Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The EU, Morocco, and the Western Sahara: A Chance for Justice
The EU, Morocco, and the Western Sahara: A Chance for Justice

The EU, Morocco, and the Western Sahara: A Chance for Justice

In February, the Kingdom of Morocco suspended diplomatic relations with the European Union. This extreme measure was taken in response to a December 2015 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to suspend an agricultural trade agreement between the EU and Morocco because it included the Western Sahara (WS) within its territorial scope. While relations appear to be in a dire state, the row is almost certainly temporary – and in fact, it may provide an opportunity to create the collective pressure needed to nudge Morocco towards a more just solution of the WS issue.

The CJEU invalidated the trade agreement on the grounds that the European Commission had not conducted sufficient due diligence to ensure the deal did not violate the rights of Saharawis – the Western Saharan people – over the farming and fishing resources in their territory. The European Council began the process of appealing the CJEU ruling in February. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has stated that “the agreements between Morocco and the European Union are not a violation of international law and as such an appeal has been filed, the agricultural agreement otherwise remains in force”.

The EU’s position on the Western Sahara

The EU has not taken a coherent position on the legality of the status of the WS, or on Morocco’s claims to it; instead, it has prevaricated. The EU has not recognised the POLISARIO Front (the Saharawi rebel nationalist movement) or the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), but neither does it explicitly recognise Morocco’s claims to the WS. This ambiguity results from the need to maintain cooperation with Morocco as a stable ally on counter-terror operations and migration flows, while also not appearing to flout issues of human rights, democracy, justice, and African decolonisation.

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