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Fishing in undiplomatic waters

Brussels bureaucrats and Moroccan diplomats are trying to find a way around another troublesome European Court ruling

The ruling by the European Court of Justice confirming its refusal to extend the EU's trade and fisheries agreements with Morocco to cover the Western Sahara marks another setback for Brussels and Rabat.

The Luxembourg-based court's ruling on the case brought by the Sahrawi independence movement, the Polisaro Front, was little surprise. It is the latest in a series of ECJ judgements stating that EU-Morocco trade deals could not include Western Sahara. It added that any future agreement between the EU and Morocco involving Western Sahara would require the consent of the Sahrawi people and should also directly benefit them (AC Vol 60 No 14, Lobbying pays off for Bourita).

To get around this, the Commission, with Morocco's guidance, set up a 'consultation' process with business and civil society groups. None of them supported Sahrawi independence.

The Court found that the consultation process 'did not amount to an expression of the consent of the people of Western Sahara'. The Polisario Front's EU representative, Oubi Bachir, called the ruling a 'triumphant victory'.

But officials in the European Commission and Moroccan government say it won't change much. They will look for a way to work around it.

EU High Representative Josep Borrell and Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita promptly issued a joint statement, reassuring each other of continued cooperation. Business groups expressed disappointment at the ruling.

'We will take the necessary steps to ensure the legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of trade relations between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco,' said Borrell and Bourita.

The trade accords will remain in place while the Commission plans its next move.

The European Commission wants stronger political and economic ties with Rabat, and is expected to appeal the judgment. EU legal analysts believe that this would be futile. Moroccan officials, who see the ruling as interference by the ECJ, will leave it to Brussels to resolve.

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