The contentious trade agreements between Morocco and the European Union (EU) has taken center stage again before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The hearing sessions, scheduled to take place from on October 23, delves into the legality of fishing and agriculture agreements between Rabat and Brussels.
The European Commission and the European Council have adamantly contested the annulment of two agreements.
These agreements enable the export of agricultural produce and fishing resources from Western Sahara’s territories and its waters to the EU.
The primary point of contention was brought about by the separatist Polisario Front, who challenged the inclusion of Morocco’s southern provinces and waters.
The legal procedure started in 2021 when the General Court of the European Union (TGUE) sided with the Polisario Front’s request for the annulment of the EU-Morocco agricultural and fisheries agreements.
At the heart of the matter is the question of whether the Polisario Front has the legal authority to represent the interests of the Sahrawi people in the midst of this judicial battle.
The General Tribunal, acting as a first-instance community court, contended that the Polisario Front, as the representative of the Sahrawi people, should have its consent taken into account.
The Polisario’s argument centers around an alleged contravention of international law in the application of these agreements to Sahrawi territory.
The recent hearings conducted on Monday and Tuesday aimed to rule on the dual appeal presented by the European Commission and the European Council.
While the Polisario Front celebrated 2021’s judgment as a “triumphal victory,” Morocco decried it as “ideologically motivated.”
The European Union expressed its disappointment, as it held high ambitions for a strategic partnership with Morocco, a central pillar of its neighborhood policy in the Mediterranean basin.
Consequently, the Commission and the Council, supported by countries such as France, Spain, Belgium, and Hungary, have chosen to challenge the judgment before the CJEU.
However, the challenge has been delicate, considering existing European case law. The dispute dates back to 2012, and it builds upon the strong foundations of judgments rendered in 2016 and 2018.
Polisario’s ‘case’, challenging the EU
Gill Devers, the Polisario’s lawyer said that the agreements sealed between Brussels and Rabat are “an insult to International Law” since, he claims, “they sweep away the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people”, and violate “respect for its permanent sovereignty and its natural resources.”
Quoted by El Independente, European Commission lawyer at the hearing Daniel Calleja argued that the suspension of the agreements “would lead to hindering the economic development” of Western Sahara, “condemning these populations to a situation of isolation and lethargy.”
Back in December 2016, the CJEU determined that the association agreement between Morocco and the EU from the early 2000s couldn’t automatically apply to Western Sahara due to its “separate and distinct” status, as it is listed by the United Nations as a “non-self-governing territory.”
In February 2018, the CJEU upheld similar principles in another ruling, this time involving a fishing agreement that allowed 128 European boats to fish in the waters off the coast of Western Sahara.
The court therefore ruled that these waters did not fall under the “sovereignty or jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Morocco.”
Morocco-EU association agreement, a win-win deal
Political analyst Chiker Mohammed provided insights to MoroccoLatestNews, saying that this case “has profound implications for Morocco,” exceeding the economic.
Chiker explained in an interview with MoroccoLatestNews that the ruling must consider the interests of European countries within the Union that have significant economic ties with Morocco, namely Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands.
“These countries have recently expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative,” said the expert, underscoring the deep involvement of these European countries’ in Morocco’s sovereignty success.
Chiker emphasized that recent these developments in the Western Sahara case will inevitably lead to a more realistic position by the court, focusing on the political and economic aspects of governance, given the strategic, economic and diplomatic mutual benefits involved.
These relations are poised to gain prominence in the face of global geostrategic shifts, including the emergence of economic powers like China, Japan, and India seeking investment opportunities in Africa, with Morocco serving as a key gateway, he added.
This trial before the CJEU not only has legal implications but also stands as a pivotal moment in the ongoing political and economic dynamics between Morocco and the European Union, with broader geopolitical ramifications.