The fisheries agreement with Mauritania and its implementing protocol, the EU’s most significant in economic terms by far, are currently being renegotiated. To allow continued EU fishing activities in Mauritanian waters after the expiry of the latest protocol, the European Commission has proposed to prolong it for a maximum of one year. The European Parliament is due to vote on giving its consent to this extension during the May plenary part-session.
The EU’s fisheries relations with Mauritania date back more than 30 years, with a series of agreements concluded in 1987, 1996 and 2006. The latter, renewable for six-year periods, is now in force. It is one of the few mixed fisheries agreements covering a variety of demersal and pelagic species, including a tuna component. EU fishing vessels operate in Mauritanian waters under a protocol implementing the agreement, which defines the fishing opportunities available and the financial contribution paid by the EU. The latest protocol, concluded in 2015 and modified by Commission decision in 2017, expired on 15 November 2019. An evaluation study recommended its renewal.
Foreign ministers of Spain and Morocco announced their countries would hold talks about overlapping areas of ocean that they both claim rights to in the North Atlantic.
The Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya (pictured) traveled to Morocco on January 24 amid diplomatic tension over Rabat’s attempt to take control of waters close to Canary Islands.
The territorial waters Morocco has claimed include the coast off Western Sahara, a territory that has been contested between Rabat and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front since the end of Spanish colonial era in 1975.
Morocco’s parliament passed two bills this week to give domestic legal grounds to a coastal area the North African country already controls, causing concern about Canary Islands, where the Madrid warned of overlaps with Spanish territorial waters.
Morocco’s foreign minister Nasser Bourita said that defining territorial waters was a “sovereign right” and that his country aimed to upgrade domestic law in compliance with the UN law of the sea convention.
“In case of overlaps, international law requires states to negotiate,” said Bourita following talks with his Spanish peer, Arancha Gonzalez Laya.
“Morocco rejects unilateral acts and “fait accompli,” he said, adding that Spain was a “strategic partner” and Morocco’s largest trading partner.
Gonzalez Laya said Morocco’s willingness to negotiate “reassures the Canary Islands”.
“Morocco is a source of stability for Spain,” Arancha Gonzalez Laya said, pointing at “close cooperation” in the fight against jihadists and illegal migration.
The European Union’s fisheries agreement with Morocco should be declared invalid because it includes the disputed territory of Western Sahara, an adviser to the EU’s top court said.
The EU and Morocco concluded an association agreement in 1996 and a partnership agreement in the fisheries sector in 2006, the validity of which was disputed by campaign groups in Britain.
“The fisheries exploitation by the EU of the waters adjacent to Western Sahara established and implemented by the contested acts does not respect the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination,” Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said.
The court often follows the Advocate General’s advice, but is not obliged to do so.
At present the territories of Western Sahara are partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
In 2016, the European Union (EU) declared that “Western Sahara is not part of Moroccan territory”. In March 2016, Morocco “expelled more than 70 U.N. civilian staffers with MINURSO” due to strained relations after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara an “occupation”.