The Moroccan parliament recently passed two bills to extend the country’s legal authority to include maritime space of its southern provinces in Western Sahara.
Rabat – The Spanish congress has passed a motion on its response to Morocco’s decision to redefine its maritime borders in the waters between Morocco’s coast off Western Sahara and Spain’s Canary Islands.
The unanimous vote came on February 25 amid vows from Madrid and Rabat to continue negotiations to come to a mutual decision on the overlap.
Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya expressed concerns after the Moroccan parliament passed two bills allowing the country to establish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the waters off the coast of its southern provinces in Western Sahara, in line with international law.
Gonzalez Laya visited Morocco in January, and formally asked Morocco for further negotiations, saying the decision could not be taken “unilaterally.”
Morocco assured Spain of its intention to pursue a dialogue, but clarified that the country has full sovereignty to make such a move and it does not need approval.
With Spain and Morocco ready to discuss solutions for the possible overlaps, the congress deputies responded to requests from the Canary Coalition to defend the “archipelago’s territorial integrity.”
The bill emphasizes the need for Spain to “continue to maintain a firm position in defense of the integrity of the land and maritime territory of the Canarian Archipelago, waters of Spanish sovereignty.”
While the congress agreed to “intervene urgently,” the motion, unanimously adopted after modifications, stresses that the government’s action is not a hostile one. The government, congress said, must “address this issue with Morocco as a priority,” as part of dialogue that is characterized by “relations of friendship and mutual trust .”
The congress affirmed that Morocco’s move to redefine maritime borders must be “done by agreement between both States respecting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS], which both countries have ratified, and International Maritime Law.”
Morocco’s adoption of the bills, however, is already in accordance with the UNCLOS established March 2, 1973.
UNCLOS outlines the limits of territorial waters. Under the convention, Morocco’s new bills are amendments to existing laws, allowing the North African country to create an EEZ 200 nautical miles off the coast of Western Sahara.
The UNCLOS stipulates that a coastal state’s territorial sea is limited to 12 nautical miles, a contiguous zone encompassing between 12 and 24 nautical miles, an EEZ amasses between 12 and 200 nautical miles, and a Continental Shelf may not exceed 350 nautical miles.
In the case of an overlap, any affected countries are obliged by international law to enter into negotiations to find a mutually agreed-upon solution. Morocco has been clear, from the adoption of the two bills that it intends to negotiate the matter with Spain.
Morocco’s government, through the ministry of foreign affairs, already made its stance clear with regards to the question of maritime borders. Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita told the Spanish FM during her visit to Morocco: “Like Spain, Morocco, too, has the right to revise its maritime borders. Just like Spain did not ask Morocco while making its move, Morocco is a sovereign country and does not need to get Spain’s approval before making its decision.”
In response, Gonzalez Laya affirmed earlier this month that Morocco has the right to delimit borders.
All countries have the right to delimit their maritime waters, including Spain, the FM said.
“That is what Morocco is doing. The next stage is to fix the borders. I asked for, and received a commitment from the Moroccan minister [of foreign affairs Nasser Bourita] that Morocco will not do it unilaterally,” she told El Pais.
Within the same motion, the Spanish congress reaffirmed support for the UN-led political process to reach a mutually acceptable solution for the Western Sahara conflict, implicitly emphasizing that the Polisario Front does not accept Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.
The statement to support the political process is in line with the position of Spain reiterated recently when the Spanish FM commented on a meeting between representatives of political party PODEMOS, part of the government coalition, and the Polisario.
Gonzalez Laya said Spain does not recognize Polisario’s self-styled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and adding that its position on the conflict remains unchanged.