Damage Control in Brussels: Morocco Suspends EU Ties Over ECJ’s Ruling

Written by | Saturday, February 27th, 2016

Morocco announced it is “suspending” all its contacts with European Union institutions, notably with the European Commission and the European Parliament, in response to an EU court ruling that annulled the agriculture agreement between the EU and Morocco. The EU Court of Justice’s ruling made last December, which was immediately dismissed by Morocco’s officials as “incoherent and incomprehensible”, appear to be the product of intense lobbying by the Western Sahara separatist group Polisario Front that challenged the EU-Morocco deal.

Morocco’s decision to freeze EU ties, which was announced on Thursday (25 February) following a weekly cabinet meeting, did not come as a surprise since the country’s officials in recent weeks repeatedly expressed their utmost disappointment at the Luxembourg-based court’s ruling that was denounced for being “very political” and in breach of international law and UN Security Council resolutions. While the Court of Justice justified its ruling by asserting that the Morocco-EU agriculture agreement should exclude the disputed Sahara territory, it has arguably overlooked Morocco’s long-standing effort to develop its southern provinces, ensuring that their inhabitants enjoy a free, dignified life.

With the increasing political instability across the region, as the Islamic radicalism has spread throughout Middle East and North Africa, terror threats in Morocco have become more frequent in recent years. “Morocco faces many of the same socio-economic challenges and drivers of radical ideology that many other countries in the region face,” said Haim Malka, Deputy Director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based leading think tank. Therefore, also with security in mind and particularly to eliminate the fertile ground for jihadist recruiters, Rabat has sought to improve the human development indicators in the southern provinces when it invested there heavily in recent years – the government’s development plan for the region worth over $7 billion was reaffirmed earlier this month when Morocco’s King Mohammed VI launched several development projects in Laayoune and Dakhla.

“The Government reiterates its rejection of the ruling of the European Court of Justice on the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement,” said Communication Minister and Government Spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi following the cabinet meeting on Thursday (25 February) and added that “Morocco denounces this ambiguity […] and cannot accept to be treated as a subject of a judicial process and to be buffeted between European institutions.” Mr El Khalfi also stressed that ”Until the European side gives [Morocco] the necessary explanations and assurances, the Government has decided to suspend all contact with European institutions, except for exchanges on the appeal related to the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement,” the Government spokesman said.

In the latest development and in response to Morocco’s angry reaction to the EU court’s controversial ruling, the European Union has reached out to Morocco by stating that it is “ready to provide clarification and additional reassurances to address Morocco’s concerns so that contact and cooperation can be fully re-established as soon as possible.” The EU also said it was still evaluating the implications of Morocco’s move. On Friday (26 February), a spokesperson for the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic arm, sought to offer more reassurance by stressing that the EU was going to appeal the ECJ decision and provide “all the necessary information” to allay Morocco’s concerns, “so that cooperation can be re-established as soon as possible.”

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