The recent ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) regarding the European Union (EU)-Morocco fisheries deal has sparked controversy and provoked angry rebukes from Moroccan analysts, who have deemed the decision to be biased against Morocco.
On Tuesday, February 27, ECJ decided that the fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco is, “ valid insofar as it is not applicable to Western Sahara or to its adjacent waters.”
The court added that if the EU and Morocco included the Western Sahara region in their agreement, this action would be against certain rules of “international law that are applicable to relations between the EU and Kingdom of Morocco.”
Fishery ties between Morocco and the European Union date back to 1988. Negotiated four years ago, the fisheries agreement provides annual permits without restriction, according to the European Union. Since that time, partnerships between the two entities have expanded to involve protocols from different fields, including trade activities.
Legal experts and analysts have been raising concerns about the ECJ move, warning the court to not exceed its legal mandate by giving a political dimension to the issue of the EU-Morocco agreement.
The court, however, appears to have ignored the warnings issued by legal experts.According to Moroccan professor of international law Reda El-Fellah, the court “has exceeded the scope and the framework of the matter to be judged.”
Referring to Western Sahara, the court had said that the region has been “occupied by Morocco, which considers it to be an integral part of its territory.” Condemning the court’s identification, El-Fellah said that, “the ruling uses the term ‘occupation,’ which has never been used or found in any UN decision nor in any international document with respect to the Sahara issue.”
The political analyst also told Morocco World News that the ECJ’s decision contradicts general international law—adding that it specifically violates the portions regarding self-determination.
The Moroccan analyst added that the judgment consists an obvious, “breach of the international law of self-determination since it considers Morocco an ‘occupying power.
“To be sure, all UN resolutions and the UN’s practices during the post-colonial era have defined a right for self-determination as strictly conferred to people based on geography, ethnicity, and culture, or people under racial discrimination or exploitation (see UN resolutions 15/14 and 15/41 In 1962, and Res 26/25 in 1970),” said the analyst.
The Polisario Front has long been appealing against the EU-Morocco agreements, urging the Court of Justice to intervene.
On January 10, the Advocate General at the ECJ, Wathelet Melchior, issued an opinion statement on the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, saying that the deal should be declared null and void because it includes the Western Sahara.
The opinion of Melchior appeared to be similar to the decision taken by the ECJ on Tuesday, February 27,— though that Morocco’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Aziz Akhannouch, denied the similarity of statements.
Akhannouch believes that the court did not follow Melchior’s recommendations and has not, “clearly stated that there is a ban on fishing in the waters of southern provinces.”
However, El-Fellah has said that the judgment is politically biased and impinges on UN prerogatives. The UN is the only international body charged with the resolution of the conflict.
“The ECJ argues that the expression ‘territory of Morocco’ doesn’t include the territory of Western Sahara. This conclusion is based on a fallacy and without any legal reference.”
The EU agreement judgment sparked a strong reaction from the Moroccan government. In an interview with Moroccan news outlet Le360, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said that, “nothing in this verdict challenges the political legitimacy of Morocco to conclude with EU agreements.” The CJEU has not taken the conclusions of its first general advocate,” certifies Bourita, noting that the high court of the EU has at no time “invalidated” the Morocco-EU fisheries agreement.
According to Bourita, the ECJ has not followed conclusions made by the court’s General Advocate, Wathelet Melchior.
Bourita has also reaffirmed the strategic partnership that links between Morocco and EU in different levels—stating that the two parties will continue to work to consolidate their cooperation and fisheries’ ties.
ECJ has no Power to Decide the Agreement Legality
In his interview with Morocco World News, El-Fellah has echoed statements made by legal experts about the agreement and its legality.
Many experts maintain that ECJ does not under any circumstances have the legal expertise to demand the annulment of an international agreement. According to former policy advisor at the European Parliament, Jeanne Laperrouza, only the EU and UN are competent enough to address the annulation of an international agreement.
El-Fellah has sided with Laperrouza, emphasizing that, “the ECJ court does not have the authority to conclude that Sahara waters do not fall within the sovereignty or jurisdiction of Morocco.”
Reinforcing his argument, the Moroccan analyst added that the judgment, “ implies that Morocco would conclude its international agreements with a breach of territorial integrity! Which is inconceivable.”
In response to the court’s decision regarding the validity of the agreement, El-Fellah has said that “the fishing agreement would be right to include all territories that fall within the sovereignty and the jurisdiction of Morocco; otherwise it would not be valid at all.”