Senior socialist MEPs publicly slam EU-Morocco talks
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Two important members of the S&D group in the European Parliament this week expressed strong criticism of the Commission’s approach to EU-Morocco trade negotiations in relation to Western Sahara. This might reflect a significant shift ongoing in positions in the Europarliament.

Published 27 January 2018

There is an increasing concern in several of the political groups of the European Parliament that the Commission and Council are on the wrong course in their talks with Rabat over new trade and fisheries agreements. In particular, the mood appears to be slowly becoming more critical among the S&D party, a traditional stronghold for support of Moroccan government interests in Brussels. 

On 23rd of January, during the International Trade (INTA) Committee meeting in the European Parliament, the Chair, Bernd Lange, strongly criticised the European Commission and the Council in the ongoing negotiation to adapt the protocols of the Association Agreement between the EU and the Kingdom of Morocco in relation to Western Sahara.

See MEP Lange’s full intervention on the Parliament’s web-TV (from 11:22:30).

Bernd Lange is a Senior German MEP who, after a political career in the German SPD, became Member of the European Parliament in 2009. During his intervention as Chair of the prestigious International Trade Committee, he strongly condemned the European Council. 

Lange qualified Council’s attitude as “illegal, absolutely illegal”.

Following the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruling of the 21st of December 2016 which invalidated the Association Agreement between the EU and the Kingdom of Morocco due to its de facto application to the separate and distinct territory of Western Sahara, the Council gave mandate to the Commission on the 29th of May. 

However, the Council never transmitted the annexes of the mandate to the European Parliament, and it was hence impossible for the European lawmakers to know their content. According to some sources, Lange asked for the annexes already last year and the Council rejected his request due to the “ongoing negotiation process”. 

Evoking the MEPs right to receive all relevant information of the dossier they are following, Lange called for a stronger Parliament and expressed his concerns about the transparency of these negotiations. In conclusion, he hoped that the INTA Committee report and the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU will spur the Council to respect the law and the legislative power of the European Union.

One day after, another senior S&D MEP referred to the ongoing negotiation process between the European Union and Morocco in surprisingly critical terms. The Italian Pier Antonio Panzeri, in his quality of Chair of the Human Rights (DROI) Committee, is a long-standing member of the European Parliament (since 2009), and quite well known as strong European ally of Rabat in Europe. Nonetheless, talking about the human rights assessment of European agreements with third parties, he mentioned the EU-Morocco Association Agreement. 

“The EU needs to be in a position to be able to bring new clauses. There are two above all I would like to emphasise: firstly we should have rules which allow for the suspension of trade concessions when we are faced with flagrant breaches of human rights, and the second idea would be the problem of permanent monitoring”, Panzeri said.

See Panzeri’s statement from the meeting of the DROI Committee of 24 January on web-TV (from 15:20:00).

“In Parliament for example we will soon be talking about the trade agreement with Morocco […] and there is a Fisheries agreement and the CJEU involvement which flags up the fact that the Commission’s job, according to the Advocate General, should be to monitor the implementation of the agreement before it is finalised”, Panzeri continued. 

​“I think this will also reflect in respect of the Agriculture Agreement. Even if the Commission drafted a new agreement with Morocco – but we haven't yet had sight of it – it seems to replicate the old one. Therefore, the question arises as to whether we should have a clause which would allow for permanent monitoring that, before the agreement is implemented, would check the human rights impact”, he stressed. 

Finally, he reflected about the balance of power and expressed his desire to see political and judiciary power working together to define what the best way forward is. 

In relation to the comments by Panzeri, it is to be recalled that the Commission has departed from longstanding policy practice and has initiated trade talks with Morocco on Western Sahara without having carried out a prior sustainability impact assessment, including on human rights. This is unique in recent EU trade policy conduct. 


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