The EU and Morocco have a longstanding common history. Their ties have deepened over the last decades through several international agreements: An association agreement in 1996, a fisheries agreement in 2007, advanced status in 2008, and an agricultural agreement in 2012.
Today, some of these trade agreements are being questioned in the wake of ECJ rulings. In early January, ECJ advocate-general Melchior Wathelet argued that the current fisheries agreement was invalid, because it includes the territories of the western Sahara. Against this background, it’s worth bearing a few things in mind.
First, the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement is mutually beneficial. On the EU side, it provides jobs and activities to European fishermen; more than 120 vessels set sail regularly from Europe to the waters of the Sahara. consumer benefit from this agreement, given the high-value of the catches entering the European market.
Meanwhile, the positive consequences for the local populations of Sahara are non-questionable. The cities of Laâyoune, Boujdour, Dakhla, have developed an economy centered around the fisheries industry. Each euro invested in the Western Sahara - the EU has provided €40m in funding - has resulted in economic activities worth three times that amount.
Clearly, EU investments in the Western Sahara benefit the people living in the region. This is my first response to the questions raised by the advocate-general; the European Commission is carrying out further investigations which should confirm these facts.
Consultations were held with NGOs in Rabat and Brussels, including members of the Polisario Front, which aims to end Moroccan presence in the Western Sahara. The scope of these consultations was wide, ensuring the legitimacy of the process. This is my second response to the legal issues raised by Wathelet.
However, the EU should not limit its relations with Morocco to recent legal events. EU-Morocco relations are about more than trade - they encompass many more issues, such as the fight against terrorism, radicalisation, the development of an in-depth economic area and the construction of an area of cooperation between Africa and Europe, where Morocco can act as a springboard. The fight against terrorism, migration and economic development represent the three pillars of our diplomatic ties with Morocco.
It’s important to remember that in 2015, 2016 and 2017, terror attacks in Europe were prevented thanks to our cooperation with Moroccan intelligence. The EU has a strategic interest in deepening its security and intelligence cooperation with Morocco.
As the eastern migration gate closes following the EU agreement with Turkey, new roads are emerging. A reshaping of migration flows is taking place, where western flows are gradually becoming stronger. Morocco has gone from being a transit country to being a host country, putting more and more pressure on its external borders, including those with Europe. As such, the EU cannot ignore the necessity to work closely with its neighbour partners, namely Morocco. It means we need to re-start a discussion on migration and we need to step up EU financial actions towards Morocco and Africa to help the economic development in this part of the world in order to tackle the root causes of migration.
Our discussion with Morocco should evolve towards a policy of strategic investments. Morocco should be able to take part in EU-wide policies, such as the single digital market, and it should also be able to work on strategic common projects such as a physical motorway bridge between Morocco and Spain.
All these points should be the strategic priorities of the EU-Morocco relationship, the bigger picture we should always have in mind. This is what I will focus on over the next year in the European Parliament as regards EU-Morocco policies and EU external policies.