Western Sahara

News in Brief

The European Union is undermining the Western Sahara peace process.

On 16 January, the European parliament agreed that a new trade deal between the EU and Morocco would extend to the resources of Western Sahara, despite a 2016 European court of justice (ECJ) ruling against such exploitation.

Green MEP, Heidi Hautala, a vice-president of the European parliament, denounced the deal.

Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. The ECJ confirmed in 2016 that it is against international law to extract resources from Western Sahara without the prior consent of the Saharawi people.

The European council argued that it had fufilled the ‘consent’ requirement by consulting some figures in Western Sahara (but not the internationally-recognised representative of the Saharawi people, the Polisario Front).

Among the groups the European commission said it had consulted were 97 Saharawi civil society groups – whose only involvement was to write to the commission protesting against the EU trade deal and refusing to take part in the consultation process.

The NGOs never received a reply to their protest letter, and their views were not recorded in the EU’s report on the consultation process.

In January, the European parliament also voted two-to-one not to refer the agreement to the ECJ to determine whether the consent requirement had actually been fulfilled. This referral had been requested by the MEP leading on trade with Morocco, Marietjes Schaake of the Netherlands.

The EU is Morocco’s biggest trade partner (€35bn-worth both ways in 2016). EU boats fish in Western Sahara’s waters, which hold the most profitable fishing grounds in the region.

The EU aims to pay Morocco about €20m a year just to gain access to Saharawi (and Moroccan) waters, and a further €19m a year in ‘sectoral support’, building facilities to support the fishing industry. These facilities are mostly in occupied Western Sahara, according to Western Sahara Resource Watch. (EU fishing ships also pay millions in fees to Morocco to fish in Saharawi waters.)

Meanwhile, as PN went to press, a Norwegian ship was fleeing South African waters to avoid having its cargo of frozen fish impounded and confiscated by a South African court.

The Green Glacier arrived at Cape Town harbour on 25 January but did not dock. After some hours circling outside the harbour, it suddenly headed back towards Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where it had just come from.

It’s believed the ship contained fish caught in the waters off Western Sahara, and the ship’s owners feared they might share the same fate as the Saharawi phosphate which was impounded in South Africa in 2017, on the NM Cherry Blossom. (PN 2606–2607)

Topics: Western Sahara