The EU must address the issue of Western Sahara

A carte blanche from Patrick Saerens, lawyer, associate professor of international law at Ichec, visiting professor at the University of Metz, professor at the University of Oujda (Morocco).

Since Spain’s withdrawal in 1975, Western Sahara, a territory eight times the size of Belgium located between Morocco and Mauritania, has never known peace. UN resolutions have been followed one after another, and various representatives have been appointed to try to find a solution to this conflict, which is getting stuck between the Sheriff’s Kingdom, which manages 80% of the “southern province” and the Polisario Front. , an autonomous movement supported. of Algeria. This territorial dispute is the main source of disagreement between these two countries, which is detrimental to the development of the Maghreb and has significant economic costs, as the borders between these states have been closed since 1994. However, the situation is changing, especially after Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU) and a diplomacy aimed at being calm on the subject. In this context, the fact that the Biden government reaffirmed its predecessor’s choice to recognize Morocco’s right to this territory is a major event that changes the geostrategic data of the region. In just a few years, no less than 21 consulates have opened in Western Sahara, mostly from African countries, but now also from the United States, Haiti or the United Arab Emirates. In this context, the European Union maintains a wait-and-see attitude that serves neither its interests nor the people of the region.

Mix of genres. The EU has been negotiating economic agreements with Morocco on this area for several years, in particular with regard to the exploitation of phosphate, agriculture and fishery resources. Each time, the Polisario Front brought an action before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to challenge their legality. European judges have just annulled two agreements in September 2021 on the grounds that the EU can not ignore a statement by the Court of Justice in The Hague (UN judicial body), which in 1975 called on the international community to implement a process aimed at involving local people in the self-determination process . Admittedly, the decision of the Luxembourg judges was immediately appealed to the European Court of Justice, but an in-depth analysis of this judgment shows that the line between legal and political arguments is thin, which it does not. the role of the judiciary. However, the controversial decision has both diplomatic implications, as Morocco is by far the most reliable partner in the region, and financially, because if the decision were upheld, European companies could be sentenced to pay significant sums to the complainants. It is therefore urgent for the EU to address the issue in order to prevent a few judges from being forced to settle this political dispute through a node that is not their responsibility.

Autonomy status negotiation

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