National governments have backed a one-year extension to a contentious EU fishing agreement with Morocco, despite Morocco's failure to prove that the deal benefits the population of occupied Western Sahara.
MEPs are expected to debate the matter in September; their endorsement is required for the extension – provisionally in force since February – to remain in place.
The member states' backing was formalised on Monday (4 July) when Germany dropped its opposition to the extension. In February, Germany threw its weight behind a demand by Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for fisheries, for Morocco to prove that the deal benefits the population of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony occupied by Morocco in 1975. But last week, the German government signalled its satisfaction with the fisheries deal, creating a weighted majority in favour. Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden voted against the extension, and Austria, Cyprus, Finland and the United Kingdom abstained. Spain and France have been pushing hard for the extension of the deal. Of the 119 vessels licensed under the agreement, 100 are Spanish.
A spokesman for Damanaki said that the one-year extension of the agreement with Morocco would be used to “sort out” whether and how to proceed on a possible successor agreement.
Damanaki wants to put respect for democratic principles and human rights at the centre of future fisheries agreements under a reform proposal scheduled for adoption by the college of commissioners next week (13 July).
In a draft statement, the German government said that documentation submitted by the Moroccan government in December established the deal's benefits to the local population. It cited a European Commission analysis that a “considerable part” of the resources generated by the agreement was “spent on measures supporting the modernisation of the fisheries sector in the Western Sahara and hence came to the benefit of the people of Western Sahara”.
However, a source familiar with the proceedings said he was “puzzled” by the claim because the Commission had not finalised its analysis.
The Moroccan documentation – a confidential 44-slide PowerPoint presentation seen by European Voice – makes no reference to Western Sahara and lumps the territory together with areas in Morocco proper, which makes it impossible to judge what benefits, if any, go to the Sahrawi population.
According to the only slide that provides a regional breakdown of investment under the fisheries agreement, current and future projects will “directly and indirectly” create some 20,700 jobs in the region of “South Atlantic”, but that region includes the port city of Tarfaya, which is not in Western Sahara. A significant share of Morocco's fish wealth that has been opened up to European fishing under the agreement lies off Western Sahara.
Serious misgivings have also emerged about the benefit of the deal to the EU as a whole. An independent evaluation drafted on behalf of the Commission and submitted in December found that the deal fell well short of recouping the EU's investment, and contributed to overfishing in Moroccan waters.
The EU considers to pay Morocco to fish in occupied Western Sahara. An EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement from 2013 would be both politically controversial and in violation of international law.
The international Fish Elsewhere! campaign demands the EU to avoid such unethical operations, and go fishing somewhere else. No fishing in Western Sahara should take place until the conflict is solved.