Morocco announced that previously approved laws 37-17 and 38-17 on the delimitation of its maritime borders with Spain are now official
Essaouira – “Morocco takes advantage of coronavirus chaos to extend its maritime borders,” reads La Tribuna’s April 1 headline, while La Voz says, “the Canaries demand ‘a show of force’ from Spain.”
Words like “appropriate” and accusations of foul play pepper the Spanish press this morning as the media responds, with hostility, to Morocco’s move to formalize its maritime borders in the waters between the coast of Morocco’s Western Sahara and the Spanish Canary Islands.
Morocco announced in its Official Bulletin on March 30 that laws 37-17 and 38-17, both amendments to existing laws, are now formalized.
The formalization came after the parliament in Rabat voted to adopt the amendments in December 2019.
The amendments pertain to the limits of Morocco’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in line with international law as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The first of the two amendments, law 37-17, defines Morocco’s territorial sea that extends over 12 nautical miles from the Moroccan coastline.
In accordance with the UNCLOS, Morocco has sovereignty over its territorial sea and airspace.
In its territorial sea, Morocco has the right to build and protect pipelines, cables, and navigation equipment. The country also has the right to enforce its fiscal, medical, and immigration laws in the territorial sea.
The legislative text protects Morocco’s rights to preserve the marine ecosystem and carry out research on its waters.
The second text, law 38-17, delimits Morocco’s EEZ, extending 200 nautical miles from the coast of Morocco’s Western Sahara. The law also outlines the limits of the continental shelf at 350 nautical miles from the coast.
Dialogue with Madrid
After the Moroccan parliament adopted the laws in December, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and his Spanish counterpart Arancha Gonzalez Laya assured citizens of both countries that Spain and Morocco would address any overlaps through negotiation, as set out in the UNCLOS.
Following the January meeting, Gonzalez confirmed that Morocco has the right to consolidate its maritime sovereignty while respecting “international conventions on maritime borders.”
The FMs agreed that negotiations are the only solution to the conflict and pledged to maintain an open and constant dialogue on the matter.
Despite the warm relations and constant Rabat-Madrid communications, Spanish media outlets continue to slam the Moroccan move, accusing Rabat of underhanded machinations and taking advantage of the devastating impacts of the novel coronavirus on its European neighbor.
“In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, with a national state of emergency in Spain and Morocco, with the borders between the two countries closed and relations frozen, Rabat has officialized two laws on the demarcation of its territorial seas which directly affects Spain,” national newspaper El Espanol began an alarmist article on April 1.
Later in the text, the author openly admits that Morocco did enter into negotiations with Spain, quoting Bourita as saying “the question [of an overlap] can be dealt with through dialogue, thanks to the positive relations that exist between the two countries.”
The article then goes on to accuse Rabat of economic cynicism, linking the timing of the move with Morocco’s newfound friendship with post-Brexit Britain.
The article refers to Morocco’s deal with UK oil drilling company Sound Energy, and finishes by spotlighting a potential royal visit to London.
The El Espanol article, like many of its counterparts in the Spanish press this morning, does not refer to Spanish FM Gonzalez’ Twitter response.
The FM responded calmly in a series of tweets, saying that although she had received no prior warning that the laws would become official, she is familiar with the content.
“Morocco and Spain are in agreement that maritime delimitation will need the resolution of overlaps through mutual agreement, in accordance with international law,” the second tweet reads.
Feeding the far right
While few news outlets in Spain have chosen not to report the official response from Gonzalez, several have shared Canary President Angel Torres’ statements of outrage.
“Torres:‘They will not touch even a millimeter of the waters off the archipelago,” reads the Lancelot Digital headline.
The article goes on to outline Torres’ response to the Moroccan move, saying he immediately contacted Gonzalez to call for a strong rebuttal.
Flexing his political muscles, Torres said he “will not accept unilateral decisions” from Morocco.
Ironically, Ceuta al Dia, a news outlet based in the Spanish city enclave in northern Morocco, openly accused Rabat of profiting from the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Morocco does not let a crisis pass without moving a card and the gigantic crisis of COVID-19 was not going to be an exception,” the regional outlet’s article begins.
It remains to be seen if the alarmist, fear-mongering headlines saturating Spanish newspapers will color Rabat-Madrid relations.
What is clear, however, is that the growing far-right Vox presence in Spanish parliament and in the enclave of Ceuta has already given the green light to the ever-present anti-Morocco sentiment in the Spanish press.