Mogherini heads to Morocco after EU ties suspended

Federica Mogherini and Sallahedine Mezouar [European Council]

European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will head to Rabat for talks today (4 March), a week after Morocco suspended all ties with Brussels.

The North African country broke ties after a ruling by the European Court of Justice that a farm trade deal was illegal because it included the disputed region of Western Sahara.

The European Union said last week it had appealed the ruling by the bloc’s top court.

Mogherini will meet Morocco’s Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, her office said in a statement.

“This visit offers a chance to discuss bilateral relations between Morocco and the European Union and the state of our partnership, and to discuss our shared interests, including after the Court’s decision on the farm trade deal between the EU and Morocco, which the EU has appealed,” the statement said.

Last December the European Court of Justice annulled the 2012 trade pact because it failed to explicitly refer to Western Sahara, leaving open the possibility that the accord would apply in the region.

The case was brought before the Luxembourg-based court by the Polisario Front which has fought for Western Sahara’s independence for decades, backed by Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria.

Morocco took control of most of the territory in 1975 when colonial power Spain pulled out, sparking a war that lasted until 1991.

A UN-brokered ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario has held since then, but UN efforts to organise a referendum on the territory’s future have been resisted by Rabat (see background).

The issue of Western Sahara has on several occasions caused tensions and setbacks in EU-Morocco relations.

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The Western Sahara is a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the extreme northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres.

It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. The population is estimated at just over 500,000.

Occupied by Spain in the late 19th century, the Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand.

In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonise the territory. One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination.

In 1975, Spain relinquished the administrative control of the territory to a joint administration by Morocco (which had formally claimed the territory since 1957) and Mauritania.

A war erupted between those countries and the Sahrawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government-in-exile in Algeria. Mauritania withdrew in 1979, and Morocco eventually secured effective control of most of the territory, including all the major cities and natural resources.

Since a UN-sponsored ceasefire agreement in 1991, two thirds of the territory of Western Sahara has been controlled by Morocco and the remainder by the SADR, strongly backed by Algeria.

Internationally, countries such as the United States and Russia have taken a generally ambiguous and neutral position on each side's claims, and have pressed both parties to agree on a peaceful resolution.

Both Morocco and Polisario have sought to boost their claims by accumulating formal recognition, essentially from African, Asian, and Latin American states in the developing world.

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