Reuters | Tue 23 Oct 2007
France backs Morocco push for closer EU ties
RABAT, Oct 23 (Reuters) — France will support a push by ally Morocco for closer ties with the European Union and hopes it will play a leading role in a future union of Mediterranean states, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday.
"France stands shoulder to shoulder with Morocco in its desire to obtain an advanced status with the European Union," he said in a speech to Morocco’s parliament in Rabat during a visit to the north African country.
A French diplomatic source said granting Morocco "advanced status" would lead to a closer strategic dialogue and give it membership of some European agencies.
Agreements on high-speed train, defence equipment and atomic power have been signed during Sarkozy’s three-day visit.
In Paris, a lawyer for the family of Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka, abducted in Paris in 1965, said Sarkozy should also use his visit to press for the arrest of five people wanted in connection with the affair.
A judicial source said on Monday that a French judge was preparing warrants for five suspects linked to the disappearance of Ben Barka outside a Paris cafe. His body was never found.
The EU has spent billions to encourage its neighbours to improve their investment climate, governance and infrastructure.
North African economies have underperformed other developing regions of the world, fuelling joblessness, poverty and illegal northward migration.
Morocco applied for EU membership as far back as 1987 but never had much chance of success. The country of 33 million lacks the lucrative oil reserves of neighbour Algeria and has pushed hard for EU funding.
Cautious political and economic reforms have earned it an Association Agreement granting it bigger access to EU markets, aid and soft loans.
"Partnership with the European Union has helped Morocco make decisive progress," Sarkozy said. "I will do my best to ensure Morocco remains the top beneficiary of EU aid."
French officials said France would push for Morocco’s enhanced status in parallel with the Mediterranean Union initiative during its EU presidency in the second half of 2008.
Morocco supports Sarkozy’s brainchild of a Mediterranean partnership modelled more closely on the EU itself, as long as it does not undermine Morocco’s existing accords and status as a star pupil among EU neighbours.
Sarkozy said he hoped Morocco would play a "leading role" in a Mediterranean Union. He is due to give more detail on the project in a speech in the northern port city of Tangier later on Tuesday.