An interesting thing happened last week:
In today's meeting of EU Ambassadors, a majority of EU Member States indicated to favour the newly proposed EU-Morocco fisheries protocol, which opens for EU fishing in the waters of occupied Western Sahara.Here is a more detailed description of how the previous version of the protocol worked, and this one does not change these key points:
Though many Member States voiced their concerns on the protocol, a majority could be reached in today’s COREPER meeting. The decision to sign the EU’s most criticised fisheries protocol will be formalised at a Council meeting in the coming weeks.
Throwing its massive voting weight in the scale, Germany ended up supporting the controversial protocol that the Spanish government has lobbied so hard for. As far as WSRW understands, the German government will issue a statement that their endorsement should not be viewed as uncritical support.
Five Member States could not agree to the proposed protocol. Sweden and Denmark voted against, while the UK, the Netherlands and Finland abstained. These countries’ stances were underpinned by concerns relating to sustainable management of the available fish stocks and EU fishing in non-Moroccan waters through a deal with Morocco.
The provisional protocol still has to pass through the European Parliament, which is not expected to express its opinion before December.
According to the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement, to which the Protocol sets the terms and conditions, fishing can take place in “the waters under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Morocco”. This is the core of the problem.
While no state in the world recognises Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara, Morocco itself views the territory as its own. Since the Agreement fails to stipulate the southern coordinates of the fishing zones, it is left to Morocco to interpret where the European vessels can fish.The EU is saying that they can directly exploit natural resources in illegally occupied territories.
Its not only Europe, though. Last month Canada decided it can take natural resources away from the occupied people of Western Sahara, by dealing with a Moroccan company that does business over the border:
On 24 October, the bulk carrier Ultra Bellambi is scheduled to arrive at Vancouver. On board of the freighter are 60.000 tonnes of phosphate rock from the Bou Craa mines in Western Sahara. The cargo is worth almost $10 million. That money however, will not end up with the Saharawi people of Western Sahara - the original and sole people of the territory - but with the Moroccan regime that has occupied large parts of their country since 1975.The EU made a big deal over saying that it had no choice but to adhere to guidelines restricting activity with Israeli companies that do business over the Green Line; international law demands it.
The phosphate rock was purchased by Calgary based Agrium Inc, under the terms of an agreement it concluded earlier this year with Moroccan state owned company Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP). Agrium confirmed to Canadian newspaper The Tyee that it would import one million tonnes each year until 2020, and that part of the imports will be sourced in Western Sahara.
A UN Legal Opinion on exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources is quite clear that such activity is illegal if not done in accordance with the wishes and the interests of the people of the territory - the Saharawi. The latter have unequivocally stated that they do not consent to Agrium's imports, through a letter by their political representation Frente Polisario to the company.
But it appears that it has no problem with such pesky legalities in the Western Sahara.
UPDATE: Eugene Kontorovich has more detail in a memo he wrote and sent me via email: