‘Relaunch’ of EU-Morocco relations will boost partnership, says foreign minister
Morocco’s foreign minister has hailed the “relaunch” of relations with the EU, saying he expects it will pave the way for improved cooperation between the two sides.
Photo credit: European Council Audiovisual
Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Nasser Bourita also stressed the importance of tackling migration and asylum issues.
With the closest North African border to Europe just 12 km at the narrowest point, Bourita said his country was particularly well placed to play a key role in addressing the issue of illegal immigration and human trafficking.
He said, “We want the borders to remain safe, open and fluid but they must be closed to those who wish to exploit them for their own gain.”
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“People have to realise that migration is here to stay. Migration is a natural human movement but must be respected. We must promote legal migration but do all we can to combat illegal migration and human trafficking.”
Bourita added that in terms of protecting Europe from illegal immigration from the south, it was not Morocco’s wish to be the “gendarmerie for Europe”.
“We have our own borders to protect and you also have to remember that Morocco is now also a country of destination for migrants and asylum seekers as well as a country of transit.”
The minister was speaking alongside the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, at a news conference after a meeting of the 14th meeting of the Association Council where the two sides agreed to sign a joint declaration.
“The feeling was that the partnership was losing its way and also its substance. This was partly due to the fact that in recent years the EU seemed more busy with its own internal issues” Nasser Bourita, Moroccan foreign minister
This sets out agreement in “four structural areas” including “convergence of values” and economic and social cohesion.
Bourita, who led the Moroccan delegation in the meeting with Mogherini, said it was considered necessary to relaunch the partnership because of “difficulties” in recent years.
Earlier this year the European Parliament backed the controversial fisheries and agriculture deals playing down concerns that the fisheries agreement - which would see EU vessels trawling off the Western Saharan coast - would jeopardise ongoing UN-sponsored peace talks between the Polisario Front and Morocco.
Bourita said, “The feeling was that the partnership was losing its way and also its substance. This was partly due to the fact that in recent years the EU seemed more busy with its own internal issues.”
“We hope that this new joint declaration agreed with the EU today will give fresh impetus to the relationship.”
The Association Council, Bourita told reporters, had discussed the “reinvigoration” of relations between the EU and Morocco, the partnership's priorities and themes for 2019-2020 and the future of the bilateral relations, including aspects such as economic and trade relations.
“Our partnership has overcome challenges and we have now turned the page. The joint declaration is new and sets out a vast array of ambitious projects” Federica Mogherini
The EU wants to reach migration deals with Middle East and North African countries, such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, similar to the one it has with Turkey, and has suggested building migrant "reception centres" in these countries to hold asylum seekers.
But, speaking separately in an interview with a German newspaper, Bourita appeared to pour cold water on the idea.
Mogherini, who condemned the terrorist attack in Tunisia on Thursday, said that as well as being physically close to Europe, Morocco had also enjoyed a “long and lasting” partnership with the EU.
She said the meeting had also been a chance to ratify agreements on fisheries and agriculture between the two sides.
She also paid tribute to the ongoing reform process in Morocco, adding, “The EU is determined to support these reforms which are also a cornerstone for stability in the entire region.”
The Italian added, “Our partnership has overcome challenges and we have now turned the page. The joint declaration is new and sets out a vast array of ambitious projects.”
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