A 2016 ruling by the European Court of Justice on the scope of trade in agricultural products with Morocco led to the temporary suspension of diplomatic relations between Brussels and Rabat.
Now, another awaited Court ruling on February 27 on fisheries cooperation between the two is stirring new controversy.
Of course, resolving of the Western Sahara dispute, the issue at the heart of this controversy, is dear to all Brussels policymakers, who would like to see rapid progress on UN brokered negotiations.
In this context, the Western Sahara Autonomy Proposal presented to the UN Security Council by Morocco in April 2007 is an important step towards finding a lasting solution.
Such efforts should be reciprocated to finally bring this 40-year-old conflict to an end.
Yet, this conflict should not be used to hamper the EU’s relations with its Morocco, a long-standing strategic Euro-Mediterranean Partner, with an advanced European Neighbourhood Policy status.
Like Bulgaria did during its EU accession process, Morocco has embarked on major efforts to align itself to EU legislation and standards under the Neighbourhood Action Plan, creating the necessary legislative and institutional conditions to ensure a future based on increasingly shared values.
The two sides also share common challenges, such as terrorism and radicalisation, which are a serious threat to the EU’s southern borders, especially in the Sahel and North Africa.
"Like Bulgaria did during its EU accession process, Morocco has embarked on major efforts to align itself to EU legislation and standards under the Neighbourhood Action Plan"
To address these growing challenges, both Morocco and Brussels have, since 2000, been working closer together on intelligence exchange and border control.
Thanks to the existing cooperation mechanisms in place, many terrorist attacks targeting the EU have been avoided with the help of the Moroccan secret services.
The country, which re-joined the African Union last year, serves as a bridge between the European and African continents, playing an important role in maintaining stability and security on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Cooperation on immigration is equally important. Morocco, which will host the UN international migration conference on 10-11 December 2018, established itself as a country of destination rather than just a transit country for refugees and migrants, looking to reach Europe.
In fact, Morocco’s National Policy on Immigration and Asylum as well its regularisation campaign for migrants and refugees has proven effective in offering protection for and facilitating the integration of numerous refugees.
By signing the Open Skies agreement in 2005, Morocco became the first non-European country to sign an aviation cooperation agreement with the EU. While that agreement promises to generate growth by the sector’s liberalisation, reduced costs and increased tourism, it also foresees Morocco’s compliance with EU standards on air safety and traffic management.
The EU’s imports from Morocco in agricultural products and fisheries, amounted to around €2bn and €1.2bn respectively, while the EU exported agricultural products worth €1.8bn and fisheries products worth €135m to Morocco in 2016.
"We politicians have a role to play in ensuring the continuation of our good relations with our southern neighbour instead of pushing such a staunch ally into the arms of Russia, China or other countries in the Middle East and Africa"
The EU’s 30-year-long fisheries cooperation with Morocco has borne fruit for both sides and has especially benefited the 11 EU nations directly involved as well as local populations on the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
While promoting sustainable fisheries development through its 2009Halieutis strategy s, the current deal generates jobs for Moroccan sailors and fishermen through thousands of boarding contracts per year.
Given all these positive developments, the strategic partnership between the EU and Morocco, which started as early as 1960, should not be undermined by certain lobbying groups, willing to use the existing legal void to act against the Union’s best interests.
Even the UN was able to come up with flexible solutions regarding the status of the disputed territories to resolve practical issues concerning their administration. What is stopping the EU from doing so?
I am confident that Luxemburg will pass judgement in line with its competences at the end of this month, which I hope will not render the negotiations of future cooperation agreements more difficult.
Such cooperation agreements reinforce the ties between the EU and its partners. And by taking into consideration various legal limitations, we politicians have a role to play in ensuring the continuation of our good relations with our southern neighbour instead of pushing such a staunch ally into the arms of Russia, China or other countries in the Middle East and Africa.