EU wants to work with Morocco over court dispute

Friday 04/03/2016
Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar

CASABLANCA - The European Union said it wanted to deal with the issues that led Mo­rocco to suspend ties in response to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) annulling a fishing and agriculture agreement involving the disputed region of Western Sahara.

“We are ready to provide all clari­fications and additional assurances to address Morocco’s concerns, so that contact and cooperation can be restored as soon as possible,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogh­erini said on February 26th.

“It is our conviction that a true partnership implies listening, shar­ing, solidarity and mutual respect among partners,” she said, stress­ing that contacts had been made at all levels between the European Union and Morocco since Decem­ber and that Morocco had been kept informed throughout the pro­cess.

“The EU and Morocco have de­veloped, over many years, lasting partnership sealed by an associa­tion agreement covering many ar­eas of our bilateral cooperation,” Mogherini added.

Moroccan Prime Minister Ab­delilah Benkirane said he told EU Ambassador to Morocco Rupert Joy that the North African kingdom re­jects the ECJ’s verdict and consid­ers it a “grave decision”.

The ECJ’s ruling followed a com­plaint filed by representatives of the Polisario Front. Morocco an­nexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory, in 1975. Polisario Front separatists took up arms to fight for an independent state un­til the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Benkirane said ties with the Eu­ropean Union cannot be resumed unless “Morocco has guarantees that it will be the EU’s main ally in judicial decisions affecting the re­gion”.

He told Moroccan TV channel Al Aoula that “this is not a matter of commercial ties for us. The matter is far bigger than trade coopera­tion, tomatoes and fish”.

Several EU countries announced plans to appeal the ECJ ruling and maintain strategic ties with Moroc­co, which is a key ally against jihad­ist movements in Europe.

French Senator Christian Cam­bon expressed support for Moroc­co’s stance on the ECJ’s “arbitrary and political” decision.

German Federal Minister of Eco­nomic Cooperation and Develop­ment Gerd Muller, in Rabat on Feb­ruary 26th, said: “We understand Morocco’s position and we want to do everything for Morocco to be in­volved in this process on an equal footing.” Morocco is a “guarantor of stability” in the region, he said.

European Parliament Deputy Ra­chida Dati told the Moroccan daily Le Matin that Morocco’s suspen­sion of ties with the European Un­ion will force the 28-country bloc to respond without ambiguity.

“When I say too late, it means that it will be detrimental to the security of Europeans, especially in the context of fighting terrorism and the influx of migrants. Moroc­co is essential in the fight against the current threats to our security,” said Dati.

Morocco played a key role in averting terror attacks by giving French police intelligence about the whereabouts of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected master­mind of the November 13th as­saults in Paris that left 130 people dead.

After the Paris attacks, Belgium sought Morocco’s help in fighting terrorism. In a telephone conversa­tion in November with Moroccan King Mohammed VI, King Philippe of Belgium called for a close coop­eration in intelligence and security between the two countries.

Immigration is also a thorny is­sue as the European Union is fac­ing an unprecedented influx of mi­grants. The European Union wants to sign an agreement with Rabat on the repatriation of rejected Moroc­can asylum seekers.