Over a year ago, the European Parliament rejected the previous EU–Morocco fisheries agreement protocol, which provided access for 120 EU vessels, because it doubted its economic viability, its environmental sustainability and its legality; this included Western Sahara waters. The negotiations for a new EU–Morocco FPA protocol are ongoing. The Spanish Fisheries Minister, Miguel Arias Cañete, insisted that all technical issues have been resolved and that both parties are close to an agreement. However, two aspects are still pending: the so-called political clauses (human rights and international law) and the financial contribution from the EU side.
While the EU is allegedly willing to pay up to €28 million for obtaining fishing rights from Morocco, the latter is asking for at least €38 million. Morocco is also said to be reluctant to accept the European Commission’s demand for detailed reporting on the use of the funds earmarked for sectoral support in the FPA, as well as the inclusion of a clause regarding the respect of human rights.
The European member states are divided on the matter. While fishing states – like Spain and France – wish to reach an agreement as soon as possible, others – such as the Scandinavian countries – stress the importance of a human rights clause and reporting.
In the European Parliament, concerns about the inclusion of the Western Sahara waters were expressed by over 60 MEPs from all political groups in a joint letter: ‘We want to stress that the mere inclusion of a human rights clause in a fisheries protocol does not make the agreement compliant with international law. In addition, the human rights clause makes only sense if it is truly respected.’
Meanwhile, Morocco signed a sixth fishing agreement protocol with Russia, which foresees an increase in the financial contribution, in exchange for Russian vessels access to small pelagic resources. The annual compensation has been doubled, while catch possibilities have been increased by 40%.
The negotiations between the EU and Morocco highlight several features that will also play a role in future EU–ACP fisheries partnerships agreements, including the increased importance of ‘non-fisheries’ issues in the negotiations, particularly human rights. A human rights clause, when relevant referring to Article 9 of the Cotonou Agreement, is included in most recent FPAs. But in the future, how this clause is being implemented by both parties through the FPA may also become part of the discussions, as is underlined by the European Parliament in the case of Morocco. Finally, the example of Morocco also shows that other distant water fishing fleets (Russia, but also China, Iceland, etc.) are increasingly active in the region, particularly on shared stocks such as small pelagics. It is crucial for countries of the West African region to increase their efforts towards a shared management of those stocks, in order to offer similar access conditions to all distant water fleets, based on sustainability, transparency and respect for local fishing sector needs.