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23rd Feb 2024

MEPs heap praise on Morocco before legal opinion

  • Fishermen in Essaouira. The EU Court of Justice said an EU-Morocco trade deal on agriculture goods and fisheries didn’t guarantee the rights of Saharawis. (Photo: Mark Fisher)

A group of MEPs has stressed the importance of Morocco as a privileged EU partner for security in the Mediterranean, a few days before a top EU lawyer is due to present a legal opinion on a controversial EU-Morocco trade deal.

French Brice Hortefeux and Rachida Dati, Romanian Cristian Preda, Spanish Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, all from the centre-right EPP group, and French Socialist Gilles Pargneaux all praised the north African kingdom on Wednesday (7 September).

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They were speaking at an event attended by Morocco’s minister of interior, Mohamed Hassad, who explained how his country spends €200 million each year on a 24/7 military watch of the coastline.

”We never asked anything in return, only to help us on other levels,” he said.

”When one signs an agreement, it must be defended,” he said, referring to the EU-Morocco agreement on trade in agricultural goods and fisheries.

Next Tuesday, the advocate general at the European Court of Justice is due to present his view on the deal signed in 2012. His opinion is usually followed by the court's judges.

The ECJ's first instance last year annulled the agreement, having found that the EU failed to make sure that it didn’t violate the rights of Saharawis - people of Western Sahara - to decide over farming and fishing resources in their land.

'Political ruling'

Morocco illegally annexed the land south of its border in 1975 and has kept it under military control ever since.

EU member states appealed against the court’s decision, but Morocco still suspended diplomatic relations with the EU for a while.

They only resumed after a visit by EU foreign policy boss Federica Mogherini in March, during which she vowed to work with Rabat on the appeal.

Rachida Dati, the French right-wing MEP, called the court ruling ”extremely political”.

When asked by EUobserver how the annulment of the trade deal affected EU-Morocco relations, Mohamed Hassad replied that the deal, to his knowledge, had not been cancelled.

He said the process was ”very badly handled” by the court of first instance, but was hopeful that ”important mobilisation” would help deliver another verdict.

Several Moroccan TV stations covered the meeting, which did not include any MEPs who were sceptical of EU-Morocco relations or the agreement.

Lobbying behind the deal

In fact, the deal has caused quite a stir at the parliament, where it was voted in 2012 against the will of the assembly’s negotiator Jose Bove.

The French Green MEP told EUobserver on Wednesday night he couldn’t support the agreement because it did not benefit small-scale farmers, only three big companies, one of which (Les Domaines) belongs to Morocco’s king. The two others, Idyl and Azura, have French owners.

He also said that integrating Western Sahara into the agreement was a “clear breach of international law”.

But the deal still passed, a fact which Bove attributed to the strong support of the European Council and the European Commission as well as heavy lobbying.

He was himself approached by French and Moroccan diplomats and interest groups, which he described in detail in his book Hold-up a Bruxelles (Hold up in Brussels).

He said he had done his best to show MEPs that the agreement lacked legal standing.

The MEP suggested asking the European Court of Justice for an opinion, but this was blocked by the liberal, centre-right and socialist group, who voted against the idea in plenary in 2011, Bove said.

The plenary voted in favour of the agreement in February 2012. The Council approved it in March 2012 and it entered into force on 1 November 2012.

"The EU could have asked specifically not to apply the agreement to the occupied territory, just like the US did, which didn't harm their cooperation with Morocco on security issues. But we didn't," Bove said.

”Some weeks later - in January 2013 - Saharawi lawyers took the case to court, and won in first instance.”

The court's final verdict will be delivered before the end of the year.

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