The Polisario considers asking the EU for damages for the agreements canceled with Morocco

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The Polisario Front has described this Friday in epic terms the “great victory that the Saharawi people represent” the judgments of the General Court of the European Union that on Wednesday annulled the trade and fishing agreements with Morocco. A “Homeric battle” –in the words of Manuel Devers, of the legal team before the EU of the Polisario Front– between the David of an “occupied, refugee and colonial” people against the Goliath of the community institutions. The annulment of some agreements that, according to the European judges, obviated the essential requirement of the consent of the Saharawi people for the exploitation of their resources does not remain in those judicial rulings, explained the lawyer at a press conference at the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid. The Polisario Front is considering claiming damages from the European Union for the annulled treaties. The organisation’s representative to the EU, Oubi Bucharaya, confirmed that they are “studying this possibility.”

According to the calculations of the Polisario and its legal team, this damage rises to at least 1,000 million euros in the two years that have elapsed since the signing in 2019 of the two pacts, the commercial and the fishing one, at a rate of about 500 million annually. Although neither the Polisario representatives nor their legal adviser broke that amount down, in general terms it corresponds to the data of the European Commission itself, which, in 2019, raised the cost of its imports of agricultural and fishery products originating in the Sahara to 435 million of euros.

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The Sahrawi fish exported by Morocco does not include the catches of the European fleet authorized to fish by the fisheries treaty. The licenses and other concepts of this pact are worth an additional financial contribution to the Alawite kingdom of 52 million euros per year. The bulk of the catches of the 128 European vessels – including 93 Spanish – under the treaty comes from the Saharawi fishing grounds: 92%. Both agricultural products and fish, regardless of their origin in Moroccan or Saharawi territory, entered Europe without paying tariffs – with some exceptions – and with a single label that placed their origin in Morocco.

Following this week’s sentences, both Moroccan exports of Sahrawi products, as well as fish caught in its waters by European fleets, will enter the Union “illegally,” said Manuel Devers. The jurist stressed that, even if the court has given the parties two months to appeal the sentence, a period in which the boats will be able to continue fishing, the certificates of origin that allow the entry and commercialization of fish in the European Union do not for that reason they will be legal, as they will be signed by Morocco. This opens the door, said the lawyer, for the Polisario to demand the judicial seizure of the fish. Bucharaya specified, however, that this possibility is not yet on the table and that his organization wants to “help Spanish fishermen.” “The EU and the States already know who they have to go to if they want fishing licenses in Saharawi waters,” he concluded.

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In three successive judgments, between 2016 and 2018, the EU courts had already established that Western Sahara – registered since 1963 on the United Nations list of non-autonomous territories, pending decolonization – is not part of Morocco according to international legality. The judges already ruled that in order for that country to exploit the natural resources of the former Spanish colony, the consent of the Saharawi people was necessary through the only organization recognized by the UN – in resolutions of its General Assembly of 1979 and 1980 – as its only representative: the Polisario Front.

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The Spanish government has announced that it will ask the European institutions to appeal to the Court of Justice of the EU for the cancellation of trade and fisheries agreements with Morocco, according to government sources. Spain appeared in both cases in support of Rabat, represented by the State attorney Sonsoles Centeno Huerta, together with the European institutions (Council and Commission), France and Moroccan trade unions and chambers of commerce. Now, you could also appeal both judgments through the State Bar. However, the political cost and the erosion vis-à-vis Spanish public opinion of appealing the decisions against Morocco alone would be greater than if the Government were limited to supporting an appeal from the European institutions. The chances of success of this legal action are slim in view of the successive rulings of the European courts unfavorable for Rabat in this matter.

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