Tuesday, May 16, 2006

EU-Morocco fishing deal set to proceed

A delayed European fishing agreement with Morocco is set to go ahead next month after the European Union shelved a dispute over its implications for the long-standing conflict in the Western Sahara. The four-year agreement will see the EU pay Morocco €144m ($186m, £98m) in return for giving European fishing vessels (mainly Spanish and Portuguese) the right to trawl Morocco’s Atlantic coastal waters, including the sea off the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

A small group of EU countries led by Sweden and Finland, which have opposed the fishing agreement, said they would table a joint declaration this month making clear that “the fisheries agreement cannot prejudge any future political decision in relation to the Western Sahara issue”.

The agreement, signed after six years of negotiations, was meant to enter into force in March. Instead, it sparked a dispute between the southern European countries, whose fishermen want to catch more Moroccan sardines and anchovies, and Scandinavian countries that have little to gain from the fishing deal and instead want to resolve the vexed question of Morocco’s control of the Western Sahara, whose territorial waters are included in the deal.

Robin Rosenkranz, Swedish agricultural councillor in Brussels, said: “How can the EU on the one hand support the United Nations resolution and not recognise the annexation of the Western Sahara and on the other hand have a fisheries agreement with Morocco that covers the occupied areas? We want to be a neutral part in solving this conflict.”

Still, following a closed-door meeting of EU officials last week, the agreement is set to be endorsed by EU fisheries ministers on May 22. Members of the European parliament, which only has a consultative role in this issue, are also expected to vote for the deal this week.

Some MEPs and non- governmental organisations had also voiced concerns about the fishing deal and demanded from the European Commission proof that the inclusion of the Western Sahara would not violate international law.

In a formal response in February, Joe Borg, the EU’s fisheries commissioner, said the agreement respected international law and would not “prejudice the [Western Sahara] issue”. He also noted that the agreement made no direct reference to the Western Sahara and instead concerned “fishing waters over which the kingdom of Morocco has sovereignty or jurisdiction”.

The Swedish-led declaration, which is being put together this week, will also demand guarantees that the population of Western Sahara benefits directly from the fishing deal.


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