EU wants to work with Morocco over court dispute
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.