The EU Court this morning issued a ruling stating that the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement is only valid if it does not apply to the waters of Western Sahara.
The Court ruled that the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement cannot be applied to Western Sahara or its adjacent waters, as that would violate the people of Western Sahara's right to self-determination, and, accordingly, their right to consent to any such agreement that would affect the territory.
The Court's press release states that "currently, the greater part of Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, which considers it to be an integral part of its territory." The Court does not share that Moroccan claim. "Taking account of the fact that the territory of Western Sahara does not form part of the territory of Morocco, the waters adjacent to the territory of WS are not part of the Moroccan fishing zone", says the Court's press release.
"If the territory of Western Sahara were to be included within the scope of the Fisheries Agreement, that would be contrary to certain rules of general international law that are applicable in relations between the EU and Kingdom of Morocco, inter alia the principle of self-determination", the press release continues. "The Court concludes that the "Moroccan fishing zone" under the Protocol does not include the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara", the Court's press release reads. "The Court therefore holds that, since neither the Fisheries Agreement nor the Protocol thereto are applicable to the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara, the EU acts relating to their conclusion and implementation are valid."
Download the Court's press release of 27 February 2018 here.
Download the full ruling here.
The Court thus follows its Advocate General, Melchior Wathelet, who issued his Opinion on 10 January this year. Wathelet concluded that the agreement was "invalid" for being applied to Western Sahara, and that the EU had no right to enter into a fisheries agreement with Morocco that covered the waters of Western Sahara. The Advocate General's Opinion can be downloaded here.
The ruling is also in line with the Court's ruling of December 2016. In a case brought before it by the UN-recognised representation of the people of Western Sahara - the Polisario Front - the Court of Justice of the EU issued a final judgment on the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement, stating that no EU trade or association agreement could be applied to Western Sahara due to its "separate and distinct" status, without the consent of the people of that territory.
See a short video from the opening remark by the Court today (Youtube).
Today's case was initiated by Western Sahara Campaign UK in 2015. Though the UK High Court concluded that there was "an arguable case of a manifest error by the [European] Commission in understanding and applying international law relevant to these agreements", it did refer the case to the EU Court for advise. That referral resulted in today's judgment by the EU Court.
"We welcome the judgment of the European Court, says John Gurr of Western Sahara Campaign UK. "Again the Court has given a clear message to the European Commission that any agreements, whether for fish, other produce or aviation with Western Sahara must have the consent of the Polisario or it will be illegal. This judgement makes it clear that European trawlers in the waters of Western Sahara should cease fishing immediately."
Earlier this year, the EU Commission requested the Member States for a mandate to negotiate a renewal of the fish deal the Court has now invalidated. Not even two weeks ago, the EU Member States indicated they would approve the Commission's request.
"I call on the Commission and Member States to carry out a total reset of its relation towards Morocco and Western Sahara, in conformity with international law", says Greens/EFA Member of the European Parliament Florent Marcellesi. "EU-based companies need to heed the ruling of the Court and have to put their activities within a framework that secures legal and economic certainty, that means with the consent of the Saharawi people."
Morocco has occupied three-quarters of Western Sahara, including the coastal strip, for over 4 decades. In October 1975, the International Court of Justice rejected Morocco’s territorial claims over Western Sahara and recognised the Saharawi people's right to self-determination. Since 1975 Morocco has supported the settlement of its citizens in Western Sahara, arguably in breach of Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions. The United Nations and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have found evidence of serious human rights abuses.
The former Legal Counsel to the UN Security Counsel, Mr. Hans Corell, comments on the EU's fisheries activities in Western Sahara.
Polisario has a case, but it should be pursued when the time is right, Court implies.
Notwithstanding four consecutive rulings of the EU's highest Court calling such a practice illegal, the European Parliament has just now voted in favour of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement that will be applied to the waters of occupied Western Sahara.