Maria Damanaki opposed continued EU fishing in Western Sahara
Article image
A document leaked by a Moroccan whistleblower indicates that former EU Commissioner for Fisheries did not want to renew the fisheries agreement with Morocco due to human rights violations in Western Sahara, but was allegedly pushed by the Head of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso.
Published 02 December 2014

The @chris_coleman24 twitter account keeps leaking official Moroccan documents. Today, it released a dispatch from Edward Gabriel, dated 10 May 2010, to the highest echelons of the Moroccan government, detailing what is described to be a conversation of one of Gabriel’s allies with Carmen Fraga Estevez, then head of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee.

Edward Gabriel, a former US Ambassador to Morocco, runs a Washington based lobby-firm that has the Moroccan government as a client since 2002. According to records filed under the US Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), Gabriel’s firm has been paid more than US $ 3,7 million in order to advance Morocco’s agenda in the United States alone.

At the time of the abovementioned conversation, the European Commission had presented the European Parliament with a proposal to extend the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) with one year. In the dispatch, Carmen Fraga is quoted as believing that this is “the maximum that can be achieved” because “a revision of the Fishery agreement with Morocco is very unlikely”.

Fraga is said to have cited several reasons, one being that the EU Commissioner for Fisheries at the time, Maria Damanaki, “is not willing [...] to get a new Fishery Agreement with Morocco. Ms Fraga told me that the President of the Commission [José Manuel Barroso, comment from WSRW] pushed Mrs Damanaki to extend the Protocol with one year. Commissioner Damanaki cites alleged violations of human rights by the Moroccan government”.

Carmen Fraga allegedly went on to say that the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the file, “Mr Haglund from the ALDE political group, the liberals, is not in favour of the extension of the Protocol and Commissioner Damanaki is not helpful either. Nevertheless, Mrs Fraga expects some pressure from the President of the Commission and believes that a small majority in favour of extending the Protocol may be mobilized”.

Carmen Fraga allegedly also gave lobby-advice to Gabriel’s informant, explaining which groups to influence.

Equally remarkable is how convinced Carmen Fraga appeared to be, according to Gabriel's anonymous source, by the Moroccan government’s position on Western Sahara. “Opponents claim that Morocco is not respecting human rights of the Saharan people and not supporting the Saharan people financially. Mrs Fraga is not persuaded by this argument. She accepts the position of the Moroccan government that everybody who lives in Western Sahara belongs to the Saharan people. The Moroccan government can prove it spends a lot of money on improvements of ports in the Western Sahara, together with EU money”.

That “proof” was a short powerpoint presentation, presenting Morocco’s plans to reform its fishing sector, provided at repeated insistence by the European Commission in 2010. However, the Commission had not requested a presentation of Morocco's plans, but rather a detailed document that would unequivocally prove how the Saharawis benefitted from Morocco’s fisheries agreement with the EU.

The Commission's request was yet another example of the its grave misinterpretation of the UN Legal Opinion on economic activities in Western Sahara, which concludes that such activities must be in accordance to the wishes and the interests of the Saharawi people. The Commission, choosing to ignore the Saharawi’s right to self-determination, solely chose to focus on the potential benefits. Furthermore, the Commission deemed it appropriate to ask Morocco, the occupying regime, to produce a report to demonstrate how its theft of the Saharawis’ resources were actually to their benefit. A practice which was slammed by the author of the UN Legal Opinion, Ambassador Hans Corell, as yet another misuse of his work.

However, Morocco – offended that it had to prove how it spent EU money in “its southern provinces” – did not present such any documentation for a very long time. After repeated requests from the European Commission, Morocco finally produced on 13 December 2010 a 44 page powerpoint presentation which did not even answer the original question. Instead, it gave some general information on port development plans in Morocco and Western Sahara, even failing to make the distinction between the two territories.

In December 2011, the European Parliament rejected the proposed one year extension of the EU-Morocco FPA.

WSRW has not confronted the persons quoted in the leak.

Here is the EU Council's legal advice on fishing in occupied waters

Before voting on the new EU-Morocco fish deal in 2018, extending into occupied Western Sahara, several EU Member States asked for legal advice that would determine their vote. WSRW today publishes that influential legal opinion, which appears to miss the ball entirely.
05 March 2020

EU Court reaffirms position on Western Sahara

Polisario has a case, but it should be pursued when the time is right, Court implies.

28 February 2019

EU Court confirms: Western Sahara not part of EU-Morocco fish deal

For the third time, the highest Court of the European Union has confirmed that Morocco has no sovereignty over Western Sahara. In its new ruling dated 19 July 2018, the Court confirms that the EU's fisheries agreement with Morocco cannot be applied to the territory.

26 July 2018

EU Court advocate: Fish agreement invalid for including Western Sahara

In an opinion issued this morning, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU stated that the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement is invalid because it applies to Western Sahara waters. Judgement expected in a few months. 

Read reaction from Frente Polisario on the opinion.

10 January 2018