Morocco demands ‘clear signal’ from EU on future relations

Western Sahara, a disputed teritory that is hampering EU-Morocco relations. [bobrayner/Flickr]

A Moroccan minister has warned the European Union that it must “clarify its position” and put an end to its conflicting positions regarding the North African country or face the consequences for both migration and the economy. EURACTIV Spain reports.

In a telephone interview with EFE, Morocco’s Minister for Agriculture Aziz Ajanuch, one of the African kingdom’s most prominent politicians, said he lamented the “disparity” between the positions of different EU organisations. He said his country needed a “political signal” that “recognised the role of Morocco” and the “extraordinary effort” it is making on its southern border.

Without mentioning concrete cases, the minister said “some Moroccan boats have suffered disruptions in European ports”, which only strengthens the activities of “our adversaries and enemies” (a reference to the Polisario Front, a rebel movement aimed at ending the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara).

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The minister may have been referring to the ship Key Bay, which stopped in the Canary Islands to refuel on 15 January carrying a cargo of fish oil from the Sahara. The ship was inspected by the Spanish Civil Guard following a complaint by the United Left party, which claimed the ship was illegally carrying a cargo from the Sahara. The inspection only lasted a few hours.

“We do not want to spend the rest of our mandate going to the courts in cities all around the EU,” Ajanuch said. “We want to work, for our farmers not to live in uncertainty, not knowing what will happen from one day to the next when their agricultural and fisheries products reach the EU’s borders.

For Ajanuch, this happens because the EU is “inconsistent” in its relations with Morocco, the Commission, Council, courts and MEPs often taking different stances. “But that’s not our problem, they have to arrange this between themselves,” the minister added.

The department Ajanuch heads on Tuesday (7 February) issued a statement in which it warned of the “serious consequences” that will arise from “obstacles” the EU puts in the way of the agricultural agreement signed in 2012. The agreement was partly annulled by a court in December 2015, for including Western Sahara, but the European Court of Justice overturned the ruling last December.

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Beyond the preamble to the judgement, which distinguished between Morocco and Western Sahara, “there is now a very clear verdict initiating the agreement”. Morocco will now “not accept others trying to apply their own interpretations. […] The EU’s attitude is confusing,” the minister added.

Trade and migration consequences

Ajanuch explained that if Morocco “does not get clear answers to these uncertainties, it is normal that we will turn our backs and look elsewhere” for commercial relations.

He had previously cited Russia, China, the Persian Gulf and the African continent as places Marrakesh could look to diversify its trade relations. Morocco currently conducts around 70% of its trade with the EU.

But the consequences could also affect the EU’s migration management: “How will the Europeans block migration from Africa via Morocco if they refuse to work with us?” Ajanuch asked.

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“The problem of migration is very costly for Morocco and Europe should appreciate our sacrifice,” he added.

For the minister, this lack of mutual trust can only be resolved by “a clear signal” from Europe. “The EU should say clearly and seriously if it wants a strong and credible partner to work with.”

Ajanuch’s words demonstrate that the crisis between the EU and its southern neighbour, which left relations frozen throughout 2016, is still far from a solution.

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