Seemingly oblivious to the democratic fervour sweeping across the Middle East and the Maghreb, the European Union has moved to prop up another autocratic and corrupt regime to the south of the Mediterranean – that of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.
On 18 February, a majority of EU member states, led by Spain and France, voted down the principled objections of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the UK to negotiate an extension of a fisheries agreement under which the EU pays Morocco €36 million a year for access to the ‘Moroccan fishing zone’.
What the deal does not say is that the mainly Spanish EU fleet is not interested in Morocco’s fish, but instead in the rich fishing grounds off the coast of my country, Western Sahara, which has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975.
Under international law, taking the resources of an occupied people without their consent is illegal – and even more so when that territory is recognised by the UN as awaiting decolonisation through a vote on independence, and when that country is already a full member state of the African Union. It is no surprise, therefore, that both the UN’s legal advisers and the European Parliament’s legal service regard the fishing agreement as illegal.
On behalf of the Saharawi people, my government alerted the UN Security Council to this disgraceful new deal, pointing out that in stealing our fish, the EU is undermining the UN talks on the future of Western Sahara, which the EU otherwise purports to support.
Add to this France’s appalling refusal to allow UN human-rights monitoring of the repression and violence inflicted by the corrupt Moroccan regime on my people in Western Sahara, and one quickly comes to the conclusion that the EU is part of the problem, and not the solution.
The EU must change course now by using the EU summit on 11 March to make a referendum in Western Sahara a central pillar of its new policy to promote peace, democracy and stability across the Maghreb.
We also look to the European Parliament – the European people’s elected representatives – to heed the advice of the lawyers and reject the new fishing deal when it comes forward for ratification in the coming months. If the Parliament does the right thing, EU fishing in Western Sahara’s waters will have to stop, and Europe can get back to supporting a peaceful solution that will provide for selfdetermination in Western Sahara, as required by the UN Security Council and international law.
Like our brothers and sisters in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, the Saharawi people just want a vote to freely decide their own future. It worked in South Sudan. It will work in Western Sahara too.
Mohamed Abdelaziz President of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and secretary-general of the Frente Polisario. Bir Lehlou, Western Sahara
The EU considers to pay Morocco to fish in occupied Western Sahara. An EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement from 2013 would be both politically controversial and in violation of international law.
The international Fish Elsewhere! campaign demands the EU to avoid such unethical operations, and go fishing somewhere else. No fishing in Western Sahara should take place until the conflict is solved.