German reversal may extend illegal EU fish pact with Morocco
In a strange turnaround, Germany appears to be contemplating a reversal of its previous opposition to the proposed one-year extension of the embattled Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) between the EU and Morocco, regarded by legal experts worldwide as illegal for failing to benefit the people of Western Sahara.
As EU ambassadors prepare to meet tomorrow (29 June) in Brussels to decide the fate of the Agreement, the German position will be decisive as to whether the renewal acquires a qualified majority of the votes cast by EU Member States.
Germany abstained in a vote in February on giving the European Commission a mandate to negotiate the one-year renewal. But if it changes its position to support the renewal tomorrow, Germany will find itself isolated among its neighbours - Denmark, Sweden and the UK have already indicated that they cannot support the renewal, and diplomats in Brussels expect that Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands will all either abstain or oppose the new Protocol in the vote tomorrow.
On the eve of this historic vote, the political representatives of the people of Western Sahara, the Frente POLISARIO, have again urged the EU to scrap the deal.
"Not only is the deal illegal, but it also involves the EU throwing its money away," said POLISARIO Representative to the European Union, Mohamed Sidati, referring to a leaked internal report prepared for the European Commission, which revealed recently that the EU generates turnover of only €0.65 for every euro of the €36 million it pays Morocco annually for fishing access to Moroccan waters.
“We are particularly surprised that Germany, which places respect for international law at the heart of its foreign policy, would even consider supporting this illegal deal,” Sidati added.
The Frente POLISARIO has consistently demanded that the EU exclude Western Sahara’s waters from any agreement with Morocco. This view is shared by the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, who recommended in late 2010 that any renewal of the agreement upon its expiry in February 2011 should apply to Morocco’s waters only.
“The EU must now make a clear choice between principle and plunder," said Sidati. "If Member States push for the renewal of a fish agreement without excluding the waters off Western Sahara, it risks a showdown with the European Parliament and a potential battle in the European courts.”
The Frente POLISARIO Representative wrote to EU Foreign and Fisheries Ministers on 3 June 2011 to reiterate that EU fishing in Western Sahara’s waters is illegal, and to urge the EU to use the expiry of the current arrangements as an opportunity to right this wrong. In his response on 14 June, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote that the UK had voted against a temporary one-year renewal of the Protocol in February because in the absence of any evidence from Morocco, he “could not be satisfied that fishing off the coast of Western Sahara under the auspices of the FPA was conducted to the benefit and in the interests of the people of Western Sahara.”
Based on a legal opinion provided by the UN Legal Adviser to the Security Council in early 2002, the European Parliament’s Legal Service found in May 2009 that fishing by EU vessels in Western Saharan waters under the FPA violates international law. This was followed later in the year by a EP resolution [P7_TA (2010) 0443] expressing concern about the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s resources, and the failure of the international community to complete the process of decolonisation in Western Sahara after more than 30 years.
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.