European court annuls EU-Morocco trade deals after challenge from Western Sahara secessionists

An EU court has annulled agriculture and fishing agreements between the 27-nation bloc and Morocco after an objection from the people of Western Sahara was upheld. The annulment won’t come into effect immediately.

On Wednesday, the General Court of the European Union, the second-highest chamber of the bloc, ruled in favor of the Polisario Front independence movement that had objected to the EU’s trade deals with Morocco. 

The Polisario Front, which claims independence from the Western Sahara region and has established the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, said the agriculture and fishing deals were agreed upon without the consent of people from the disputed North African territory.

The court deemed the Polisario Front was “recognized internationally as a representative of the people of Western Sahara,” and therefore the EU should have sought the consent of the Saharawi people before sealing any agreements with Morocco.

In its ruling, the court also said the annulment of the deals would not come into effect immediately, but after a two-month period in which parties can lodge an appeal. In a joint statement, Morocco and the EU said they would ensure trade continues between the two. 

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The Polisario Front had challenged two agreements struck in 2019, both of which had been revised after they were found to not be applicable to Western Sahara. An earlier ruling – by the European Court of Justice in February 2018 – said a fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco must be adjusted as the waters off Western Sahara should not be included as part of the North African kingdom.

The Western Sahara region was administered by Spain until Morocco annexed the region in the mid-1970s. Secessionists then fought a 16-year war with Morocco for its independence before the UN brokered a ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario in 1991.

Rabat considers the vast, mineral-rich desert region its ‘southern provinces’ and rejects challenges to its territorial integrity.

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