Europe and Western Sahara: France Reiterates Its Support for Moroccan Autonomy Initiative

Written by | Friday, January 19th, 2018

France has renewed its support for the Moroccan initiative to offer large autonomy to the Sahara provinces in an attempt to settle the Western Sahara conflict. The support was once again voiced by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Ie Drian, who is also Minister for Europe, insisting that this autonomy plan “constitutes a serious and credible basis” for a negotiated settlement of the Sahara issue.

Mr. le Drian also emphasized the importance of rekindling the UN-led political process for a fair, sustainable and mutually acceptable solution in line with the United Nations’ resolution of April 2017. France has also reaffirmed its commitment to full compliance with the ceasefire agreements, thus sending an indirect message to Polisario, which has recently deployed its militias in the demilitarized border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania.

The Western Sahara conflict has always been on the EU’s agenda, as Morocco has been seeking a formal European recognition of its claimed rights over the disputed territory. The mutual ties between both sides have recently been tested again over the West Sahara issue in the EU’s fisheries deal involving the disputed territory. An advisor to the EU’s top court said earlier this week that the deal on fisheries should be declared invalid, in line with the United Nations’ stance that the region has the right to self-determination.

“The fisheries exploitation by the EU of the waters adjacent to Western Sahara established and implemented by the contested acts does not respect the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination,” said the European Union Court of Justice’s Advocate General Melchior Wathelet. Mr. Wathelet also added that his position was based on the condition in international law that any wealth gained from exploiting Western Sahara’s rich marine life should benefit its people. Most of the waters fished in the EU-Morocco fisheries deal are along Western Sahara’s coast and therefore it should be Western Sahara that is paid for the fish exported to the EU. “The fisheries agreement does not contain the legal safeguards necessary for the fisheries exploitation to be for the benefit of the people of Western Sahara,” he said.

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