Trade Committee approves deal despite Saharawi condemnation
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A sad Human Rights day for the Saharawi people. Just hours after the resignation of the leading MEP, the European Parliament's International Trade Committee backed extending EU-Morocco trade to occupied Western Sahara.

Published 11 December 2018

The recommendation to apply the EU-Morocco trade deal to occupied Western Sahara was supported by 25 votes to 9 with 2 abstentions. The vote took place in the afternoon of 10 December 2018.

In the accompanying resolution, adopted by 24 votes to 9 with 3 abstentions, the MEPs emphasised that “the [local] Sahrawi people have the right to develop while awaiting a political solution” on the status of Western Sahara. 

No Saharawi groups advocating for self-determination have agreed to the suggested trade agreement. In preparing the file, the EU's foreign affairs branch, the EEAS, and the INTA committee's former rapporteur, both expressed that the right to development is so important that a new agreement has to be signed. This is, however, found irrelevant by the EU Court of Justice. All Saharawi groups have condemned the EU's plans for a new trade agreement with Morocco to be applied to the land that they have sovereign rights over, according to the CJEU. 

The motion that was adopted today "[r]ecalls that the CJEU did not specify in its judgment how the people ’s consent has to be expressed and considers therefore that some uncertainty remains as regards this criterion". That uncertainty had also been indicated by the legal service of the European Parliament. But in spite of those legal concerns regarding the lack of consent, the INTA Committee supported the proposal.

The EU Commission has not argued how the 18 persons and companies that it has consulted are relevant for the Western Sahara people. All 18 are Moroccan state-owned companies, Moroccan research institutes, pro-Moroccan parliamentarians elected in illegal elections in occupied land, Moroccan GONGOs and Moroccan business groups. To compare, 94 Saharawi and pro-Saharawi groups have objected, and are falsely included in the Commission's file as if they had taken part in the process. It is not clear how the INTA Committee could believe that such 18 conversations with Moroccan actors suffice. 

Until today, the rapporteur on the file has been French MEP Patricia Lalonde, who had prepared the recommendation, and who had to resign amid criticism over her not having reported serving as board member of a pro-Morocco lobby group. She was suddenly replaced by Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake just prior to the vote. 

It is not known if Schaake has met with any Saharawi groups that advocate for self-determination, or who object to the agreement. 

The recommendation for consent will now be submitted to the Plenary, expected to vote in mid-January 2019. If the Plenary endorses the Trade Committee's recommendation, the Council will conclude the agreement, which will then enter into force. And then it will go straight back to court, the national liberation movement of Western Sahara, have already alerted. 

“Sadly, we are left with no option but to refer the issue back to the ECJ", Polisario stated in a release following the announcement. 

"Past rulings clearly demonstrate that international law is on our side. The consequences of today’s vote extend far beyond trade matters. This decision pre-empts and undermines the outcome of negotiations led by UN Envoy Horst Koehler. We urge our European partners to revisit their current policy and to refocus their efforts on the positive steps the EU can take to support Koehler’s efforts and incentivize progress in the talks, where trade can be a true dividend for peace", the statement reads. 

President of the Committee Bernd Lange referred to a letter he says to have received from Commissioner Moscovici (TAXUD) that reportedly describes the traceability mechanism that the European Commission and Morocco have agreed to. That mechanism is supposed to guarantee "that products coming from the Western Sahara can be clearly tracked, to make sure the benefits of the lower tariffs go to the local population and that they are measurable", as the Parliament's press release states

WSRW has not seen the text describing the reported traceability mechanism, nor is it clear what the relevance is of benefits to the "local poplation", providing most part of the population are settlers, and that the people of the territory have not consented to the such arrangement. It is little likely that any Saharawi group has seen the text. 

The controversial vote can be seen on the EU parliament's TV here
 

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