A European Court of Justice (ECJ) advisor on Wednesday (10 January) said the EU-Morocco trade agreement violates the rights of people from Western Sahara….
A European Court of Justice (ECJ) advisor on Wednesday (10 January) said the EU-Morocco trade agreement violates the rights of people from Western Sahara.
“By concluding that agreement, the EU was in breach of its obligation to respect the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination,” advocate general Melchior Wathelet said in a non-binding opinion.
But a senior Brussels-based lawyer told this website he believes the opinion issued by Wathelet, a Belgian politician, was “politically motivated” and that Brussels should press ahead in concluding a new agreement with Morocco.
Pierre Legros, who is legal council of Morocco, said that its legal value was “tarnished”, especially because Wathelet’s opinion comes just three days after the European Commission requested the opening of negotiations with Morocco for a new agreement.
Legros, formerly President of the Brussels Bar, said, “The Advisor’s so-called legal arguments are so blatantly biased regarding the fisheries agreement and the Sahara issue that they reveal a profound ignorance of international law and of the EU’s stand on its relations with Morocco.”
“This opinion, as far as I am concerned, is entirely politically motivated and is an attempt to politicise the judicial process which is wrong. We should not be confusing the situation here with the Palestinian case,
“Nor do I believe that the ECJ should be involved in all this. What we are talking about is a trade agreement. The issue concerns fisheries so I do not see why the ECJ should be involved.”
The Commission, he pointed out, recommended the opening of negotiations on the basis of a recent independent evaluation study, which highlights the positive balance sheet of the current four-year agreement for both the EU and Morocco.
The study emphasizes the positive impact of the agreement, highlighting the clauses supporting economic development and benefiting the local population.
Legros said this was not the first attempt by Wathelet, who has served in his current post since 2012, to “undermine” Morocco-EU agreements as he had already issued, in September 2016, another “politically-oriented” opinion on the Morocco-EU agricultural agreement.
As Belgian Justice Minister he was alleged to have “encouraged the early release of many sex offenders” which included Marc Dutroux, a convicted child molester and subsequent serial killer. This particular release resulted in the European parliament calling for his resignation.
His opinion was then disavowed by the judges of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Further support for the EU/Morocco fisheries deal comes from Omar Akouri and Javier Garat, the co-presidents of the Mixed Hispano-Moroccan Commission of Fishing Professionals, who said it “has proved to be positive for both parties and is also essential for advance in the sustainable management of fisheries resources.”
The body says that between 2014 and 2016, the fisheries agreement generated 1,000 work contracts.
The Commission said the agreement does guarantee respect for international law and human rights and, since the opinion of the Advocate General counsel is not binding, it trusts that the ECJ “will adopt a judgment favourable to the validity of the agreement.”
In a statement, it said that “unfortunately, the Advocate General, a former Minister President of the Walloon Region in Belgium, does not seem to be willing to take into account the international basics on this matter.
The conclusions of Wathelet, who was a highly controversial figure during a spell at Belgian justice minister, that the deal should be declared invalid is the latest legal opinion on trade ties involving the disputed territory.
But if Wathelet’s opinion is followed by a decision of the ECJ, it could reopen a diplomatic dispute between Brussels and Rabat that broke out in 2016, when a lower General Court ruled the nullity of EU trade agreements with Morocco signed between the years 2000 and 2012.
Wathelet’s opinion came in response to British-based campaigners who said the UK was wrong to uphold the EU-Morocco fisheries deal. Britain asked the ECJ for advice.
About 120 vessels from 11 EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and the UK) are concerned.
In 2017, both the EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and the Moroccan minister for agriculture and sea fisheries, Aziz Akhannouch, expressed their intention “to renew this instrument which is essential for both parties”.
On Thursday, a European Commission source said that an independent evaluation study subsequently underlined the positive impact of the current protocol in terms of sustainable fishing and its contribution to the socioeconomic interests of the fisheries sectors both in the EU and in Morocco.
Further comment came from Spain’s General Secretary of Fisheries, Alberto López-Asenjo, who said that until the ECJ finally pronounces – something that will take months to occur – there are no changes.
“Therefore, this pronouncement (by Wathelet) does not have any practical effect given that the current agreement remains in effect until next July 14,” he said.
He went on, “This agreement is of great importance for the Spanish fishing interests and for the Spanish-Moroccan bilateral relations.”
Morocco considers the vast, mineral-rich Western Sahara as its “southern provinces” and fiercely defends against anything considered a threat to its territorial integrity. The territory’s status is one of the most sensitive topics in the North African kingdom.
The European commission will not formally comment until the final ruling of Luxembourg-based ECJ.
But a commission spokesman described its partnership with Morocco as very rich and varied.
“It is our will not only to preserve the privileged relationship we share, but also to strengthen it,” he said.
On Monday, it requested a mandate from the Council, representing member states, to launch a new fisheries deal with Morocco.
Western Sahara has been contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory as it own and fought the 16-year war with the Polisario Front military movement supported financially and diplomatically by Algeria.