The sentence of General Court of the European Union (TEU) of this Wednesday by which it has annulled the fisheries and agricultural agreements between the European Union and Morocco, for including in its application products from the Occidental Sahara whose territory is still in the process of decolonization, has sowed concern in the Spanish fishing sector that may lose the important Sahrawi fishing ground.
At stake is access to waters, mainly located in Western Sahara, where they fish 128 European ships, of which 92 are Spanish vessels of Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Galicia: 22 purse seiners, 25 bottom longliners, 10 artisanal fishing, 12 demercal fishing and 23 tuna pole-and-line vessels. The Spanish fleet fished 496.2 tons in the first year of the current agreement (2019) against 525.4 tons in the second (2020). For this year and the next, if the current ‘status quo’ is maintained, the Spanish fleet will fish 583.8 tonnes each year.
For now, in its ruling the Luxembourg court has estimated the resources of the Polisario Front although it maintains the validity of these agreements “for a certain time” – specifically, two months – until the European Justice issues a final judgment. In this way, the TEU aspires to “Preserve the Union’s external action and the legal certainty of its international commitments”. The ruling can be appealed before the Court of Justice of the EU within two months and ten days.
Although in the worst possible scenario, that of the breaking of the agreement, Morocco would also have a lot to lose: For the European Union it represents an economic compensation that it must pay the Moroccan authorities of 48.1 million euros in the first year, of 50.4 million in the second and already for the current and following an amount of 55.1 million euros. Including an additional amount of support for shipowners, as well as royalties of between 11 and 13 million.
From the fishing sector, the general secretary of Cepesca and president of the European employers’ association ‘Europeche’ Javier Garat, has crossed out “bad news” the European ruling and warned about the uncertainty in which the 128 European boats that fish in the Moroccan fishing grounds remain (of them 92 Spanish boats from Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Galicia). “It is a complementary agreement to other similar agreements in other fishing areas, for example, as in the case of Andalusia, the activities in the Gulf of Cádiz or in Galicia are complementary to the activities carried out in Mauritania, ”the Cepesca representative has warned. In his opinion, if the trade agreement with Morocco were finally broken, it would be “a good stick for the ships that use those waters as fishing grounds.”
In any case, the head of Cepesca has announced that he will propose a meeting of the Joint Euro-Moroccan Commission of Professionals of the Fisheries that brings together professionals from both sides to analyze the way in which the consequences of this court ruling “are as minor as possible.”
In a similar vein, the General Confederation of Moroccan Companies (CGEM) has recalled that “the decision of the European Court maintains the effects of the agricultural agreement between Morocco and the EU Until the final judgment, which will be issued by the European Court of last instance.
Spain and France «defenders» of Morocco
The principal investigator of the Elcano Royal Institute and associate professor of the Instituto Empresa (IE) Haizam Amirah Fernández, highlights that the dispute around Western Sahara has not yet been resolved: «None of the main international organizations recognizes a Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty and, now the European Justice has recalled it “, pointed out this expert who recalls that this position was reiterated in his day by the UN legal advisor in 2002 and when the free trade agreement with Morocco was signed in 2004. In this regard, he has recalled that when the United States signed a similar agreement with the Alawite kingdom, the Department of Commerce recommended not including products from this territory.
In any case, the principal investigator of the Elcano Royal Institute has warned that “There is still a procedural path and the sentence can be appealed”. Amirah recalled that the ruling has its origin in an appeal presented by the Polisario Front “which was opposed by the European Commission and the governments of France and Spain during the oral hearings in March.” For this reason, when asked by ABC about possible reprisals from Morocco for this sentence, Amirah Fernández does not rule out anything and cites what happened last April in Ceuta, which he attributed “A reflection not very well measured”. However, he stressed that “Spain has not cut back when it comes to defending Morocco in Luxembourg: all the Spanish governments have done so.”