Photo: European Commissioner for Fisheries Maria Damanaki and Moroccan Minister for Fisheries Aziz Ackannouch seal the deal.
While all of Brussels is silent due to summer recess, the European Commission chose to push forward the contentious negotiations with Morocco to obtain a new fish deal.
The new Protocol has been reached after months of deadlock over the issue of Western Sahara, as the EU's insistence on including a human rights clause clashed with Morocco's untenable idea of sovereignty over the territory it illegally occupies since 1975.
Though not yet disclosed, the Protocol is said to include a human rights clause and some language regarding the use of Western Saharan resources.
At the time of writing, it was not yet clear whether Morocco has accepted the EU's proposal to provisionally apply the agreement, whereby vessels could immediately start fishing pending Council's approval. Up to yesterday, Morocco demonstrated stark opposition to the idea, wanting to avoid at all cost a repetition of the December 2011 scenario. Back then, the European Parliament revoked the previous Fisheries Protocol causing EU fishing vessels to withdraw, following concerns on the Protocol's economic viability, ecological sustainability and compliance with international law in its treatment of Western Sahara.
"I can be optimistic, and I hope the European Parliament can understand the difference from the previous one," said Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for maritime affairs. "There has to be respect for international law so the local population has to get the profit of the agreement we signed," she added.
The European Commission has however not sought the consent of the Saharawi people on the deal which will profoundly impact the fish stocks in their occupied country's waters.
The Frente Polisario, the internationally recognised political representation of the Saharawi people, has condemned the new Protocol. "This attempt to legitimize the theft of Western Sahara's natural resources detracts from the ongoing efforts by the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing occupation of Western Sahara. Nor will the ineffective human rights provision in the new Protocol help the situation of the Saharawi people, who continue to be oppressed on a daily basis by the forces of Moroccan occupation", said Mohamed Sidati, Polisario's Representative to the EU.
Under the newly agreed Protocol, Morocco accords greater catch volumes in return for a larger annual fee; € 40 million, up from the € 36,1 million granted under the previous deal.
The Protocol still requires acceptance by the EU Member States and the European Parliament.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.