarian Referendum
  2. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  3. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  5. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  6. World VisionNew Tool Measuring Government Efforts to Protect Children Released
  7. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  8. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  9. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  10. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  11. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes and Villains. See Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away
  12. EJCAppalled by Recommendation to Remove Hamas From EU Terrorism Watch List