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19th Oct 2020

Greens boycott EU-Morocco vote after lobbying expose

  • Thousands of Saharawi refugees remain stuck in desert camps. (Photo: Western Sahara Resource Watch)

An internal protest has erupted at the European Parliament at continuing with the vote next week on a controversial EU trade pact with Morocco, despite lobbying exposed by EUobserver.

Heidi Hautala, a Finnish Green MEP and vice president of the parliament, on Thursday (6 December) announced she was would suspend work on the trade pact, and is boycotting the vote in protest. Other MEPs in the Green and European Free Alliance party will do the same.

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Her decision follows an investigation by EUobserver that the committee's lead MEP on the file, French liberal Patricia Lalonde, was a board member of the EuroMeda foundation.

The foundation is in the spotlight because it counts former state Moroccan ministers and politicians among its ranks, operates out of the Brussels office of Hill+Knowlton consultancy, and is not listed in the EU's lobby register.

Lalonde has since stepped down from the foundation but is now under an internal parliament probe for possible code of conduct breach, along with several other MEPs.

The governing body of the European Parliament met on Thursday to discuss the issue after the Greens demanded the file be suspended until the code of conduct probe is finalised.

"Unfortunately, president Tajani at the meeting of the conference of presidents today did not agree to take this step," said Hautala, in an email to other MEPs working on the file, seen by this website.

The powerful international trade committee (INTA) is set to vote on the pact next Monday. But Hautala insists that the internal probe into Lalonde first be finalised. Her hopes were instead dashed by Tajani.

"I therefore suspend for the time bring my active cooperation on the finalisation of the dossier of Ms Lalonde for the INTA," she also wrote in the email.

Hautala also said she is withdrawing a number of amendments on the file and will leave the room when the vote takes place.

The agricultural trade pact is controversial because it sets to exploit resources from the Western Sahara. Morocco invaded the territory in 1975, forcing many of its people to flee to Algeria, where they still live in refugee camps.

In 2016, the European Court of Justice declared that the EU's agricultural trade deal cannot cover the Western Sahara.

It means the European Commission must now first obtain the consent of the local Saharawi population, a process that appears doubtful.

The United Nations defines the Western Sahara as a "non-self-governing territory", in a dispute which has now dragged on for some 43 years.

Investigation

Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

The European parliament's lead negotiator on the Morocco trade deal, French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde, is also on the EuroMedA Foundation board along with former Moroccan state ministers and a top ranking official in Morocco's ministry of agriculture.

EU aviation agreement with Morocco in legal hot water

The European Commission is struggling to respond to questions on how it can include the disputed territory of the Western Sahara into its aviation agreement with Morocco - following a recent order from the General Court of the European Union.

Opinion

Why Brussels' toxic lobbying culture must end

What is revelatory about the study by Corporate Europe Observatory is the sheer number of embassies, committees and advisory groups that lobbyists can target: from the Council all the way down to standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed.

Germany asks capitals to give a little in EU budget impasse

European Parliament negotiators are demanding €39bn in new funding for EU programmes such as Horizon research and Erasmus, in talks with the German EU presidency on the budget. Meanwhile, rule-of-law enforcement negotiations have only just begun.

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