As the deal expired yesterday, about 70 European fishing boats that were still on Moroccan coasts were given an ultimatum to leave the country by midnight.
Rabat – The EU-Morocco fisheries deal, one of the pillars of the longstanding strategic relationship between Morocco and the European Union, is on the brink of disintegrating as the two parties fail to agree on renewal terms.
“Should any of the boats fail to comply with the deadline, sanctions will follow,” a Moroccan source told Le 360, suggesting that Rabat is inflexible on its current position.
Javier Garat, president of the Spanish Confederation of Fisherman, said yesterday that is a pity and a big regret that the two sides failed to reach an agreement that could have spared fishermen the ordeal of living in uncertainty while discussions continue.
“We regret that negotiations have so far failed to reach a conclusion that would have prevented European fishers from leaving Moroccan coasts,” the Spaniard said.
But while the two parties’ failure to find accommodating terms might herald alarming prospects for their longstanding strategic partnership, there are voices of optimism and hope on both sides.
They echo the belief that the EU-Morocco alliance is important to the point that neither party can just decide to walk away while serious negotiations are underway, regardless of each party’s demands and requirements.
According to such optimists, diverging interests and differences in perception are part and parcel of bilateral relations. But when a partnership is strong and valuable, and when both parties are conscious of the fruits they reap from collaborating, alliances always survives temporary differences.
“A renewal is very much possible in coming days,” another Moroccan governmental source told Le 360, explaining that although the deadline has passed, negotiations never stopped between the two parties.
“There are still Moroccan diplomats in Brussels discussing with their European counterparts as they try to find a solution,” he offered. The two sides—Brussels and Rabat—“will most probably reach an agreement in coming days, very soon,” another source was quoted by Medias 24 as saying.
Most importantly perhaps, while current news had European fishermen worrying that the failure to renew the deal before the deadline would mean an indefinite halt for their activities, Medias 24 reported that both Rabat and the EU are environing a temporary resumption of the deal before reaching a final agreement.
Quoting Moroccan sources, Medias 24 reported that a temporary resumption would entail continuation of activities until the renewal process is finalized, as opposed to putting everything on hold before negotiations reach a conclusive deal.
As a result, instead of waiting for the bureaucratic and diplomatic hurdles that could take months or possibly a year, European fishermen can resume activities as soon as a basis is found for extending the deal.
But who will compromise?
While there is little doubt regarding both parties’ willingness to save their mutually beneficial relationship by salvaging the expired deal, one question still hovers in the air, sidestepped and unanswered by officials on both sides: who will compromise?
Within the framework of the expired deal, Morocco allowed 126 European fishing boats (90 from Spain and the rest from 10 other EU countries) to operate in Moroccan waters.
In return, Morocco was getting EUR 40 million as financial compensation. Now, however, Morocco is requesting that the EU doubles that number, saying that it won’t sign a deal with financial compensation lower than EUR 80 million.
Earlier this year, in February, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the EU-Morocco fisheries deal is not applicable to Western Sahara. ECJ’s ruling argued that local populations were not getting benefit from the deal.
Morocco, which saw the ruling as an attack on its national sovereignty, seized the European commission, making the case that not only was Morocco spending the lion’s share of the deal’s financial compensation in development projects in Western Sahara, but that it would not allow anyone to challenge its territorial integrity.
On March 21, the European Commission dismissed the ECJ ruling, paving the path for a new deal that would include Western Sahara, a point Morocco said was non-negotiable. The two parties started negotiations on April 16, hoping to open what both expected would be a brand new chapter in their relationship.
But since then, having easily compromised on the political and social implications of the renewal, Brussels is yet to agree with Morocco’s financial demands. Which leaves but one explanation: a certain –understandable—refusal on the EU’s part to always be the one making crucial compromises.
Javier Garat, the Spanish fisherman, thinks that both sides should compromise on certain details. He argues that, after all, renewing the deal would yield enormous benefits for both Rabat and Brussels.
While the EU must pay considerably more than it was, Rabat should reconsider its requests, perhaps a slight decrease in the MAD 800 million it is asking.
Many European and Moroccan families’ livelihood depends on this deal, the Spaniard suggested. Many Moroccan officials, as quoted in recent news reports, agree with that. It, however, remains to be seen whether the EU will succeed in convincing Morocco to be a bit more flexible on its financial demands.