Humanitarian assistance to Sahrawi leader Brahim Ghali was responded to by Morocco in May with an unprecedented migrant crisis on the Ceuta border that jumped to Brussels and reached a summit of EU leaders. Four months later, when the diplomatic crisis seems to be channeled, with the return of minors and the removal of a foreign minister through, two judgments of the General Court of the European Union (TGUE) arrive that overthrow two trade agreements between the EU and Morocco.
What has the European Justice decided?
The General Court, in two judgments that can be appealed before the higher instance (the Court of Justice of the European Union), has decided to annul two fishing and tariff agreements signed by the European Union and Morocco.
Justice has given the reason to the Polisario Front by considering the agreements illegal for not having properly consulted the Saharawi population. The Luxembourg-based court leaves a two-month margin in which the agreements can continue to be applied, but if the EU appeals, the agreements will remain in force until the matter is definitively resolved by the EU Court of Justice.
The overturned agreements are the result of trade negotiations between the EU and Morocco on two agreements.
On the one hand, it was a question 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.
How does it affect Spain?
The cancellation of the fisheries agreement between Brussels and Rabat particularly affects Spain since it is the most benefited Member State, according to Europa Press data: Of the 128 vessels that are authorized to fish in African waters, 92 have the Spanish flag.
In particular, there are 22 pelagic artisanal fishing purse seiners in the north, 25 bottom longliners also in the north, ten artisanal fishing vessels in the south, twelve demersal fishing vessels and 23 pole-and-line vessels for catching tuna.
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.
What does the government say?
The Government believes that the TGUE’s decision “does not put into question” the relationship between Spain and the African country, at a time when Spain is making an effort to rebuild relations with Morocco after providing health care to a Saharawi leader.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, has assured that Morocco is a “strategic” partner for Spain: “It is a country to which we are linked by ties of friendship and cooperation. In that sense, we have always defended the relationship between Morocco and the EU “.
As published The country, Spain wants the Council of the EU to take advantage of the two-month moratorium to present the appeal to the Court of Justice of the EU with the aim that, once the appeal is admitted for processing, the Luxembourg-based Court provisionally suspends the sentence until its final ruling, which could take at least a year.
What does the Polisario say?
The representative of the Polisario Front to the European Union, Ubbi Buchraya, told Efe on Wednesday that the decision of the General Court of the EU “dismantles” the arguments of the European Commission on the validity of the agreements between the community bloc and Morocco and gives two months to Brussels to reverse them.
The representative of the Polisario Front considered that this temporary application “is a window that is left open for the Commission and the Council to organize their exit from the agreements” within a maximum period of two months.
“The entire track of the European Commission was dismantled by the Court of Justice of the EU,” added Buchraya, who also celebrated the recognition of “the legal personality of the Polisario Front.”
“The consultations had nothing to do with obtaining the consent of the Saharawi people,” said Buchraya about the court’s decision, which indicates that “the ‘consultations’ with the ‘affected populations’ organized by the institutions could not bear fruit in the expression of the consent of the people of Western Sahara “.
Rabat, led by Borrell …
In a joint statement, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, and the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita, they claim without mentioning Western Sahara: “We will take the necessary measures to ensure the legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of commercial relations between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco. We will continue working to develop the multiple dimensions of this strategic alliance, in the same spirit of mobilization, coherence and solidarity “.
… And against the sentence
Morocco sees “a lot of politics and few arguments” in the ruling of the EU Court annulling the fisheries and agrarian agreements for encompassing Western Sahara, which will be, it trusts, appealed and rectified with the help of the European institutions, to which they ask defend its legality.
Moroccan Foreign Ministry sources told Efe that the court has entered into its ruling “on rather political considerations that have nothing to do with the agreements and their content.” They criticize that the sentencing court is made up of practically the same judges who formed the one that in 2015 annulled the agreements at first. “Unfortunately, they prove the same ignorance of the matter”, they indicate in this regard.
“There is a lot of politics and few legal arguments,” say the Foreign Ministry sources, who even find “contradictions”, “ambiguity and inconsistencies” in the way in which the court grants legal personality to the Polisario Front.
“We are not surprised with this, it is not the first time, we have already seen this before in the same way, it is rather a political war with a legal disguise,” they explain in reference to the dispute over the Sahara with Algeria and the Polisario.
“The position of the EU has been strongly expressed, without any ambiguity, by the Council, which defended itself in court saying that the Polisario does not have any legal personality”, they emphasize: “We know that they are jealous of this association, it is something that we are building together and I believe that everyone is going to be on the same side, we are going to work together to stop this political harassment from our adversaries. ”
Can there be trade agreements between Morocco and the EU? Yes, but …
The General Court indicates that, in the last judgment of the Council / Polisario Front, “the Court of Justice deduced from the principle of self-determination and the principle of relative effect of the treaties clear, precise and unconditional obligations that must govern relations between the Union and Morocco with regard to Western Sahara: on the one hand, respect for its separate and distinct status and, on the other hand, the obligation to guarantee the consent of its people in the event of application of the Association Agreement on said territory “.
In this sense, the General Court “accepts the allegation of the Polisario Front by means of which it alleges that the requirement regarding the consent of the people of Western Sahara, in their capacity as a third party with respect to the disputed agreements, has not been respected, in the sense of the principle relative effect of the Treaties. The purpose of the disputed agreements is not to grant rights to said people, but instead impose obligations on them “.
Did you see it coming? Well a little …
The Luxembourg Court already declared in December 2016 that the agreements between the EU and the Kingdom of Morocco cannot include Western Sahara without its consent 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. But the renovation has not passed the Luxembourg filter either.
In the voting in the plenary session of the European Parliament of these agreements in the previous legislature, in January and February 2019, approved by the majority of popular, socialists and liberals, voices were already heard warning of legal problems, mainly of the benches of the Greens and the Left, and of human rights NGOs, who indicated that the Saharawi population had not been consulted or had not been able to express their consent, while it has been negotiated between Brussels and Rabat.
The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch, in a letter sent to MEPs, stated: “Morocco is the occupying power in the Sahara and that international humanitarian law must be applied there, so the trade agreements between the EU and Morocco that including Western Sahara do not respect this international law. ”
The European Parliament endorsed the fisheries agreement in February 2019, with 415 votes in favor and 189 against.
Greens and the Left celebrate it
“This decision is important for producers in Spain because we know that a good part of the tomato that happens to be Moroccan and is sinking our markets actually comes from the Sahara. A complete fraud,” said the head of the Podemos delegation in the European Parliament , María Eugenia Rodríguez Palop.
The IU spokesperson in the European Parliament, Sira Rego, said: “From the United Left we congratulate the Polisario Front for this victory in its fight for decolonization. The EU must abide by the sentence and immediately put an end to the agreements with Morocco that plunder the resources of the Saharawi people “.
ERC MEPs Diana Riba and Jordi Solé, from the Greens, also celebrated the sentences: “The looting and historical repression suffered by Western Sahara must end once and for all. Neither the EU nor, especially, Spain can be accomplices The solution is clear: self-determination. ”
Also the Danish ecologist MEP Margrete Auken celebrated the ruling and opined that “the fish are from Western Sahara, not the occupying power of Morocco.”
The Anticapitalistas MEP, Miguel Urbán, pointed out: “Europe cannot continue to be an accomplice in the looting of the Saharawi territories illegally occupied by Morocco.”
And, in between, the gas
At the same time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, makes his first visit to Algeria – an ally of the Polisario – this Thursday with his sights set on guaranteeing the supply of gas to Spain in the midst of the current diplomatic crisis in Algiers with Rabat and in full escalation of energy prices.
The Government intends to strengthen the energy relationship with Algeria, the sources have specified, which explains that Albares travels accompanied for the occasion by the presidents of Naturgy, Franscisco Reynés, and of Enagás, Antonio Llardén, “two main players in the sector” . Likewise, it also seeks to bet on innovative sectors in line with the energy transition.
Algeria is the main supplier of natural gas for Spain, reports Europa Press, a good part of which was transported until now via Morocco, through the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline. However, as a result of the rupture of relations between the two neighboring countries announced by Algiers on August 24, the Algerian Government revealed that the supply would now be made through the Medgaz gas pipeline, which links the North African country with Spain.