European Parliament's lawyers declare EU fishing illegal

Brussels, 23 February 2010 - In a previously confidential legal opinion, the European Parliament’s Legal Service has declared fishing by European vessels in Western Sahara’s waters to be in violation of international law. Press release.
Published: 26.02 - 2010 08:41Printer version    
Press release:

Brussels, 23 February 2010 - In a previously confidential legal opinion, the European Parliament’s Legal Service has declared fishing by European vessels in Western Sahara’s waters to be in violation of international law.

The new opinion confirms that European vessels are fishing Western Sahara’s rich waters under a fisheries partnership agreement between the EU and Morocco, and that the Saharawi population of Western Sahara has never been consulted nor received any benefits from the exploitation of their own rich fisheries resources.  The new opinion calls on the European Commission to suspend or amend the EU-Morocco agreement to ensure that “EU-flagged vessels are excluded from the exploitation of the waters of Western Sahara.”

The new opinion was forwarded to the Parliament in July 2009, but finally made public today when tabled for debate in the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee.  

The Parliamentary Legal Service also “recommend[ed] strongly” that the wishes and interests of the Western Sahara’s native Saharawi population should be discussed at the next annual meeting of the EU-Morocco Joint Fisheries Committee, but this recommendation was completely ignored by the European Commission, which failed to even place the issue on the agenda at the most recent meeting in early February 2010.

“The EU places respect for international law at the heart of its foreign policy, but has turned a blind eye in the case of Western Sahara fisheries”, said Portuguese MEP Miguel Portas.  “The illegal and unethical EU fishing activities in Western Sahara’s waters are nothing short of theft, and constitute implicit support for what most countries worldwide regard as an illegal occupation by Morocco in Western Sahara. Even worse, it entails that the EU’s policy works against the solving of the conflict. This cannot continue", he said.

“The European Parliament cannot ignore the clear advice of its own Legal Service”, said Sara Eyckmans, International Coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch.”  “The Parliament must require the European Commission to ensure that European vessels immediately cease fishing in Western Saharan waters, and to seek to amend the fisheries partnership agreement to comply with international law.”, she stated.

The illegality of the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement was recently confirmed by former UN Legal Adviser Hans Corell, whose 2002 legal opinion for the UN Security Council on Western Sahara’s natural resources has been purposefully misquoted by European Commission officials, including outgoing EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, in an effort to defend its illegal fishing.  

Corell himself made clear in late 2008 that he found it “incomprehensible” and felt “embarrassed as a European” that the Commission would use his 2002 opinion to defend the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, unless the Saharawi people had been consulted directly and had agreed to its terms.

529 civil society organisations and more than 11,000 people worldwide have so far called on the EU to stop its fisheries in Western Sahara by signing up on WSRW’s campaign homepage The European Parliamentary Legal Service’s new opinion can be accessed via the same website.

Sara Eyckmans, WSRW international coordinator
tel (+32) 475 458695  /


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Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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