EU court annuls EU-Morocco trade deals over Western Sahara consent

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An EU court declared on Wednesday that EU-Morocco trade deals covering farm products and fish were invalid because they were agreed without the consent of the people of a disputed northwest African territory.

Morocco controls most of Western Sahara and considers it part of its territory after fighting fought a 16-year war with the Polisario Front independence movement, which had established the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic there.

The United Nations says the region, administered until 1976 by Spain, has a right to self-determination and campaigners have sought to challenge the EU’s trade deals with Morocco in the courts because they include the desert region.

The Polisario Front, which says it acts on behalf of the Sahrawi people, challenged two EU-Morocco agreements struck in 2019, both revised after a previous EU court ruling that they were not applicable to Western Sahara.

The revisions added the territory and its adjacent waters.

The General Court of the European Union, the EU’s second-highest chamber, first accepted that the Front had the legal capacity to bring proceedings before EU courts, which the respondents had questioned.

It then accepted the Front’s view that the consent of the people of Western Sahara was required to implement agreements covering the territory and that steps, such as consultations, taken by EU authorities could not be regarded as having secured that consent.

However, the court did say that its annulment of the agreements would not take effect immediately, but only after the two-month period for lodging an appeal or after an eventual ruling if an appeal was filed.

Photo – A view of Hassan Tower, in Rabat, Morocco. EPA-EFE/JALAL MORCHIDI

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