The Court ruled that the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement cannot be applied to Western Sahara or its adjacent waters, as that would violate the people of Western Sahara's right to self-determination, and, accordingly, their right to consent to any such agreement that would affect the territory.
The Court's press release states that "currently, the greater part of Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, which considers it to be an integral part of its territory." The Court does not share that Moroccan claim. "Taking account of the fact that the territory of Western Sahara does not form part of the territory of Morocco, the waters adjacent to the territory of WS are not part of the Moroccan fishing zone", says the Court's press release.
"If the territory of Western Sahara were to be included within the scope of the Fisheries Agreement, that would be contrary to certain rules of general international law that are applicable in relations between the EU and Kingdom of Morocco, inter alia the principle of self-determination", the press release continues. "The Court concludes that the "Moroccan fishing zone" under the Protocol does not include the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara", the Court's press release reads. "The Court therefore holds that, since neither the Fisheries Agreement nor the Protocol thereto are applicable to the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara, the EU acts relating to their conclusion and implementation are valid."
The Court thus follows its Advocate General, Melchior Wathelet, who issued his Opinion on 10 January this year. Wathelet concluded that the agreement was "invalid" for being applied to Western Sahara, and that the EU had no right to enter into a fisheries agreement with Morocco that covered the waters of Western Sahara. The Advocate General's Opinion can be downloaded here.
The ruling is also in line with the Court's ruling of December 2016. In a case brought before it by the UN-recognised representation of the people of Western Sahara - the Polisario Front - the Court of Justice of the EU issued a final judgment on the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement, stating that no EU trade or association agreement could be applied to Western Sahara due to its "separate and distinct" status, without the consent of the people of that territory.
Today's case was initiated by Western Sahara Campaign UK in 2015. Though the UK High Court concluded that there was "an arguable case of a manifest error by the [European] Commission in understanding and applying international law relevant to these agreements", it did refer the case to the EU Court for advise. That referral resulted in today's judgment by the EU Court.
"We welcome the judgment of the European Court, says John Gurr of Western Sahara Campaign UK. "Again the Court has given a clear message to the European Commission that any agreements, whether for fish, other produce or aviation with Western Sahara must have the consent of the Polisario or it will be illegal. This judgement makes it clear that European trawlers in the waters of Western Sahara should cease fishing immediately."
Since you're here.... WSRW’s work is being read and used more than ever. But our financial situation is tough. Our work takes time, dedication and diligence. But we do it because we believe it matters – and we hope you do to. If everyone who reads our website or likes us on Facebook, would contribute to our work – 3€, 5€, 27€ … what you can spare – the future of WSRW would be much more secure. You can donate to WSRW in less than a minute here. "I call on the Commission and Member States to carry out a total reset of its relation towards Morocco and Western Sahara, in conformity with international law", says Greens/EFA Member of the European Parliament Florent Marcellesi. "EU-based companies need to heed the ruling of the Court and have to put their activities within a framework that secures legal and economic certainty, that means with the consent of the Saharawi people."
Morocco has occupied three-quarters of Western Sahara, including the coastal strip, for over 4 decades. In October 1975, the International Court of Justice rejected Morocco’s territorial claims over Western Sahara and recognised the Saharawi people's right to self-determination. Since 1975 Morocco has supported the settlement of its citizens in Western Sahara, arguably in breach of Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions. The United Nations and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have found evidence of serious human rights abuses.
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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.