The association and liberalisation agreements between the European Union and Morocco do not apply to the territory of Western Sahara, the European Court of Justice ruled on December 21.
Morocco has privileged access to the European market, as it exports agricultural and fishery products to the EU, including products from Western Sahara. According to Al-Monitor online, the court’s judgment is not only about trade, but has far-reaching political consequences.
“The court considers Western Sahara to be a third party rather than a part of Morocco, which means that Western Sahara cannot be included in agreements between Morocco and the EU without the explicit consent of the Sahrawi population,” said a source close to the ECJ.
This is the first time that the European court has taken a stance on Morocco’s sovereignty claim over Western Sahara.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Mhamed Khaddad, a senior official from the Polisario Front, which is Western Sahara’s national liberation movement, said he was “very satisfied by the clarity of the judgment, which highlights the Sahrawis’ right to self-determination.”
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1976 despite the International Court of Justice’s opinion that evidence was insufficient to prove Moroccan sovereignty claims over this territory.
According to Al-Monitor, the majority of Moroccan exports, including products from Western Sahara, go to the EU.
The EU and Morocco signed an association agreement in 2000 and further deepened their trade relations with the 2012 liberalisation agreement. The same year, the Polisario Front asked the ECJ to cancel the deal because the Sahrawi population was not consulted.
“Over the years, the EU has been turning a blind eye to Moroccan exports coming from this disputed territory. This has enabled Morocco to finance its occupation of Western Sahara, while giving the kingdom political legitimacy to do so,” Polisario lawyer Gilles Devers told Al-Monitor.
Bodil Valero, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, told Al-Monitor that the issue of Western Sahara “is a very political question among European member states. Whereas countries in the north support Western Sahara, France and Spain block everything. Morocco is also one of the EU’s last partners in the Mediterranean for preventing migration and fighting terrorism.”
Erik Hagen, the chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, told Al-Monitor that it is hard to understand how this judgment can be interpreted in any way as a victory for the EU or Morocco. “If the Polisario’s demand was dismissed, it is because the ECJ concluded that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco and therefore not included in EU-Morocco deals. This is why the Polisario Front is said to be irrelevant to the case.”
According to Al-Monitor, Morocco must now decide how to respond to the ruling. It can choose to break off relations with the EU again. Or Rabat can decide to accept the judgment and strengthen economic cooperation between the EU and Morocco proper.