King Mohamed VI
Monday, September 26, 2011
The Moroccan-European Partnership
By Mohammad el-Ashab
When the European Union was piling up its criticisms against Morocco in the field of human rights violations within the so-called “bullet years,” the economic relations with Rabat were only affected to the extent up to which this or that party were harmed by those relations. Circumstances led Morocco to give up on France as its main partner and one that monopolizes external trade; and to proceed in the direction of a larger openness to Spain, Italy, and Portugal.
Currently, the economic relations are leaning in the direction of caution and blame while Rabat has benefitted from its “advanced situation” in its relationship with the European Union for only a short time. This is because the debate around the coastal fishing agreement has been revived to a large extent, although the European Union is considered to be the highest beneficiary from this economic and commercial agreement. The agreement has political backdrops including the fact that it involves all the coasts all the way to the last point of the northern borders with Mauritania, including the desert governorates.
At the beginning, Morocco had a bilateral agreement with Spain, which owns the largest fishing fleet in the region. But the developments related to attracting the European interest in addition to expanding the chances for partnership have made it necessary to transform the bilateral agreement into a European one. This came concomitantly with the openness on the agricultural products exports. There was no surprise in that some of the economic confrontations between the two sides were dubbed, “the tomato wars,” or the “fish wars.” Indeed, the relationship was not an equal one: Whenever competition grew fierce, the Moroccan agricultural products were being subjected to additional pressures and selective policies while the European Union’s imported goods – including mainly Moroccan fish – were being unloaded in the Spanish ports with no problems. This implied that the political aspect of any economic and commercial conflict is affected by double standards.
Several European capitals, namely Madrid, benefitted from the difference in positions between the Northern African countries as it exported the Algerian gas and moved in the direction of becoming the “economic power” with the highest investment in Morocco. So is the case of the French relations, which were interested in seeing the disputes in the northern African countries affect France.
The United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once noticed that the partners of the North African region are interested in securing their own interests without having any concerns. There were indeed signs indicating that the economic and commercial connections were not affected by the repercussions of the desert conflict. But the question is: why are some parties at the European parliament currently raising questions concerning the legal relevance of the coastal fishing agreement signed with Morocco?
If the long-term purpose clearly consists of the renewal of the agreement through negotiation rounds that would benefit the Europeans, then the “advanced situation” achieved by Morocco in its relations with the European Union seems pointless. At least, Rabat is not entitled to have high hopes for moving to a better phase of political and economic partnership and for obtaining a position that is only a notch less than a full membership at the European club.
No partnership is immune unless it is balanced, equal, and free of pressure. But the reason for the weakness that is causing any negotiator to lose its strong pressure cards is that the Maghreb region is drowning in its contradictions. There is nothing wrong in the fact that the Europeans are taking advantage of this contradiction in order to achieve the highest possible level of economic and commercial infiltration.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 25/09/2011