- The controversial fisheries accord between the European Union (EU) and Morocco has now been approved by all EU institutions, despite protests from Western Sahara and several EU member states. The deal includes fishing rights in Sahrawi waters, conceded to the EU by the Moroccan government, contrary to international legality, according to opponents.
The complicated ratification process of the EU-Morocco fisheries accord now has been finalised, giving a total victory to the promoters of the deal. Already in July last year, EU and Moroccan negotiators had agreed on the terms for a new four-year treaty, allowing EU vessels to resume fishing in the rich Atlantic waters of Morocco for the first time since 1999. The deal was smaller than the previous 1995-1999 treaty and excluded Morocco's Mediterranean waters. But nevertheless, 119 EU vessels - 95 of them Spanish - were allowed to return to Moroccan waters.
The ratification was complicated by the many protests against the inclusion of the waters of Western Sahara, a territory occupied by Morocco since 1976. Pro-Sahrawi activists led a rather successful campaign against the deal, winning several European governments for their cause.
In particular EU member Sweden stood behind an initiative to amend the controversial accord by excluding Sahrawi waters. The first test to the campaign was a vote in the European parliament in early May. The amendments were voted down, but Swedish MEPs had secured support from the European Green Party, several left-wing groups and MEPs from Ireland and Finland.
The most important test however came today, as all member states were asked to vote for or against the deal in the EU's Council of Ministers. Here, a two-thirds majority was needed. According to the Swedish government, however, Sweden was the only country to vote against the Morocco deal, while Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands allegedly abstained from voting.
Campaigners and the Swedish government today voiced their disappointment. "Western Sahara is not part of the territory of Morocco under international law and a process is under way to find a just, lasting and mutually accepted political solution to the conflict," the Swedish EU delegation said in a statement, repeating that the deal had been wrong.
A European-wide coalition of pro-Sahrawi activists, united in the "Fish elsewhere" campaign, has underlined that the EU-Morocco fisheries deal in its current form is contrary to international law and the UN peace process. The campaigners had asked for a legal opinion from experts on international law, which had "reinforced" their belief that the deal was illegal.
The exiled government of Western Sahara - the Polisario Front - today strongly condemned the EU's ratification of the deal. "The Western Sahara people will not benefit from this deal, which amounts to exploitation of our resources," a Polisario spokesman said today, adding that the deal could lead to greater frustration and possible unrest among Sahrawis.
On the other side, the ratification was welcomed among the main beneficiaries: Spain, Portugal and Morocco. In particular Spain's crisis-ridden fishing fleet is to benefit from the deal. Spanish Fisheries Minister Elena Espinosa today expressed her "great satisfaction" with the ratification.
Also in Morocco, the government was satisfied with the diplomatic victory over its Sahrawi counterparts. The four-year deal is worth euro 144 million (US$ 185 million), with most of the revenues going directly into government accounts. An upcoming vote of approval by the Moroccan parliament is not expected to cause any problems.
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