"The document deals with issues of great political sensitivity. Moreover, negotiations on a Protocol to the abovementioned Agreement are currently on-going. Disclosure of the advice and the issues with which it deals would therefore undermine the protection of the public interest as regards international relations under Article 4(1)(a), third indent of the Regulation", states the General Secretariat of the European Council in its reply to WSRW, 4 July 2013.
A full version of the letter can be read here. Attached to the letter was a censored version of the legal opinion, showing only the first five paragraphs containing uncontroversial background information on the agreement. The actual legal appraisal, spanning the following six pages, has been deleted.
"The argument given is rather interesting. The European Union's institutions have always argued that the fisheries agreement with Morocco only concerned trade, not politics. Yet now, when asked to share its legal ramifications for adopting a dubious deal seven years ago, the Council cites political sensitivity for declining the request", says Sara Eyckmans, coordinator of WSRW.
In May, WSRW had filed an official request to obtain full access to the legal opinion issued by the Council of the European Union's legal services back in 2006, when the EU and Morocco were in the process of negotiating a bilateral Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA). That agreement also covered the waters of Western Sahara, illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975, rendering the agreement illegal from the perspective of international law.
Opponents of the FPA have long time argued that it sent an unfortunate sign of legitimacy and acceptability to Morocco's untenable claim over Western Sahara. The Moroccan Minister of Fisheries himself had at the time stated that the agreement was not that important economically, but all the more so politically. However, the European Commission and Council consistently retorted that the agreement was a pure trade deal, void of any political calculations.
Back in 2006, all three major EU institutions - Parliament, Commission and Council - argued that the agreement was in line with all applicable laws and regulations. The European Parliament, the only one out of the three institutions that had made its legal assessment public, has since revised its opinion, saying that the deal's implementation made it perfectly clear that EU vessels were indeed fishing in the waters of the occupied territory, and that no evidence was available as to whether the Saharawi people had agreed to and subsequently benefitted from these fish activities. As a result, the Parliament's legal service in July 2009 called for the immediate revision or termination of the agreement. The agreement was finally rejected by the European Parliament in December 2011, when the plenary session voted down a proposed one-year extension of the accord.
Both the European Commission and the Council did not share their legal opinions with the European public.
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.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
At COP22, beware of what you read about Morocco’s renewable energy efforts. An increasing part of the projects take place in the occupied territory of Western Sahara and is used for mineral plunder, new WSRW report documents.