21st Oct 2021

EU expected to endorse controversial fisheries deal

A controversial fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco is set to go ahead next month, despite Finland and Sweden saying the deal is not in accordance with UN resolutions over the Western Sahara territory.

Under the agreement, Brussels will pay Morocco €144 million a year for four years in return for allowing European vessels to fish in Morocco's Atlantic coastal waters, including the disputed territory of Western Sahara invaded by Moroccan forces in 1975.

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  • EU fishing vessels might soon be trawling in Moroccan and the occupied territorial seas of Western Sahara (Photo: EUobserver)

This means that the agreement allows Morocco to issue fishing licenses to European vessels in water which it does not legally hold, which is against international law, EU member states opposing the deal have said.

The fisheries agreement has divided member states with some of them keen to profit from fishing in the area, such as Spain and Portugal, while Finland and Sweden are against the agreement.

"How can the EU on the one hand support the United Nations resolution and not recognise the annexation of the Western Sahara and on the other hand have a fisheries agreement with Morocco that covers the occupied areas? We want to be a neutral part in solving this conflict," said Robin Rosenkranz, Swedish agricultural councillor in Brussels, according to the Financial Times.

The two Nordic countries have said they will table a joint declaration this month, pointing out that "the fisheries agreement cannot prejudge any future political decision in relation to the Western Sahara issue."

They also want guarantees that Sahrawi fishermen from the Western Sahara gain directly from the EU-Moroccan deal.

Despite the opposition, EU officials meeting behind closed doors last week said EU fisheries ministers are likely to adopt the deal on 22 May, while the European Parliament is expected to vote in favour of the agreement this week.

Exclude Western Sahara

A Europe-wide NGO coalition, Fish Elsewhere, is calling for EU parliamentarians to vote against the deal in the parliament's plenary session on 15 May, unless an amendment is passed specifically excluding Western Saharan waters from its jurisdiction.

Nick Dearden, from War on Want, a UK affiliate to Fish Elsewhere campaign insists "that the EU won't be able to claim at a later date that it didn't suspect the obvious consequence of this agreement. They have the evidence and they must amend the agreement."

But EU fisheries commissioner Joe Borg defended the agreement in March.

"Morocco is the de facto administrator of Western Sahara. So, the Commission proposal is in conformity with the legal opinion of the United Nations issued in January 2002," he said.

Mr Borg also pointed out that, on this issue, the new agreement is the same as the previous EU-Morocco deal.

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