EU is negotiating a new controversial fishery agreement with Morocco

The European Parliament ended EU’s fishery agreement with Morocco this December. The main reason was that the occupied Western Sahara was dragged into the agreement – an occupation that the EU does not even accept. Now a new agreement is being negotiated and Western Sahara are hoping for better terms.

By Søren Lund Nielsen

Most of Western Sahara has been under Moroccan control since 1975 but the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement Polisario Front is working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.

In December 2011 the European Parliament decided not to renew their fisheries agreement with Morocco. However, after the rejection of a renewal, the Parliament voted a new resolution through about getting a new agreement. This has led to that the European Council now has given the European Commission a mandate to negotiate a new agreement with the Moroccans.

After 37 years of being under Moroccan occupation, the people of Western Sahara once again finds themselves in a waiting position. They are waiting for the outcome of EU’s newly started negotiations with Morocco. Will a new agreement exclude Western Sahara or will it once again play a forced role?

“It should not include Western Sahara territorial waters in this agreement”, says the Sahrawi Minister for Europe from Western Sahara, Mohamed Sidati. “That is violating international law”.

A better policy
A reform of The Common Fisheries Policy is one of the key topics for the current Danish Presidency of the EU. On this, the external policy regarding EU fisheries beyond EU waters are one of the main elements.

Oliver Drewes who is the Spokesman of Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, confirms that the commission is now engaging with Morocco on the basis of that mandate.

“The new agreement will have to meet international legality, environmental sustainability and economic efficiency”, says Oliver Drewes.

This is what the Danish Presidency has negotiated and what they have has told the Commission to do. Another important issue for the Danish Presidency has been to sign a new free trade agreement on agricultural products between Morocco and the EU. The Danish Minister of European Affairs, Nikolai Wammen, finds both the mandate given to negotiate and the free trade deal very important.

“It’s a very clear sign of the EU to the neighborhood policy, and it’s also a clear indication of our support to the Arab spring.” he says.

Insecurity about who is benefitting
According to Scottish MEP and Senior Vice President of the European Parliaments Fisheries Committee, Struan Stevenson from the European Conservatives & Reformists Group, the agreement has given comfort to the Moroccan government.

“We show that we are prepared to cooperate and that has given them comfort not to sign a deal with for instance China, but to come and talk to us again”, says Struan Stevenson.

He voted for a renewal of the agreement in December and told the Parliament that the agreement was benefitting Western Sahara. A Scottish fisherman working in Western Sahara that he knows opened a processing factory in the city of Dakhla where he was applying 600 Sahrawi people.

“I told the Parliament that if they voted against this agreement being renewed 600 Western Saharan people will lose their jobs over night. But the Parliament listened to all this bullshit about that it was not going to benefit the people, which was all misinformation and lies put about by some politicians who wanted to stab the Moroccans in the back”, says Struan Stevenson.

Swedish MEP Isabella Lövin from the Greens Group is however skeptical about this.

“Of course there are jobs but are the ones working the Sahrawi people or Moroccan occupiers? Until I get some credible evidence preferably from Polisario themselves, I don’t think there is a good argument at all”.

And that is not something she will get in the near future. According to Mohamed Sidati it is not true that 600 Sahrawi people is benefitting from the agreement.

“He is lying to the European Parliament. Did he make any investigation in the field to see who is benefitting from this agreement? Did he meet Sahrawi fishermen? Did he speak to the Sahrawi people who are a victim of human rights violation?” he asks.

A matter of international law
Isabella Lövin has been the rapporteur of the external dimension of the new fisheries reform. She has believed that the interest of Morocco was more to legitimize the occupation of Western Sahara then it was economical.

“Morocco has a very large fishing sector so they could utilize for themselves and they have done that before. I don’t think they really need the money”, she says.

In the mandate it says that international law should be respected. Regarding Western Sahara’s resources, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Correll’s UN Opinion from 2002 concluded that the selling of Western Sahara’s resources was only legal if the population of Western Sahara agrees to and benefits from it, something a European Parliament Legal Opinion from 2009 and numerous statements from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Western Sahara’s government in exile, conclude they do not.

“I’m quite sure that Morocco will try to prove that it comes to the benefit of people living in Western Sahara, and that there will be nothing about the wishes of the Sahrawi people”, says Isabella Lövin.

EU has to be careful
Sahrawi Minister for Europe, Mohamed Sidati, states that the agreements are not at all benefitting for the Sahrawi people.

“The Moroccans are doing what they want. They are not interested in showing Europe or anybody else how they are exploding this. It’s a matter of bribing and corruption in this cost. There is no control; there is no mechanism to be sure that it is Sahrawian working there. The Sahrawian are out of this issue.” he says.

Mohamed Sidati asks EU to be very careful when it comes to Western Sahara because the status of the territory is not determined yet.

“It should be determined by the Sahrawi themselves.  It didn’t take place yet so let’s respect the international legality. If they want to fish in the Western Sahara waters they can discuss with the Sahrawi themselves to see what is possible. But the EU and Morocco are dealing with something that doesn’t belong to Morocco. International Court of Justice was very clear about that”, he says.

Oliver Drewes doesn’t know how long time it will take before there is a result of the negotiations, but if an agreement is landed without an exclusion of Western Sahara the Polisario Front will speak its case.

“The Sahrawi people will ask for damages and will challenge this agreement everywhere, if it takes place. The EU shouldn’t be a hostile of the Moroccan, Spanish and French police”, he says.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *