Mediterranean lessons for EU external action – EURACTIV.com
The reaction to the latest decision of the European Court of Justice on Western Sahara shows that the Union can keep calm and continue if it focuses on what it is capable of achieving instead of aiming outside its competence, writes Elena Valenciano.
Elena Valenciano is a former Spanish MEP from the Socialist and Democratic Group.
There was a sense of both already seen and surprise on September 29, when the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) delivered its judgment on the applicability of the EU-Morocco agreements to Western Sahara.
Some have been baffled by the uncertainty created, as agreements to grant tariff concessions to the region and allow fishing in adjacent waters have been canceled – although they will apply pending an appeal.
Others were surprised to see how far the Court has gone in recognizing the claim of the Polisario Front, an armed group which does not enjoy the recognition of any member state or EU institution.
And those, like me, were reassured by the calm that reigned. This is the sixth CJEU judgment on the matter, and yet things are far from the same this time around.
Apparent or not, calm defined most of the official reactions. The EEAS and Morocco went out together, emphasizing the importance of strategic bilateral relations and the maintenance of continuity and stability, two elements extremely rare in the Mediterranean today.
This shows that we may have learned some lessons on how the EU can promote on the ground the conditions for legal and diplomatic solutions at international level.
In 2015, when the CJEU ruled for the first time on the issue, first annulling the EU-Morocco agreements, the case caused deep diplomatic unrest, in particular the halting of negotiations for a free agreement. in-depth and comprehensive discussion.
The judgment was then overturned on appeal, and the Court indicated that additional agreements were necessary to allow the Saharan population and economy to benefit from the tariff preferences of the EU-Morocco agreement.
In 2018-19, the EU and Morocco, including myself in the European Parliament, negotiated updated agreements to meet the demands of the CJEU. The work we have done in Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, led by my S&D political group, to ask the European Commission and Morocco to go beyond the indications of the Court is particularly remarkable.
This resulted in parliamentary hearings with all parties, including the Polisario, a multi-party fact-finding mission in the region, as well as the establishment by the Moroccan authorities of an IT system to monitor the region’s exports – a unique tool that cannot be found in any other EU trade agreement, used by the Commission for its annual assessment of the agreements, which has shown benefits for local people.
Now that the court has sent everyone back to the drawing board, it may all seem unnecessary. But the work done to negotiate and put it in place, to build trust between the partners, has not been in vain.
The emphasis placed on the stability of the Mediterranean and the continuity of strategic and socio-economic relations between the EU and Morocco, as highlighted by the EEAS, several MEPs, Member States and business communities, shows that our priorities and our role are now clear.
This is the result of increased communication between all parties regarding the uncertainty established by the Court. This positive exchange is what happens when good diplomacy is at work, connecting the dots between legal intricacies and realities on the ground. More importantly, it shows a big change from previous instances.
After turbulent months for Morocco’s relations with Spain, and arguably Europe by extension, this shows that we now have a better understanding of the Sahara issue. It is historically and critically important, but cannot be resolved in court alone, through trade alone, or jeopardize the larger image of the EU’s southern neighborhood as a whole.
The EU should certainly continue to support the UN peace process – and the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the Secretary-General’s new personal envoy gives some room for hope.
Regardless of whether the UN process may gain momentum, the question remains: what is the EU’s plan? For now, it looks like Brussels wants to keep calm, appeal and move on – and maybe that’s exactly the Zen lesson we should be learning.
The EU is between a rock and a hard place, as is often the case in its international relations, trying to defend a set of universal values through strict legal principles but sometimes lacking the capacity and competence to protect them. and shape them on the ground.
Concretely, the EU can only support the UN process on Western Sahara. The Commission, the Council and the EEAS have interpreted this as allowing the EU to support the socio-economic development of the region and its population through the only means available – tariff preferences granted only through state authorities present where it is needed. there is economic activity.
The court said – for now – that the EU had not obtained sufficient consent from the Sahrawis to do so. How to do this remains unclear, as the EU has held consultations locally. But it cannot recognize the exclusive status that the Polisario wants because none of its member states do.
What it can do, however, is use its trading and investment power to maintain stability and communicate with everyone to ensure that all parties understand not only the strategic risks and opportunities involved, but also that the EU is a legal animal with many heads. – it takes time to decide.
This will help everyone to keep their cool and focus on common interests in the Mediterranean.
Calm doesn’t mean standing still and hoping for things to get better.
As the CJEU and the UN do their job, the world continues to change and the EU can play its own role. From green investments to development funds, it means a lot to its southern neighborhood – one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change, migratory flows, terrorism and socio-economic instability.
Let’s all get to work: the EU may not yet be in a position to resolve international diplomatic impasses, but it can – as it did for the part of its neighborhood which is now an integral part of the EU. ‘Union – creating the socio-economic conditions to make legal solutions possible and viable in reality.