The General Court of the European Union has ruled, in two judgments, on the legality of the fisheries and agricultural agreements between the EU and Morocco that include Western Sahara. And he has agreed with the Polisario Front by considering them illegal.
The contested agreements are the result of trade negotiations between the EU and Morocco on two conventions. On the one hand, it was a matter of modifying the Protocols of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement, on the import into the EU of agricultural products originating in Morocco and the definition of the concept of “originating products”, to extend to the products of Western Sahara exported under the control of the Moroccan authorities the tariff preferences granted to products of Moroccan origin exported to the Union.
On the other hand, the aim was to modify the Fisheries Agreement between the European Community and Morocco and, in particular, to include the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara within the scope of this agreement.
The Polisario Front requested the annulment of the two decisions in 2019, claiming that the agreements apply to Western Sahara, provide for the exploitation of its natural resources and favor Morocco’s annexationist policy over said territory. Furthermore, it argues that the second of these agreements also applies to the waters adjacent to said territory. Specifically, the Polisario Front argued that the agreements are not in accordance with the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice, which in its opinion excludes such territorial application.
The Luxembourg Court declared in December 2016 that the agreements between the EU and the Kingdom of Morocco cannot include Western Sahara as it is a non-autonomous territory. This fact forced both parties to renew their fishing and agricultural pacts so that it could include food products and fish catches from the former Spanish colony.
On the contrary, the European Commission and the EU governments considered that the agreements are valid because, according to them, the local population has been consulted and, in the opinion of the Community institutions, they will have a positive impact on the economy.
In both cases, the European External Action Service (EEAS) carried out “wide consultations” in which “the majority of the socio-economic and political actors who participated in them were in favor” of both the fisheries agreement and extending the tariff advantages to Saharawi products.
The Polisario Front and “other parties”, however, refused to participate in them because they understand that the agreements imply a recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara and its resources, something that the EU denies.
And the General Court of the EU, for its part, annuls the contested decisions, nevertheless deciding that their effects are maintained for a certain period of time, “since their annulment with immediate effects could have serious consequences on the Union’s external action. and question the legal security of the international commitments assumed by it “.
“They deny the existence of the Saharawi people”
The Polisario asked the Luxembourg-based court to evaluate the legality of the agreements and has based its position on a dozen reasons, the first of which indicates that the EU and Morocco lack the powers to negotiate international agreements that are applicable to the Sahara Occidental on behalf of the affected population.
On the other hand, it denounces that before signing the agreements, respect for fundamental rights and international humanitarian law has not been evaluated, as well as that “they deny the existence of the Saharawi people as subjects of law, replacing it with the expression ‘affected populations'” .
The Polisario also argues that the agricultural and fishing agreements “violate the right of the Saharawi people to freely dispose of their natural resources” and organize “without their consent” the export of their products to the EU and the exploitation of their fishing resources by European vessels .
91% of the catches collected in the fisheries pact with Morocco come from Saharawi waters. In exchange for access to these waters, the EU pays Morocco an annual average of 52 million euros each of the four years of the agreement, of which approximately 12 million must be paid by European shipowners.
In return, the African country allows 128 European ships to fish in its waters and those of Western Sahara, including 92 Spanish. In particular, 22 Spanish pelagic artisanal fishing purse seiners in the north, 25 bottom longliners also in the north, ten artisanal fishing vessels in the south, 12 demersal fishing vessels and 23 pole-and-line vessels for catching tuna.