Controversial agreements between EU and Morocco

Tags : Morocco European Union, Western Sahara, Fishing agreement, agricultural agreement,

Despite several court decisions, the European institutions cling to strategic trade agreements with Morocco.

By Pauline Hofmann and Benoît Collombat (Radio France)

They are at the heart of relations between the European Union and Morocco. Two trade agreements (one on agriculture and the other on fishing) grant Moroccan products customs preferences. Problem: on several occasions since 2016, European justice has pointed out their illegality. And Western Sahara is at the heart of the problem.

This territory, eight times the size of Belgium, is in the middle of a territorial dispute. Morocco, which has occupied it since the end of Spanish colonization in 1975, claims sovereignty over what it calls « the southern provinces », rich in fish and phosphate. Facing Rabat, we find the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi independence movement supported by neighboring Algeria.

So where is the problem with this customs deal? The European Union has decided to apply it to all products coming from Western Sahara. An illegal decision as it stands, according to the justice which reaffirms the “separate and distinct status” of the region.

A conflict of interest

In 2018, after a first legal setback, the European Parliament relaunched these agreements. “From the start of our work, it was obvious that the Commission and the Council were putting significant pressure on us to approve the agreements as they stand,” recalls Heidi Hautala, currently MEP (Greens) and co-president of Parliament European. She recounts with bitterness a working trip to Western Sahara in 2018: “The Moroccan position dominated 100% of the presentations made during the mission. Only two other MEPs, including the rapporteur, the Frenchwoman Patricia Lalonde (ALDE), are part of the trip. “We tell him to look both ways. She replied: “Oh no, no, I will only go to the area under Moroccan control”, assures Gilles Devers, lawyer for the Polisario Front. Sahrawi activist, the Belgian Mahjoub Maliha had offered his help to the services of the Parliament to meet Sahrawis. But in an exchange of emails, the latter invoked “security reasons” preventing the meeting.

Patricia Lalonde had to withdraw from the file due to a conflict of interest. She was part of EuroMedA, alongside Gilles Pargneaux. Without being registered in the transparency register, the organization had co-organized an event in the European Parliament with the OCP, the Office Cherifien des Phosphates, a Moroccan company active in Western Sahara. Patricia Lalonde did not respond to our questions.

In January 2019, the European Parliament ended up voting in favor of these agreements, including, despite the previous court decision, Western Sahara. The head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini then welcomed a “new stage in the strategic partnership” between the EU and Morocco. European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici welcomed an agreement which puts an « end to legal uncertainty harmful to all, in particular to businesses and inhabitants of Western Sahara ».

« Rejoicing at the good relations with Morocco is not a scandal when you are in the European Union », defends today Pierre Moscovici, head of the Court of Auditors in France. « When relations with Morocco are bad, it’s bad for Morocco and for the European Union », two strategic partners. He recalls having wanted to place the country on the blacklist of tax havens. “We did not ignore the judgment of the Court of Justice, we thought that European law made it possible to provide this solution. In 2021, European justice once again canceled the agreements, as voted by the European Parliament. The Council and the Commission appealed. A new decision is expected this year.


#Qatargate #Morocco #Western_Sahara #Fishing_agreement #Agriculture_agreement

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