The European Court of Justice (ECJ) held the hearing sessions on Monday and Tuesday to review the appeals filed by the European Commission against the cancellation of the European Union’s fishing agreement with Morocco, including the southern provinces.
The European Union’s lawyer general is expected to present her opinion about this case on March 21, 2024, according to The Independent.
The date was announced by the Attorney General, Tamara Capeta on Tuesday, which was the end of the final hearing of the case in the ECJ, reported the Spanish press agency EFE.
The Independent reported the details of the hearings, which witnessed a strong defense by the lawyer of the European Commission, Daniel Calleja, and the Council of the Union.
Calleja defended that the Polisario Front lacks an administrative structure to implement a trade and fishing agreement.
“Morocco controls a large part of the territory where there is agricultural land. Morocco is the only one that can guarantee fishing activities and their sustainability,” said the European Commission lawyer, according to The Independent.
Calleja stressed that the halting of the agreements between Rabat and Brussels would only impede the economic development of the Sahara, noting the agreement with Morocco would result in the well-being of the populations of the Southern regions in the form of more employment and an infrastructure improvement.
On his part, Frederik Naert, the European Council lawyer, underscored that Moroccan Sahara “does not have authorities that can exercise the functions of a normal State,” reported EFE.
He also stressed that the responsibility of correctly certifying the origin of fruits and vegetables is reliant on the good work of the Moroccan authorities.
Andrea Gavela, Spain’s lawyer, also participated in the hearings and emphasized, “It is not up to the EU or its courts” to put an end to the Sahara conflict.
“Spain defends the centrality of the United Nations in the search for a lasting, just, and mutually acceptable solution for Western Sahara,” said Gevela, according to The Independent.
Spain’s lawyer added that the Polisario Front is not entitled “to consider itself directly or indirectly affected” by the trade agreement between the EU and Morocco, according to the same source.
The long-standing multi-million-euro European Union’s fisheries deal with the Kingdom of Morocco expired on July 17th due to a dispute over its eligibility and the inclusion of Polisario’s representatives in the negotiations.
Ever since, calls from Spanish local fishermen to renew the agreement have been made as they fear the repercussions of this pending.
In 2021, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of the Polisario Front by suspending the fisheries and agricultural agreements signed with Morocco.
The court argued that these deals violated the resources of the Moroccan Sahara regions. Subsequently, the European Commission filed appeals against this ruling.
The opinion of the lawyer general of the European Union in March will define not only the fishing agreement status quo but also the political and diplomatic relations between the European Union and Morocco.
The end of the fishing deals between Morocco and Europe will leave EU vessels without a license to fish in the Moroccan exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including the southern regions of the Kingdom.
The fishing deal between the EU and Morocco was first established in 1988 when Spain joined the European Union.
The renewal agreement that covers the period from 2019-2023 allocated €208 million in exchange for 128 fishing licenses.
As a result, approximately €50 million was directed to the Kingdom each year as part of the agreement.
European Commission member states, including Spain and France, previously argued that “Polisario lacks legal eligibility, given that it is only a limited representative entity, in addition to its demand that there be approval from the inhabitants of the southern Moroccan provinces concerning the signed agreement is unnecessary.”