Morocco sufferns legal setback as EU official declares Western Sahara "not part of Morocco"

The tricky relationship between the EU and Morocco is set to become more fractious, after an influential legal opinion delivered to a Brussels court declared that the disputed territory of Western Sahara is not part of Morocco. In a statement issued on September 13, Melchior Wathelet, an advocate general at the Court of Justice in Brussels, said that “Western Sahara is not part of Moroccan territory and therefore … neither the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, nor the Liberalisation Agreement are applicable to it.” 

Advocates general provide independent legal opinions to judges at the Court of Justice. These opinions are advisory and non-binding but are often influential. The opinion is the latest step in an ongoing case which caused a serious rift between Brussels and Morocco last year. In December 2016, the Court of Justice ruled that a four-year-old deal between the EU and Morocco covering trade in agricultural and fishery products (also known as the Liberalisation Agreement) should be scrapped because it included products from Western Sahara. 

Members of the Polisario Front mourn their leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, at his funeral in the Rabouni refugee camp in south west Algeria, on June 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub) That led Rabat to break off all contact with Brussels for three months. It was only mollified by the European Commission’s criticism of the court ruling and its decision to appeal the court’s verdict. The legal opinion offered to the court by Wathelet forms part of that appeal process. Morocco also fell out with the US over the issue of Western Sahara in May this year. 

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