Monday

8th Aug 2022

Commission backtracks after Western Sahara 'mistake'

  • Saharwi refugees from Western Sahara remain stuck in refugee camps in Algeria, whilst the territory was annexed, and is claimed, by Morocco (Photo: © Tineke D'haese/Oxfam)

The European Commission last week appeared to have changed its policy on the disputed territory of Western Sahara - only to immediately perform a U-turn.

The Western Sahara is a territory around the size of the UK, occupied by Morocco, and considered by the United Nations as a "non-self-governing territory".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In a written response to Heidi Hautala, a Green MEP from Finland, the commission said products exported to the EU from the territory must be labelled as "Western Sahara."

That admission would suggest the Western Sahara is a distinct territory from the rest of Morocco, signalling an about face from a European Commission that recently cut a controversial trade deal with Rabat.

"This is big news, and clearly must have sent some shockwaves in Rabat and among those supportive of Morocco's (illegal) occupation of Western Sahara, and of a policy of tacit recognition by the EU," wrote Hautala in her blog.

European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski had written the reply.

But around 24 hours after initial publication, Wojciechowski's response was pulled from the European Parliament's website.

Asked why, the EU's foreign policy spokesperson told this website it had been a "misunderstanding". He said a clarification would be issued, noting that its position on the Western Sahara had in fact not changed at all.

This clarification would go through the channels as written replies to the European Parliament, he said. As of writing, it is still not posted online.

Hautala, for her part, has described the commission's manoeuvres as a bizarre chain of events.

"This is really unprecedented, particularly for an official reply to the parliament from the highest level of the commission," she said, on her blog.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has in the past dismissed Morocco's claim to the Western Sahara. It had also previously scrapped an EU trade deal with Morocco because products were being sourced from the disputed territory.

But the commission negotiated a new agricultural pact to include the Western Sahara anyway - amid claims it had obtained the consent of the local population and civil society.

Target of intense lobbying, which eventually led to the resignation of the lead MEP on the file because of conflicts of interest, the EU-Morocco deal passed anyway last year.

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.

Rights watchdog warns MEPs on Morocco trade deal

MEPs are set to rubber-stamp a trade deal with Morocco to fish off the disputed coastline of the Western Sahara. Human Rights Watch have stepped in to point out the deal could be in breach of international law.

Opinion

Time for EU to help free Saharawi people

Time the for EU to help free the Saharawi people after 45 years of Moroccan occupation in the scorching desert because Spain once swapped them for a school of fish.

Opinion

Let Taiwan's democracy shine brighter

Dr Ming-Yen Tsai, head of the Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium, responds to EUobserver op-ed on Taiwan by the Chinese ambassador to Belgium. "Taiwan is an 'island of resilience'. That will continue to be the case."

Opinion

Supporting Taiwan 'like carrying water in a sieve'

China's ambassador to Belgium, Cao Zhongming, says the US has been distorting, obscuring and hollowing out the 'one-China' principle and unscrupulously undermining China's core interests. This is sheer double standards and a shameful act of bad faith.

News in Brief

  1. Rhine river on the brink of closure for shipping
  2. Moldova sees 'prelude to war' with Russia-backed forces
  3. Taliban preventing Afghan evacuations to Germany
  4. Amnesty regrets 'distress' caused by Ukraine report
  5. Energy companies warn UK gas exports to EU are contaminated
  6. EU set for clash over rules on political adverts
  7. Three grain ships due to leave Ukraine on Friday
  8. EU on track to reach gas-storage November target

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Italy poised to elect far-right rulers
  2. UN chief demands access to nuclear plant after new attack
  3. Greek PM embroiled in spyware scandal
  4. How Ukraine made the case anew for an EU army
  5. 'We must take back institutions', Orban tells US conservatives
  6. Putin must lose Ukraine war, Nato chief says
  7. Let Taiwan's democracy shine brighter
  8. Droughts prompt calls to cut water use amid harvest fears

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us