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.
The Polisario Front - the UN recognised representation of the people of Western Sahara - brought four actions against the EU Council before the EU Court:
- one calling for the annulment of the EU-Morocco Agriculture Agreement
- one calling for the annulment of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement
- one calling for the annulment of the EU-Morocco Aviation Agreement
- one calling for the annulment the Council Decision of 16 April 2018, authorising the EU Commission to renegotiate the Fisheries Protocol with Morocco.
Their reason for trying the EU Council? The agreements were being applied to Western Sahara.
In the UK, Western Sahara Campaign UK - a solidarity group - brought action in the UK High Court against two British government agencies: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HRMC) and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Western Sahara Campaign UK argued that the UK was unlawfully allowing products, originating from or processed in Western Sahara, to be imported into the country under a trade agreement with Morocco.
Find timelines of key-events for each of these court cases below. In chronological order.
1. POLISARIO TRIES EU COUNCIL OVER EU-MOROCCO AGRICULTURE AGREEMENT
March 2000 – The EU-Morocco Association Agreement enters into force. A free trade area liberalizing two-way trade in goods was created.
October 2005 – The EU Council gives the EU Commission a mandate to negotiate further trade liberalization for (processed) agriculture and fishery products.
02 December 2010 – EU Council signs agriculture agreement.
12 July 2011 – The European Parliament’s rapporteur in the Agriculture Committee recommends Parliament to reject the conclusion of the proposed agri-deal issues.
26 January 2012 – The European Parliament’s International Trade Agreement votes in favour of the agri-agreement, in spite of the recommendation of its own Rapporteur calling for the rejection of the agreement.
14 February 2012 – WSRW publishes the report ‘Conflict Tomatoes’, revealing the massive growth of the Moroccan agriculture industry in occupied Western Sahara and the export of the produce to the EU.
16 February 2012 – In the plenary session, the European Parliament approves EU-Morocco agriculture agreement. (369 MEPs voted in favour, 225 against and 31 abstained)
08 March 2012 – EU Council formally concludes the agriculture agreement with Morocco.
17 June 2012 – WSRW publishes the report 'Label and Liability', documenting how produce from Western Sahara ends up on the EU market, labelled as Moroccan.
12 September 2012 – EU Commission implements the new agreement.
01 October 2012 – The agriculture agreement between the EU and Morocco enters into force.
19 November 2012 – FP brings action against EU council (case T-512/12) asking for the annulment of the Council decision concluding the agriculture agreement with Morocco.
10 December 2015 – The Court of Justice of the European Union annuls the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement in so far as it applies to Western Sahara.
19 February 2016 – The EU Council appeals the Court’s decision to annul the EU-Morocco agri-deal in as far as it was applied to Western Sahara.
13 September 2016 – The Advocate General of the CJEU presents his Opinion, concluding that "Neither the EU-Morocco Association Agreement nor the EU-Morocco Agreement on the liberalisation of trade in agricultural and fishery products apply to Western Sahara".
21 December 2016 - The Court of Justice of the EU confirms in its final appeal the argumentation of the Advocate General and annuls the initial judgement from December 2015. The reason for annulment is that Western Sahara has no part in the application of the 2000 and 2012 agreements.
2. POLISARIO TRIES EU COUNCIL OVER EU-MOROCCO FPA
December 2011 – The European Parliament rejects the one-year extension of the Protocol to the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement.
January 2012 – EU Commission asks the EU Member States to be mandated to renegotiate a fisheries protocol with Morocco.
July 2013 – The EU Commission initials a new Fisheries Protocol with Morocco, which will allow EU vessels to resume fishing in the waters of Western Sahara.
November 2013 – A divided EU Council (COREPER) decides to back the proposed new Fisheries Protocol with Morocco. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the UK and the Netherlands did not support the deal.
December 2013 – The European Parliament votes in favour of the new EU-Morocco Fisheries Protocol.
March 2014 - FP brings action against EU Council (case T-180/14), asking annulment of Council decision concluding the FPA Protocol with Morocco.
July 2014 - The Protocol enters into force.
2017 - The Court decides to judge on the below and related case from Western Sahara Campaign UK first, and on the Polisario case later. The Western Sahara Campaign UK case judgment came on 27 February 2018.
14 June 2018 - Polisario tries the decision from the Council of 16 April 2018 to open negotiations for a new fisheries agreement.
19 July 2018 - Only weeks before the 4 year EU-Morocco fisheries agreement is set to expire at the end of July 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union judges the agreement inapplicable to Western Sahara.
3. CASE INITIATED BY WESTERN SAHARA CAMPAIGN AGAINST UK GOVERNMENT
February 2015 – Western Sahara Campaign UK brings action in the UK High Court against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HRMC) and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
15.05.2015 - The UK High Court granted Permission by Order.
July 2015 – Substantive hearing takes place at the UK High Court.
October 2015 – the UK High Court refers the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The UK Judge stated: “I conclude that there is an arguable case of a manifest error by the Commission in understanding and applying international law relevant to these agreements.”
September 2017 – The Court of Justice of the European Union holds a hearing on the case.
January 2018 – The CJEU Advocate General issues his Opinion on the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement, and calls it invalid because it is applied to Western Sahara.
27 February 2018 - The Court of Justice of the European Union judges the agreement inapplicable to Western Sahara.
Press release from the court.
4. POLISARIO TRIES EU COUNCIL OVER EU-MOROCCO AVIATION AGREEMENT
December 2006 – The Aviation Agreement between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco enters into force.
February 2014 – The EU Commission proposes an amendment to the Agreement, accounting for changes within the EU (three new Member States since 2006, and the Lisbon Treaty)
October 2017 – The European Parliament approves the amended version of the Agreement.
January 2018 – The amended version of the Agreement is concluded by the Council.
1 April 2018 – Polisario initiates a case to halt the application of the EU-Morocco Aviation Agreement in Western Sahara.
30 November 2018 - The EU Court of Justice declares the EU's aviation deal with Morocco to be invalid in Western Sahara.
5. POLISARIO TRIES EU COUNCIL ON FISH NEGOTIATIONS WITH MOROCCO
27 February 2018 – The Court of Justice of the European Union concludes that the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement with Morocco cannot be applied to Western Sahara, as that territory does not fall under Moroccan “sovereignty or “jurisdiction”, and is not part of “Moroccan fishing zones” – a notion used throughout the Agreement and its implementing Protocols.
16 April 2018 – The Council authorizes the Commission to open negotiations with Morocco for a modification of the territorial scope of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement (so as to include Western Sahara) and for the conclusion of a new Fisheries Protocol.
15 June 2018 – Polisario initiates a case to annul the Council Decision to commence talks with Morocco.
8 February 2019 - The Court declares Polisario's request to annul aforementioned Council Decision inadmissible, as Polisario is not directly affected by it. The Decision only aims at designating who will lead the negotiations, and thus only resorts legal effects among the EU institutions, the Court argued. The Court does reaffirm that the "Saharawi people are to be regarded as enjoying the right to self-determination and as being a 'third party'" to EU-Morocco relations.
Polisario has a case, but it should be pursued when the time is right, Court implies.
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.
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.