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Unveiling the future of Western Sahara: CJEU’s upcoming verdict on EU-Morocco trade disputes

Unveiling the future of Western Sahara: CJEU’s upcoming verdict on EU-Morocco trade disputes

BNN | 19th February 2024

By Salman Akhtar

The impending decision in the Western Sahara case by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) might have far-reaching consequences on international law, state sovereignty, and indigenous rights. The crux of the dispute revolves around EU-Morocco agreements, with potential implications for the Sahrawi people’s quest for self-determination and the future of international relations.

As the sands of time continue to shift beneath the disputed territory of Western Sahara, a pivotal legal pronouncement looms on the horizon. Jean Richard de la Tour, Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), is poised to deliver a potentially landmark opinion on March 21st, concerning an appeal that has gripped the attention of international law observers and regional stakeholders alike. This appeal seeks to overturn a judgment from September 29, 2021, which sided with the Polisario Front, challenging Moroccan sovereignty over the territory and casting doubt on the legality of EU-Morocco trade and fishing agreements. This moment in legal history could redefine the contours of international law, state sovereignty, and indigenous rights.

The Heart of the Dispute
At the core of this legal battle are the EU-Morocco agreements, which have been criticized for encompassing Western Sahara, a territory whose status remains unresolved in the eyes of international law. Historically, the CJEU has engaged with this thorny issue on several occasions, notably when Advocate General Melchior Wathelet underscored in September 2016 that Western Sahara should not be regarded as part of Morocco. This stance was further fortified in January 2018, as Wathelet opined that such agreements violated the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, echoing complaints about the exploitation of resources without local benefit. These pivotal moments have set the stage for the current appeal, scrutinized since October 23-24, 2023, by the EU Council against the backdrop of the Polisario Front’s unyielding quest for recognition and autonomy.

Implications of Implied Recognition
The intricate web of legal, political, and ethical questions surrounding the EU-Morocco agreements extends beyond mere trade and fishing rights. It touches upon the delicate doctrine of non-recognition, a principle that the international community has grappled with in various contexts. The 2022 judgment by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the Bernard Mornah Case, directly addressing the situation in Western Sahara, underscores the broader implications of these legal proceedings. Through the lens of this case, the CJEU’s upcoming decision is not merely about the annulment of a judgment but rather the affirmation or rejection of implied recognition of sovereignty through economic agreements. The outcome may very well influence future international treaties and the rights of indigenous populations across the globe.

The Road Ahead
As Jean Richard de la Tour prepares to share his opinion, a step that typically precedes the final verdict by CJEU judges, all eyes are on the potential for a seismic shift in international law and relations. De la Tour, who has served as Advocate General since March 23, 2020, and will continue until October 6, 2024, carries the weight of expectation. His forthcoming opinion not only has the power to influence the immediate future of the Western Sahara dispute but also to shape the principles governing state conduct and indigenous rights well into the future. With a history of legal precedents that challenge the status quo, the Court’s decision could herald a new era in the quest for self-determination and the sanctity of international law.

In the intricate dance of legality, sovereignty, and human rights, the CJEU’s deliberations on the Western Sahara case encapsulate the complexities of our modern world. As the decision day draws near, the international community remains poised on the brink of a legal verdict that could redefine the boundaries of state authority, indigenous autonomy, and the very fabric of international relations. Amidst the legal jargon and diplomatic maneuverings, the heart of this case beats with the aspirations of the Sahrawi people, a reminder of the human element that underpins the most complex of international disputes.

 source: BNN