Monday

26th Oct 2020

Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes

  • A plenary vote for the EU trade deal with Morocco is now set for January (Photo: European Parliament)

French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde has stepped down as the parliament's lead on a trade deal with Rabat following EUobserver reports into Moroccan lobbying.

Her resignation was announced on Monday (10 December) - only moments ahead of a crunch vote on the pact in the parliament's international trade committee.

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Bernd Lange, the German socialist MEP who chairs that committee, said Lalonde's independence as lead MEP on the file had been questioned.

"I did what was in my competence and this will be now investigated by a specific committee of the parliament," he told MEPs in the committee.

He said Lalonde was no longer willing to handle the file and had handed it over to Dutch liberal Marietje Schaake. Schaake is the liberal coordinator at the committee.

Lalonde's resignation came amid intense pressure over possible conflicts of interest following revelations she was a board member at 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 had since suspended her role in EuroMeda, declaring her impartiality and telling this website that her participation in the foundation had no influence in her work on drafting the report on EU Morocco deal.

The disputed deal seeks to extend an agricultural agreement with Morocco that spans into the Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Rabat.

The Greens boycotted the vote in protest, noting that the substance of Lalonde's report still remains in doubt regardless of her sudden departure and replacement.

"This report has emerged from a conflict of interest, the report hasn't been changed at all, and we believe therefore it is the result from a conflict of interest," said French Green MEP Yannick Jadot.

A request by a socialist MEP at the committee to postpone the vote was widely rejected.

Lalonde's report, or rather Schaake's report, also passed. The plenary is now set to vote on the deal in January, possibly paving the way for the much more lucrative fishing agreement.

The European Court of Justice had previously invalidated the EU's trade deals with Morocco given they exploited resources in the Western Sahara.

The area is roughly the size of the United Kingdom and is not internationally recognised as part of Morocco.

The commission has since renegotiated the agreements on the basis they must first secure the consensus of the local Saharawi population, which according to some NGOs, they have not.

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

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

The European Parliament's internal body, designed to sanction MEPs for conflicts of interests, has failed to deliver any meaningful verdicts. Some are hoping a future proposal for a new independent ethics body will help hold MEPs accountable.

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