EU and Morocco to strengthen trade relations through new measures

The EU's General Court has annulled the agricultural and fisheries agreements with Morocco, the EU's main trading partner
tribunal-justicia-europeo

 -  

The European Union and Morocco have announced that they will take "the necessary measures" with the aim of "ensuring the legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of their trade relations". This decision follows the ruling of the General Court of the European Union, which ordered the annulment of the agricultural and fisheries trade agreements with Morocco, in response to the demands of the Polisario Front in this area.

The Court has also left a two-month period in which the agreements can continue to be applied, but in the event that the EU appeals, the agreements will remain in force until the Court of Justice of the European Union can rule on the matter definitively. 

pesca-marruecos-españa

The European Union and Morocco have announced that they will take "the necessary measures" with the aim of "ensuring the legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of their trade relations". This decision follows the ruling of the General Court of the European Union, which ordered the annulment of the agricultural and fisheries trade agreements with Morocco, in response to the demands of the Polisario Front in this area.

The Court has also left a two-month period in which the agreements can continue to be applied, but in the event that the EU appeals, the agreements will remain in force until the Court of Justice of the European Union can rule on the matter definitively. 

 sahara-occidental-campamento

To this end, it announces that the EU and Morocco will continue to work "to develop the multiple dimensions of this strategic partnership" and will do so "in the same spirit of mobilisation, coherence and solidarity". The communiqué indicates that they will remain "fully mobilised to continue cooperation between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco, in a climate of serenity and commitment", in order to "consolidate the Euro-Moroccan shared prosperity partnership, launched in June 2019".

One of the key issues in this ruling was to see what influence the Polisario Front could exert in setting itself up as the legal representative of the Saharawi people, which a 2016 ruling had already demanded to be consulted on the application of these agreements in what is considered its territory and waters. 

barco-pesquero-sahara
AFP/ FADEL SENNA - Fishermen unload boxes of fish in the port of Western Sahara's main Moroccan-controlled town of Laayoune.

The Polisario Front is in favour of this ruling, although the resolution will remain frozen for the time being "for a certain period of time" because this annulment has "serious consequences" for the European Union's external action.

In this ruling, the judges revealed that "its annulment with immediate effect could have serious consequences for the external action of the Union and call into question the legal certainty of the international commitments undertaken by the Union". This declaration means that the pacts will continue to apply until the Court rules on a possible final appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

From Europe, the judiciary affirms that the Polisario "is not a subject of international law and does not meet the criteria established by the jurisdictional bodies of the Union to recognise its legal standing". However, they affirm that "a restrictive interpretation of the concept" cannot be made and grant it "representativeness".

Spain's role in the agreements

Trade relations between the EU and Morocco are of paramount importance. In this sense, the EU is Morocco's largest trading partner, and the Alawi kingdom is the EU's main partner in its southern neighbourhood. According to figures from the General Confederation of Moroccan Business, trade between the two partners totals 35.3 billion euros, with a surplus of 5 billion euros.

ministro-marruecos-bourita
AP/MOSA’AB ELSHAMY - Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita

On the other hand, Spain's role in these agreements is of utmost importance since, from an economic point of view, Spain benefits from the access of its fishing vessels to Western Sahara. In this context, 92 of the 128 authorised vessels fly the Spanish flag. This, moreover, comes in the context of the recent diplomatic crisis that Morocco and Spain have managed to emerge from the crisis unleashed after the arrival of Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali in Spain, without prior consultation with Morocco, made it clear that "the background to the crisis is a question of Spain's hostile ulterior motives with regard to the Sahara, a sacred cause of the entire Moroccan people", according to a statement issued by the Moroccan Foreign Ministry. The statement went on to confess that this crisis will not end until Spain "clarifies unambiguously its choices, its decisions and its positions on the question of Western Sahara".

Arancha González Laya's successor, José Manuel Albares, is leading the way in rebuilding and strengthening diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms, without yet having scheduled a trip to Morocco. However, the Court's ruling in favour of the Polisario could have very negative consequences for Spain in the fisheries sector, as well as reopening a wound that has not yet healed.