The Western Sahara free of EU fleets by the agreement with Morocco

    An expiring fisheries agreement for the EU reopens one of the historical problems of international law.

    Today officially expires the fishing agreement between the European Union (EU) and Spain with Morocco, a reality that means a new restriction for the fleets of the entire EU, but that affects above all the Spanish fleets.

    Thus, at the end of last week, the Spanish fishing sector, represented by the Spanish Fishing Confederation (CEPESCA), published a press release urging the parties to reach an agreement.

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    “Apart from an undeniable symbolism, for the sector, the termination of the fishing agreement with Morocco also translates into a new restriction on the fishing activity of our fleet, subjected in recent months to numerous closures of fishing grounds,” explained Javier Garat, General Secretary of CEPESCA.

    Specifically, EU and Moroccan negotiators were asked to work on defining the technical conditions that would guide the renewal of the fisheries protocol between the EU and Morocco, pending the judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). Therefore, the CJEU would be in charge of deciding on the appeal filed by the European Commission and the Council against the 2021 judgment of the EU General Court annulling the agreement.

    The challenge is that time is running out. Today the agreements end, and the CJEU is not expected to take a position until late 2023 or early 2024 to issue a final ruling. As a result, Europe will not make a move on the fisheries agreements until the judge’s decision. A fact that leaves the European fishing sector and, more specifically, fishermen with many questions and problems and few real answers and solutions.

    A covenant promise that seems to be late to be fulfilled

    The sector points out that although the end of the fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco will not affect a large number of vessels (about 20 of a total of 93), it will mean a big problem for companies and sailors of the Andalusian, Galician, and Canary fleets. Therefore, the Spanish fishing sector asked for the redefinition and immediate implementation of the aid plan announced at the beginning of this problem. In this sense, the industry believes that there are gaps in the definition of the conditions of access to such aid, which will be financed using the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

    Furthermore, the fishermen argue that those vessels that have already exhausted the six months of aid for temporary cessation under the FEMP will not be able to benefit. This situation, according to the sector, affects practically the entire Andalusian fleet.

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    A long-standing problem

    The expiring agreement dates back to the decades-old EU-Morocco fisheries agreement that has allowed the Spanish fleet to work off the coast of Western Sahara under the consent of Mohamed VI.

    Fishing relations between Spain and Morocco date back to the 50s of the last century, with the competencies being taken over by the EU with the entry of Spain into the EU in 1986. Since then, the agreements between both parties have been renewed, except for a couple of specific ones.

    Nevertheless, everything would change with several judgments of the European courts declaring the various trade pacts null and void. Because, according to international law, the Western Sahara is not part of Morocco or Mauritania.

    World map in detail. Photo by: Adobe Stock.

    A decision not made by Mauritania or Morocco

    The process of self-determination emerged as a pivotal factor for the future of African territories upon the demise of European colonial empires. It granted the inhabitants the opportunity to determine their independence through democratic voting, liberating them from colonial domination. This process did not occur in the Sahara due to the eve of the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in November 1975. On the contrary, this territory had an agreement to hand over administratively one part to Morocco and the other to Mauritania by the Madrid Tripartite Agreements. As a result, the Saharawis were never asked if they wanted their territory to be theirs again.

    Since those Madrid agreements, everything that has followed about Spain and the former colony has been considered one of the most shameful parts of Spanish history. And such is the magnitude of the blunder that, even to this day, this “cession” remains at in the “problem list” of international nature.

    In particular, about fishing, several rulings consider that the EU has signed some exploration agreements that are not legitimate since they should be dealt with the legitimate authority of the country, known as the Frente Polisario.

    This Frente Polisario is the legitimate authority for the Saharawis, the real leaders of the country who, in addition to taking care of the administration allowed by the international conflict, continue to pursue the true independence of Western Sahara.

    The Sahara is ready to discuss

    For the moment, as explained by the Spanish newspaper Público, the Sahara is ready to sit down to negotiate with Spain and the EU. However, it must be a clear agreement of their independence. Since both licenses are not going to be a possibility for both countries, because Morocco and Western Sahara are looking for a position with which to continue the process.

    In the end, against the backdrop of the fishing industry, Western Sahara is seeking that, even if only through the access of ships, the Saharawis can set sail towards real, legitimate, and international independence.

    Successful silhouette man winner waving Western Sahara flag on top of the mountain peak. Photo by: Adobe Stock.
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