Western Sahara: still the elephant in EU-Moroccan relations

In its annual country-report on Morocco, the European Commission failed to mention a fundamental element: Morocco’s continued occupation of Western Sahara, and the EU’s complicity therein.
Published: 26.05 - 2011 19:02Printer version    
“By avoiding an open and explicit discussion on Western Sahara in its dealings with Morocco, the European Commission plays into Morocco’s preferred strategy; blatantly ignore that Western Sahara even exists as a separate entity”, stated Sara Eyckmans, coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch.

The European Commission released the annual report on EU-Morocco relations yesterday. The report documents the implementation of the EU’s neighbourhood policy for 2010. It mentions the issue of Western Sahara three times in passing, but fails to state a central fact: Western Sahara is not part of Morocco, but rather a Non-Self Governing Territory whose people’s right to self-determination has been established by over 100 UN Resolutions. Morocco’s self-proclaimed sovereignty over the territory isn’t recognised by any state in the world – or by the EU.

“The Moroccan occupation of its neighbouring territory is the elephant in the meeting-rooms where the EU-Moroccan relations are discussed. By failing to address the issue, the EU systematically undermines the rights of the Saharawi people”, stated Eyckmans.

The EU’s silence on the core-issue of self-determination is even more problematic given the EU’s complicity in Morocco’s ongoing resource-plunder of Western Sahara. The contentious EU-Moroccan fisheries agreement allows EU vessels to fish in Saharawi waters that were never even claimed by Morocco. Furthermore, through the free trade agreement on agricultural and fisheries products, Western Saharan produce is likely to reach European markets, labelled as being ‘Moroccan’.

“Trade deals with Morocco covering the territory of Western Sahara are in violation of international law because they ignore the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. At a time when Morocco and the Frente Polisario are engaged in peace-negotiations under the UN’s auspices, and unrest continues to sweep through the Maghreb, it is inappropriate for the EU to relinquish all responsibility vis-à-vis Western Sahara”.

However, as an invaluable business partner, the EU is in a unique position to encourage Morocco to comply with and respect international law. Western Sahara Resource Watch calls upon the European Commission to use the Neighbourhood policy as a channel for actively contributing to the resolution of the status of Africa’s last colony. Acknowledging the issue would be a good place to start.

Read the elephant-free report here.




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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