EU court lawyer says decision to stop EU-Morocco trade deal was wrong

Demonstration in Madrid in favour of Western Sahara's self-determination. [Western Sahara/Flickr]

A top lawyer from the EU Court of Justice paved the way for restoring EU and Morocco ties as he concluded on Tuesday (13 September) that trade and liberalisation deals were wrongly killed by the EU judges and the decision should be overturned.

Morocco suspended links with Brussels early this year after the General Court of the EU, the bloc’s second top court, annulled the Association and Liberalisation agreements in 2015 on the grounds that it illegally applied to the Western Sahara.

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The Polisario Front, a group which seeks independence for the Western Sahara, had challenged the 2012 trade deal as they claimed that the deals were in detriment of Western Sahara population.

Following that decision, the Council, which brings together the member states, appealed against the court’s decision to quash the deals.

Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony now controlled by Morocco.

On Tuesday, the top legal advisor to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, said that in his opinion the original deal with Morocco did not in fact apply to Western Sahara, making the original objection to it moot.

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The ECJ’s Advocate General, Melchior Wathelet, believes that the top court should “set aside the judgement of the General Court which held that those agreements apply to that territory”.

“Western Sahara is not part of Moroccan territory and, therefore, contrary to the findings of the General Court, neither the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, nor the Liberalisation Agreement are applicable to it,” its opinion said.

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This was because the EU and its member states had never actually recognised Western Sahara as part of Morocco, making the issue irrelevant.

Wathelet questioned the Polisario Front’s authority to challenge the decision, as the organisation “is recognised by the international community solely as the representative of the people of Western Sahara in the political process aiming to resolve the issue of the self-determination of the people of that territory and not for the purpose of defending the commercial interests of that people”.

Moreover, the Court’s top lawyer pointed out that not only the Polisario Front. but also Spain could represent Western Sahara abroad, as Madrid was the former colonial power of that territory and “still has responsibilities in that regard”.

Opinions by the ECJ’s advocate generals are not binding, but in 80% of the cases, the court follows their recommendations.

The 28-nation EU had pushed the trade accord with Morocco as a way to improve ties with the key North African country.

The Polisario Front has fought for Western Sahara’s independence for decades, backed by Algeria.

Morocco took control of most of the territory in 1975 when 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.


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