Rabat – In the past few hours, the internet and the news cycle have been abuzz with questions and analysis about the meaning, reasons, and implications of Morocco’s decision to suspend contact with Germany’s embassy in Rabat.
While questions are numerous and sometimes contradictory, some primary, helpful answers can be found in Morocco’s recent message to the European Union.
Last week, the country’s top diplomat sent the European Union a clear message about what Morocco now considers as a genuine partnership. With recent developments on multiple fronts economic cooperation is no longer enough to cement lasting ties and partnership, the message suggested.
Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita, who delivered Rabat’s message, was even more emphatic about what Rabat expects from its allies on the Western Sahara question. He called on the EU to come out of its neutrality comfort zone and adopt the “international trend” on the Sahara conflict.
Bourita made the remarks in response to the ambiguous position of some countries with regards to the four-decade conflict.
Despite the widespread international support for Morocco’s “credible and serious” Autonomy Plan, some countries in the EU continue to promote Polisario’s self-determination claims.
Sidelining both Polisario’s well-documented link to terrorist groups in the Sahel and its illegitimate claims of being the “sole representative of the Sahrawis,” the EU’s pro-Polisario click is out against Morocco’s “claims” over Western Sahara.
Germany, like most global actors, is ostensibly “committed” to the UN-led political process in Western Sahara.
Judging by recent developments, however, especially Berlin’s reported dissatisfaction with the US’ unequivocal support for Morocco, Germany’s alleged behind-the-scenes maneuverings belie its professed commitment to the UN process. So much so that Morocco, finally angered by what it perceives as suspicious neutrality, has decided to take the hard line on Berlin.
On Monday, Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Ministry declared its unprecedented decision to suspend all contacts with Germany’s Embassy in Rabat.
The ministry explained its decision by citing “deep misunderstandings” that fall against fundamental questions of the Kingdom of Morocco.
Despite the recent development in the Western Sahara conflict, Germany has given no signs it is willing to follow in the footsteps of the United States.
The US has recently recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the region and expressed support for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan as a serious and credible solution to end the conflict over Western Sahara.
Some observers suspect Germany of being behind the latest attempt to push the European Court of Justice to issue yet another ruling on the legality of Morocco’s agriculture exports to the EU.
The traditional, pro-Polisario talking point in such matters is that resources originating from Western Sahara, in southern Morocco, should be excluded from EU-Morocco agreements.
While the European commission has repeatedly repelled that narrative, it is understood that some countries, including Germany, are still pushing for Europe to go hard on Morocco regarding Western Sahara.
The European Court of Justice will be reviewing the Western Sahara file in two hearings scheduled March 1 and March 2.
The two hearings will take place before the Ninth Chamber of the European Court of Justice.
Some pro-Polisario groups, naturally including Algeria and South Africa, have been challenging the legality of agricultural exports and fisheries agreements between Morocco and the EU.
Aware of the importance of the agreements, the EU has recently stunned Polisario, identifying products from Western Sahara as not subject to any ban.
The European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius said in a recent written note that the imports of products from Western Sahara to the European Union should not be “subject to an import prohibition.”
The European Commission considers Western Sahara as a territory “whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government.”
“As the EU vessels activities in the relevant fishing zone are governed by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement, which is the object of still pending Court proceedings, the Commission refrains from providing further comments on this issue,” Sinkevicius added.
Germany is also planning to stand against the EU state members who support the US’ decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara, according to Moroccan professor Khalid Yamout.
The Moroccan academic also called on Germany to stop its pressure on European countries and leave them to enjoy freedom to express their desire to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.
“If Germany wants common interests with Morocco, then it must understand that its very negative stance on the developments of the Sahara issue must change,” Yamout said.
Following the US’ decision to support Morocco’s cause in Western Sahara, Germany called for a Security Council meeting to discuss the issue.
Not a new tension
Some observers believe that the tension between Morocco and Germany is not a new development and has been brewing for over a year.
The first sign of the rift between the two countries became apparent after Germany snubbed Morocco when organizing the 2020 Berlin Conference on the Libyan crisis.
Hosting what it hoped would be an eventful conference to end Libya’s political impasse, Germany excluded Morocco from the global and MENA actors whose voice Berlin deemed essential for the Libyan political process and MENA stability in general.
That Germany invited Algeria, a country that has historically undermined Moroccan interests and unrelentingly challenged its territorial integrity, struck Rabat as particularly offensive and disdainful.
In a scathing statement about its exclusion from the Berlin conference, Morocco questioned Germany’s legitimacy and motive in hosting a conference to supposedly end the Libyan crisis without bothering to even fleetingly acknowledge the earlier, Morocco-brokered Skhirat Agreements.
“Rabat played a decisive role in the conclusion of the Skhirat agreements, which are, to date, the only political framework – supported by the Security Council and accepted by all Libyan parties – for the resolution of the crisis in this brotherly Maghreb country,” read the statement of Morocco’s foreign ministry.
It went on to express the country’s “deep astonishment at its exclusion from the Berlin conference.”
For Rabat, Germany should have at least acknowledged the central role Morocco played in facilitating the UN-led political process.
By the time Germany organized its mostly failed Berlin Conference on Libya, Morocco had already hosted several rounds of discussion between Libyan factions in the coastal city Skhirat. This led to the signing of the Skhirat Agreement, which became the basis of the UN-led political process in Libya.
Despite not being invited to the Berlin Conference, Morocco regained relevance in the Libyan conflict. Between September and December 2020, the country hosted several meetings with Libya’s warring factions. This helped pave the way for the signing of the now celebrated ceasefire agreement and the formation of the new interim government.
Both the German embassy in Morocco and the Moroccan government are yet to provide more detailed comments regarding the situation. For now, however, it is increasingly clear that Rabat is looking to be more assertive in engaging countries on “central” questions, especially Western Sahara .