Rabat – In response to claims questioning the legitimacy of EU-Morocco fisheries and agriculture agreements on the grounds that they include Western Sahara, locals from the concerned regions have petitioned for the renewal of the agreements.
Coming just days after news emerged of pro-Polisario maneuvers to “disturb” the normal proceeding of the final vote for the Morocco-EU agriculture agreement, the petition set out to squarely dismiss what it describes as maneuvers to separate locals from their “homeland.”
Morocco, according to petitioners, is “the only legitimate representative of our interests and of our will.”
The petition explained Morocco’s increased efforts to invest and accelerate development in the southern provinces: “Since our country completed its territorial integrity by recovering its southern provinces, it has made significant efforts towards their sustainable development. Noticeable progress made in our southern provinces as the result of our country’s efforts to make development, both at large and in our regions, our top priority.”
In recent years, the regions of Laayoune-Sakia, El Hamra, and Dakhla-Oued Ed Dahab have been dubbed by international observers—including diplomats and businessmen—as a beacon of socio-economic developments and an “ideal hub” for investments.
Recently, a group of African leaders who visited Laayoune said they were “shocked” by the “rapid transformations” the region has witnessed in recent years because of King Mohammed VI’s “personal commitment and political will.”
The ambassadors stressed that Rabat’s development efforts in the region should be emulated in other African countries. But such Morocco-friendly observations have also come from non-African visitors of the region, including French and American observers.
Even the UN Secretary-General’s latest annual report on Western Sahara drew particular attention to Morocco’s investments in infrastructure and employment prospects, albeit in a diplomatic and balanced language that sought to avoid accusations of pro-Morocco bias.
Drawing on such international acknowledgment of Rabat’s “genuine” interest in and attachment to the southern provinces, the petitioners called on European policymakers to take into account the “tangible” positive impact that their agreements with Morocco have had in the lives of locals in the southern provinces.
“The benefits from our country’s commitment to the development of our southern provinces are well established. The southern provinces are now ranked above the national average for human development indicators.
“Since 2015, they benefit from a new development model mobilizing 77 billion dirhams and resulting in many projects impacting tourism, employment, the environment, culture, handicrafts, education, health, urban planning, roads, water, renewable energies, agriculture, transport and fisheries.”
An oft-repeated claim in Morocco-hostile circles is that the agreements between Rabat and its international partners “do not benefit locals.” According to petitioners, however, the people in the concerned areas “need” and “demand” the agreements because “they contribute to economic growth and job creation in our region.”
Most importantly perhaps, the petition pointed out that not renewing the agreements would do more harm than good to the region’s economy, as many families’ livelihood is directly dependent on activities generated as a result of the EU-Morocco partnerships.
“The theory that the Fisheries Agreement and the Agricultural Agreement do not benefit the local population concerned is not valid … To oppose these two Agreements would put at risk the thousands of families who are financially dependent on maritime and agricultural activities in our southern provinces,” the petition hammered.