Morocco and Spain: First Frictions Since the Return of the PP to Power?
By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, June 16, 202
Are we going to witness the first frictions in the relations between Moroccan and the new Spanish government? Taking into consideration that the delimitation of the continental shelf between Morocco and Spain off the Canary islands has been among the most contentious issues in the relations between the two countries, chances are that these relations will undergo the first frictions since the return of the Popular Party (PP) to power in Spain.
According to Spanish news outlet Canarias7, Morocco has opposed the decision made by the Spanish government to authorize the Oil company Repsol to conduct oil exploration off the Canary islands, an area whose continental shelf has still not been delimited between Morocco and Spain.
The reason behind Morocco’s opposition lies in the fact the area assigned by the Madrid to Repsol is within 50 km off Morocco’s coastline. The Moroccan government has always considered any unilateral decision of this nature as an encroachment on its territorial water, as it considers that this area falls under Morocco’s sovereignty.
There has never been a delimitation of territorial waters between Morocco and Spain off the Canary islands. While Spain considers the boundary to be the median between the two countries, Morocco contends that its territorial waters “extends to the edge of the continental shelf, and therefore the boundary is much closer to the Canary islands.”
This is not the first time that a Spanish government authorizes an oil company to conduct oil exploration in the area. In 2001, Jose Maria Aznar’ government issued a license to explore oil in a 600 sq Km offshore 10 km off the coast of Fuerteventura and 100 km off the coast of Morocco. This decision, in addition to organization of a pseudo-referendum on the Sahara in the hall of the Andalusian parliament in the fall of 2001, was among the issues that further contributed to the deterioration of the relations between the two countries and the withdrawal of Morocco’s Ambassador to Madrid in late September 2001. The Moroccan diplomacy had, then, claimed that the concession to prospect oil had been given on Moroccan territory.
On May 16, 2009, a few days after the Spanish government deposited a plan to extend the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the area to the west of the Canary Islands, in accordance with article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Permanent Mission of Morocco to the United Nations sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General, Ban ki-moon, demanding that the principles of international law and equity be applied. While it took note of the intention of Spain to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the area to the west of the Canary Islands, the letter rejects any intention to unilaterally establish the continental shelf.
“The Government of the Kingdom of Morocco rejects any act intended to unilaterally establish the continental shelf and demands that the relevant rules of international law, international practice and jurisprudence should be applied”, says the letter.
“The Kingdom of Morocco remains firmly attached to the rule of equity and to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Article 83, paragraph 1, which states: The delimitation of the continental shelf between States with opposite or adjacent coasts shall be effected by agreement on the basis of international law, as referred to in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in order to achieve an equitable solution,” it added.
Morocco has always insisted that the issue of delimitation of the continental shelf between its territorial waters and the Canary islands should be through negotiations, in line with international law and customs, which stipulate that the delimitation should be set through an agreement between the two countries.
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