Spain and Morocco are going to meet again in the coming days to discuss for the first time in 15 years on the delimitation of its maritime spaces. And these negotiations already threaten to shake the Canarian and Saharawi waters. The new step to sweeten the complex relationship they maintain Madrid Y Rabat arrives within the framework of the wink of the Government of Pedro Sanchez to the kingdom of Mohammed VI after that controversial letter that marks a Copernican turn on the sovereignty of Western Sahara. The joint working group will start the dialogue with Canary Islands in the epicenter and with the revulsion of the aspirations of the North African country to extract oil after finding a deposit near the archipelago.
Jose Manuel AlbaresMinister for Foreign Affairs, recently stated that the Spanish government seeks an agreement on the Atlantic coast within the framework of the UN Convention on the rights of the sea. But the Executive Pedro Sanchez avoid clarifying whether these negotiations will also include the waters of the Occidental Sahara. It is precisely the legal vacuum regarding the status of the former Spanish colony that can tighten the rope during this dialogue and put Spain in a complicated situation and contrary to International right if it yields to these pretensions of the North African country.
Saharawi self-determination, recognized by the UN, seems more utopian every day
Rabat has always tried to Spain and the EU recognize the Moroccan nature of the Sahara. something that in Brussels they have never contemplated, despite undermining a country they consider a “priority partner”. In 2020, Morocco went one step further and passed two laws to expand its maritime territory declaring its sovereignty over the waters of Western Sahara, a territory cataloged by United Nations as pending decolonization. In fact, in its resolution 690 of April 1991, the very UN recognizes the right of the Saharawi people to self-determinationbut for three decades the referendum has not only not been held, but every day that the conflict remains entrenched it seems more utopian.
European Justice annuls trade agreements
In this context of legal gap on the status and administration of the Sahara, the framing of the Saharawi waters and resources during the bilateral negotiations that start shortly will be key. To channel its stormy but vital relations with Morocco, Spain has sacrificed its historic position with Western Sahara. But it will be much more difficult to give in to possible Alaouite pressure on the territorial waters of the Sahara because the european justice has made clear the right of the Saharawi people to dispose of their resources through numerous sentences.
The historic ruling that General Court of the EU ruled last September leaves no room for doubt: the agreements to liberalize the EU Y Morocco cannot include the resources and waters belonging to the Occidental Sahara if they do not include the express consent of the Polisario Front, recognized by the UN as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people. European Justice does not consider trade agreements with Morocco illegal, but argues that they must be ratified by the Polisario Front, something that has never happened. In fact, in its appeal, the Polisario Front argues that these agreements favor Morocco’s annexationist policy on its territory through the exploitation of its resources.
Luxembourg recognizes the Polisario Front as representative of Western Sahara
Thus, in its ruling, the court of Luxembourg It stated “that the Polisario Front enjoys recognition at the international level as the representative of the people of Western Sahara, even assuming that such recognition falls within the limited framework of the process of self-determination of the aforementioned territory.” “Furthermore, their participation in this process implies that they have the necessary autonomy and responsibility to act in this context,” reads the ruling.
The underlying question is not whether the EU and Morocco can sign trade agreements with the Sahara, but whether they can do so without the consent of the former Spanish colony. And the response of the European Justice is clear: Do not. At the moment, the situation is stand-by and under a grace period established after the appeal filed by the Council of the EU before the Court of Justice of the EU. In the coming months, the highest instance of European Justice must issue a firm and definitive sentence.
This latest setback is one more in the long list of setbacks for Luxembourg to the Council of the EU within the framework of its agreements with Rabat. Already in 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) concluded that neither the Association Agreement with Morocco nor the pact on trade liberalization should be applied to Western Sahara as it is a “separate and distinct” territory from the occupying country. . Two years later, in another unprecedented ruling, this court annulled the fishing agreement on the same grounds. This ruling was especially relevant because it is in the Saharawi territory where the 91.5% of all catches contemplated in the Brussels-Rabat agreement.
For all these reasons, if the Spanish Government includes the waters of Western Sahara in the forthcoming negotiations with Rabat, would be violating international law. The game of chess is served: it is difficult to foresee that Morocco is going to give up negotiating such juicy waters that, moreover, it considers as its own. But equally complicated is that the Spanish Government can accept to include the waters of a non-autonomous territory, running the risk of waging a long battle in international courts.