EU Council and Commission appeal Western Sahara ruling

As expected, the Council of the EU has appealed the ruling of the EU General Court annulling the application of EU-Morocco deals in occupied Western Sahara. Surprisingly, the EU Commission lodged separate appeals.

23 December 2021

Picture: Morocco's illegal trade from the territory goes through several routes, including the Guerguerat crossing, the location of increased tension from 2020. Photo: Elli Lorz.

In September 2021, the General Court of the EU Court of Justice ruled in case T-279/19 and combined cases T-344/19/T-356/19 that the EU-Morocco Fisheries and Trade Agreement could not be applied to Western Sahara. The Court underpinned its conclusion in line with the previous 4 rulings on the matter: as Western Sahara is a territory that is separate and distinct from Morocco, and as the latter has no sovereignty or administering mandate over the territory, EU agreements with Morocco can only lawfully affect Western Sahara through the consent of the people of Western Sahara. 

In its latest ruling, the Court went on to specify that the Polisario Front - party to each of the 5 rulings up to now - is the representative of the people of Western Sahara.

Given the importance the EU accords to its relationship with Morocco - encompassing trade matters, but also collaboration in the fields of migration and terrorism - it was a given that the EU Council, pitted against the Polisario Front in all EU legal proceedings up to now, would appeal. Council formally did so on 16 December 2021.

What is more surprising is that the EU Commission has also lodged separate appeals. The Commission's appeals against the ruling were made two days before Council, on 14 December 2021. While it is not uncommon for the EU Commission to intervene in appeal cases lodged by the Council, it much less frequently will pursue a separate appeal. Commission representatives had however indicated that they were studying the possibility to do so when they presented latest developments on the file in the EU Parliament in October this year.

The information about the four appeals by the Commission and the Coucil was published on the website of the Court of Justice this week. 

Western Sahara is treated by the UN as the last unresolved colonial question in Africa. The larger part of the territory has been under military occupation by Morocco since the 1970s.

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