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EU-Morocco fisheries deal stuck pending court decision on self-determination claim
Euractiv | 18th July 2023
By Paula Andrés
A long-standing multi-million euro fisheries deal between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco expired on Monday (17 July) due to a dispute over its legality and the inclusion of Western Sahara’s representatives in the negotiations, pending a decision from the EU’s highest court.
The expiration will leave EU vessels without a license to fish in the Moroccan exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including Western Sahara waters.
The deal was initially agreed in 1988 after Spain joined the EU, with the 2019-2023 renewal agreement between the EU and Morocco earmarking €208 million in exchange for 128 fishing licences. This translated into around €50 million directed to Morocco each year.
However, a further renewal will hinge on a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in a case brought by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), who represent the independence movement for Western Sahara, and who argued that the deal is illegal as it did not include people from the territory in negotiations.
Western Sahara is a disputed territory between Morocco and the Polisario Front, following its annexation – illegal under international law – by Morocco after the Spanish process of decolonisation in 1975.
‘No negotiations between EU and Morocco’
The ECJ has repeatedly overturned – most recently in 2018 and 2021 – the application of the fisheries agreement to Western Sahara, stating that Morocco has no sovereignty over the territory and has not gained consent from the people of Western Sahara to ratify the agreement.
The last ruling in favour of the Polisario Front’s case, in 2021, was appealed by the EU Council and Commission, and a final ruling is expected later this year – months after the current deal expires.
In the meantime, the 2023 Joint Committee Meeting on fisheries between the EU and Morocco took place last Thursday (13 July) and “was the occasion to recall the importance of our relationship in fisheries matters,” a Commission’s spokesperson said.
However, the spokesperson also confirmed that “there is currently no negotiation taking place between the European Union and Morocco in the field of fisheries.”
“When it comes to the future, like our Moroccan partners and in close consultation with them, the EU will reflect and assess a possible renewal of the fisheries protocol,” the spokesperson said, adding that “any decision will be taken jointly with our Moroccan partners in the shared interest of both parties.”
The Commission did not refer to or mention Western Sahara in any of its responses to EURACTIV