Morocco and the Advanced Status Between a merit and a need

Monday 13th October 2008 constitutes a turning point in the history of relations between Morocco and the European Union given the fact that it marked the end of an era in the Moroccan European relations and a starting point of a new process.

On this date, Morocco and the European Union decided in Luxembourg to raise their bilateral relation to a status more than a partnership and less than a membership. This status was called “the advanced status”. This event bears a strategic dimension in the history of relations between the Mediterranean banks in general and in the Moroccan European relations in particular.

In fact, it falls in the backdrop of a shift from the concept of “partnership” brought forward by the Barcelona convention which has a limited scope. It rather requires a consolidation of the multidimensional relations between the two parties, be it at the political, security, economic or social side. While this entails that Morocco should carry on its reform process at many levels, it underlines, on the other hand, a commitment from the European Union to catch up with the aperture and progress motion and positive interaction with the world which Morocco chose for itself.

A Moroccan merit ?

If the “advanced status” officially targets the consolidation of the Euro-Moroccan relations, the choice of Morocco alone holds various connotations. Indeed, the establishment of an ambitious and pioneering partnership with the European Union constitutes a strategic option for the Kingdom of Morocco. It goes back to 1987, when the late King Hassan II – May His Soul Rest in Peace – expressed the wish of Morocco to adhere to the European Community relying on a number of geo-political, historical and economic motives and concerns. Then comes the suggestion made by His Majesty King Mohammed VI in 2000, calling to lift up the level of the relation between the two parties to be raised to a status that is more than a partnership and less than a membership.

Morocco is the closest African and Arab state to the European continent. It has a strong interaction not only with the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean sea but also with its African belonging. These geo-political elements made him pursue a strategy of diversification of partners everywhere, both politically and economically.

Morocco enjoys a political stability, which enabled it to successfully overcome numerous upheavals witnessed by several countries in the region. This stems, largely, from the significance of the reforms inaugurated, in a piecemeal fashion, by the Kingdom since the end of the 90s from the last century. These knew an accelerated pace with the enthronement of the King Mohamed VI. At the top of these reforms was the creation of the “Equity and Reconciliation Commission” recognized as a pioneering experience in transitional justice; the improvement of the electoral laws and regulations including the law of independent monitoring; the launching of a new family code (2004) which most importantly focused on gender equality and the protection of children’s rights; the initiation of the National Initiative for Human Development (2005) which has a social dimension; paying tribute to the Amazigh culture as a main component of the Moroccan culture; enacting new laws regulating public liberties: political parties law, NGO’s law…

In this way, Morocco was a model for a quiet change and a harmonious democratic transition unlike a number of countries in the region.

It is clear that the European Union eyed these developments with warm welcomes more than once, which entitled Morocco to obtain, with merit, the “advanced status” at the European Union.

This “advanced status” relied on three main elements:
Edification of a space for “shared values” of democracy, rule of law, good governance, respect of human rights…
Edification of a “common economic space” which is likely to enable Morocco to gradually adhere to policies and mechanisms of the European Union and which is can help it set up an open and a competitive economy.
Edification of common space for knowledge and cultural, university exchanges and scientific research.

This is how the “advanced status” allowed both sides to institute an aspiring bilateral framework encompassing all the public policies and sectors. It is significant that reactivating the Moroccan aspiration towards its European partner remained in harmony with its commitments to build up the Maghreb Union, with the consolidation of its belonging to the Arab and Islamic nations, as well as its African natural interaction, specifically with the Sahel Saharan and West African space. This was coupled to its openness to the USA through the conclusion of the Morocco-US FTA in 2004 and Moroccan – Turkish FTA in 2006.

Mutual Need

One can possibly say that these developments does not suffice alone to explain all that has happened up to now between Morocco and the European Union, because there are a lot of intermingled interests between them which makes the process possible or rather necessary.

The European party needs an efficient and credible partner, which is well positioned at the Maghreb region, Arab and African arena in the face of common thorny issues threatening the regional stability, such as illegal immigration, smuggling and intercontinental terrorism and drugs’ trafficking. Morocco, thanks to its strategic location, positively interacted with its European partners starting from its geopolitical responsibilities, which allowed both sides to take common initiatives in the face of such defying challenges and particularly on issues linked to border control and establishing regional security and fight against human trafficking and drugs’ smuggling and terrorism around the world.

On the other hand, the southern bank of the Mediterranean is generally considered as a founding stone, not only for the security and stability of Europe but also for the evolution of its economies. As a matter of fact, the European Union and Morocco share common concerns such as securing energy resources, stimulating economic integration, protecting the Mediterranean environment….

The economic developments, especially the ones following the financial crisis of the euro zones implies that Europe should look for partners to consolidate its economic presence and competitiveness in the context of the mounting extent of competitivity between it and other powerful or rising economies like the USA, Japan, China, Brazil and East Asian countries.

As to Morocco, it endeavoured, through reinforcing its relation with Europe ending with the advanced status, to empower its administrative and managerial institutions and economic sectors in a way that allows the Kingdom to engage into the battle of world competitively and draw benefits from the potentials of modernization and European expertise in this field. Morocco also tried hard to draw benefits from the economic partnership which attracts investments and provides room for its exports in the European market which counts some 500 million consumers.

Given the above, the economic aspect of the advanced status relied on a basic conviction which says that sustainable development cannot be achieved outside commercial openness and the conclusion of FTA’s. Starting from this, Morocco left no stone unturned to: exploit all the mechanisms and means provided by the EU to improve its socio economic indicators (education, health, public amenities, transport, infrastructure and housing projects), proceed to activate a new series of reforms in the field of economic governance (intellectual property, health safety, competitiveness law, protection of the consumer, enterprise governance, policies of public assistance and banking standards)

Morocco chose this vision to initiate an approach based on the gradual convergence, technical twinning by means of an arsenal of EU reg ulations, in the same way as candidates to the EU membership.

The strategic ambition of Morocco lies in enabling it to benefit from the same economic environment and climate of affaires, from the same rules and competitiveness norms as other member states of EU.

This aspiration is felt in the great infrastructural projects. In fact, Morocco was the first country to conclude the Open Sky treaty with EU in 2005. In the Energy sector, Morocco concluded a partnership with Europe in 2007 which entails conceiving ambitious projects in the renewable energy sector.

It also developed its electrical network with Spain which facilitates its access to the European electricity market. Besides, it took part to the activities of the EU in the “framework program for research and development”
In the same fashion, Morocco subscribed actively to the carrying out of institutional twinning operations allowing for the Moroccan administrations to work to develop and coordinate the regulating mechanisms in Morocco and the standards and regulations followed in the EU.

Thus, the twinning operations that were implemented in Morocco could have the following results:
Setting up good governance standards (fight against money laundering, parliament management, modernization of courts, fight against organized crimes, fight against illegal immigration..)

Managing the economic openness (management of public institutions, mechanism of dispute settlement, intellectual and industrial property, open skies, energy utility, the supreme council of accountability, audio-visual…)

Improving the social indicators (National Initiative of Human Development, fighting illiteracy, health pensions…)

The institutional twinning will in the future cover new fields (government procurement, financial services, insurance, competitiveness, consumer protection, labour regulations, industrial standardization, market control and maritime safety…)

The aim being to make Morocco the first Arab non European country to have been able to comprehend and adapt to the rules of the European Union known as “Acquis communautaire”

What future ?

With the elapse of time, the strategic dimension of the relation between the EU and the countries of the south Mediterranean becomes more and more confirmed, with a sensitiveness to both sides. It just needs more efforts to make it a renewable and ambitious in the sense that it should realize a common strategic space that raises to the obviousness of the era similar to the NAFTA or the ASEAN.

The evolving partnership between Morocco and the EU can take a leading dimension in this field and can set a model to the rest of the states in the south Mediterranean.

This being said, the next step in the deepening of the Morocco-EU relations is a crucial step towards establishing “a privileged partnership” which consolidates the acquired assets of the advanced status and opens new perspectives. Next April 2013, the negotiations on the Morocco-EU “Comprehensive and Deep FTA” will be launched among a series of diverse conventions relative to agriculture, maritime fishing, persons’ mobility and services trade.

If the Kingdom of Morocco is consciously required to continue in the path of political and socioeconomic reforms’ process, then the EU is required, on the other hand, to adopt a more open and balanced , and solidarity concept of partnership and security.
Thenceforth, the security of the EU cannot be limited to the border control and exaction of conditions and visas, but rather a cultural treatment based on rights and development; while taking into account the issues of identity, cultural and civilization diversity. In this, it should rely on a communicational approach preaching solidarity and humanity in the comprehensive treatment of issues.

To conclude, the democratic developments witnessed in the south Mediterranean basin and the recent events in the post financial crisis map of the world economy, coupled with the emergence of international constraints linked to energy and climate, cross boarder security challenges, and the interrogations related to identity, the current debate on the future of the EU.. all are likely to transform the geostrategic traits of the Mediterranean region.

The democratic metamorphoses witnessed by Arab states, in particular, implies the setting up of a newly conceived charter for the Mediterranean region covering, on an equal footing, the issues of regional security, democracy and common development and solidarity.
This charter can be established relying on acquired assets since the 60s of the last century (trade conventions), through the 70s (cooperation agreements) and the 90s (partnership agreements) and the beginning of the present century (neighbourhood policy)

Such a charter can allow for the consolidation of economic integration between the two banks edified thanks to these conventions. It helps also to twin the strategic priorities of all the members of the region towards the edification of euro-Mediterranean cultural body coupling universality and specificity on the one hand; openness and deep-rootedness on the other.

At the economic level, this charter will target the creation of a joint competitive economic space in the face of the American and Asian blocs, which would allow trade agreements (in agriculture, services and maritime fishing..) to flourish through the recovery of trade exports from the south to the north. This entails a more ambitious and evolving objective surmounting the limited logic of free trade and taking into consideration that the trade surplus of the EU in the Mediterranean region is the most important at the international level.
Culturally speaking, Morocco, which has always been at the forefront of countries concerned with the euro-Mediterranean partnership, considers that this new charter is meant to reinforce the values of openness, pluralism, diversity and respect of the specificities of each.

The prevalence of the populist discourse in some regions of Europe poses the equivocation of the meaning of the European organisation and threatens coexistence and positive cohesion which distinguished for long the euro Mediterranean space. Whereas, the isolation and clinging strongly to one’s identity against the others’ is countering the trend brought by globalization in its universal aspects (free trade, free movement, economic competitiveness, new demographic equilibrium and the technological development..) all these aspects constitutes an opportunity and source of common wealth and a factor of openness that the euro Mediterranean societies must ideally benefit from.

In the same context, a balanced approach to the issue of immigration with all its aspects would allow to redress the demographic gaps between countries of the Mediterranean, in addition to encouraging a temporary immigration between these countries, securing social and economic integration of migrants in the host countries.

Morocco is confident that using the current conjuncture would raise the euro Mediterranean partnership to a new and more ambitious level that interacts with the opportunities and challenges of our modern era.

That’s why Morocco’s ambition to conclude “a privileged partnership” with the EU is likely to constitute a founding stone of this new regional framework in the Mediterranean.