Euro-MPs block Morocco-Western Sahara fishing deal
(STRASBOURG) - The European Parliament on Wednesday cancelled a deal allowing trawlers from EU countries to fish in Moroccan waters in exchange for annual payments to Rabat, prompting the North African kingdom to immediately ban all European fishing boats.
European legislators said they wanted to wait until the interests of Western Sahara trawlers were considered before agreeing to a 12-month extension of the deal.
Rights campaigners also said the deal breaches international law regarding Western Sahara, a region Morocco annexed in 1976.
Under the deal, Morocco would have received 36 million euros ($46 million) to let some 120 fishing boats, mainly from Spain, operate in its waters.
Finnish liberal MEP Carl Haglund said that payments already made were "a waste of taxpayers' funds" with no environmental benefit and no economic impact either on the EU or Morocco.
Angry Moroccan officials reacted swiftly.
"No fishing activity from the European fleet will be tolerated and all boats operating in the area of the fisheries agreement are asked to leave national territorial waters on Wednesday before midnight," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Slamming what it said was a "regrettable" decision, the ministry said the EU move would have "serious consequences on future cooperation in fishing".
It said it also ends any attempt for a "global reassessment of it partnership with the EU," which is Morocco's main trading partner.
"This is the work of a lobby which is hostile to Morocco's interests," a Moroccan industry official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This vote punishes Spanish fishermen who are numerous in Moroccan waters as their country is wracked by a serious crisis."
The vote came on the eve of talks between European Union fisheries ministers in Brussels, set to agree quotas for catches in the Atlantic, North and Baltic Seas as well as the Mediterranean.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara after the colonial power, Spain, withdrew in 1976 and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state.
The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, but a promised self-determination referendum has never been held.
Morocco also noted that the vote came as talks are underway on furthering cooperation with the European Union.
The EU's executive commission announced in September that it would propose opening negotiations soon with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia to sign free-trade agreements. EU officials had pledged doing so as Arab Spring revolts toppled leaders in the region.
The head of the EU delegation in Morocco, Eneko Landaburu, regretted the European parliament vote but said a new agreement could still be signed.
The Polisario Front welcomed the vote.
"This is a legal and political defeat for Morocco, whose expansionist efforts have failed once again," Mohamed Sidati, Western Sahara's minister delegate for Europe, told the SPS news agency.
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