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Trade Agreements

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 29 January 2019

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Questions (44)

Seán Crowe


44. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the UN-recognised representative of the Saharawis has stated that it will again take a case against an EU-Morocco trade deal to the European Court of Justice (details supplied); if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the EU and member states continue to ignore this ruling; his views on the December 2016 ECJ ruling that established that Western Sahara is separate and distinct from Morocco; and if he has raised the continued neglect of this ruling with EU officials and his counterparts in other EU member states. [3963/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

On 16 January the European Parliament voted to agree that a new trade deal between the EU and Morocco will be applied to Western Sahara. This was despite the fact the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, in December 2016, ruled that Western Sahara is a separate and distinct territory that cannot be included in EU-Moroccan agreements unless the people of Western Sahara give consent to this. They have not consented to this. Can the Minister outline why the EU supports this deal extending to Western Sahara and why we are ignoring the rule of the CJEU?

The EU-Morocco agreement on reciprocal liberalisation of trade entered into force in 2012. This agreement was the subject of a legal challenge at EU level and in December 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the EU-Morocco Association Agreement and the liberalisation agreement between the EU and Morocco did not apply to Western Sahara.

In May 2017, the Council authorised the European Commission to open negotiations with a view to providing a legal basis to grant preferences to products originating in Western Sahara. Last year, EU member states agreed to sign the proposed new agreement and the European Parliament gave its consent earlier this month.

Ireland has consistently emphasised that any amendment to the existing agricultural agreement with Morocco must be consistent with the December 2016 judgment of the CJEU. My Department has received assurances from the European Council legal service that the new agreement fully respects both international law and the Court of Justice of the European Union's judgment.

In addition, the proposed amended agreement is understood to be purely provisional, pending the resolution of the dispute through the UN, and in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. The agreement is entirely without prejudice to the position of the EU on the question of sovereignty over Western Sahara.  In other words, there is nothing in the terms of the proposed agreement or its protocol which would imply EU recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty or sovereign rights over Western Sahara.

Ireland and the EU recognise the United Nation’s classification of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory. We fully support the ongoing UN efforts to assist the parties in reaching a lasting political resolution to the dispute in Western Sahara. The personal envoy of the UN Secretary General for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, has conducted extensive stakeholder consultations in recent months. These consultations resulted in a round table meeting on Western Sahara in Geneva in December last with representatives from Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania. I welcome this meeting and I hope that it will lead to the renewal of the negotiations process. This is the only path towards a sustainable resolution of the conflict which is mutually acceptable and provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The people of Western Sahara have not given their consent to this deal. In fact, the UN-recognised representative of the Saharawis is the Polisario Front. Not only has it not given its consent but it has indicated that it will take a fresh case to the CJEU to try to block this deal. The CJEU ruling was clear. It said the EU would violate EU law if it included the territory of Western Sahara into a trade agreement with Morocco without the prior consent of the people of Western Sahara.

Instead of asking the Saharawis for acceptance or prior consent, the European Commission undertook a consultation process as to how it wanted an EU-Morocco agreement to benefit the populations. My concern, and that of others, is that it would benefit illegal Moroccan settlers and not the indigenous Saharawis. Some 94 Saharawis groups have condemned the EU for its negotiations with Morocco and this fake consultation. There was no discussion. The rapporteur of the consultation report, Ms Patricia Lalonde, MEP, had to resign her position before this report came to the floor of the European Parliament. It was found that she was sitting on the board of a Moroccan lobby group. There was no consultation or discussion with the European Parliament. Does the Minister accept we are sending the wrong message in relation to this deal?

I answered some of those questions in my reply when I said that the proposed amended agreement is understood to be purely provisional, pending the resolution of the dispute through the UN in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.

It is also important to say that in February 2018, the European Commission and European External Action Service, EEAS, conducted a wide-ranging consultation with key stakeholders in Western Sahara with a view to ascertaining their views on the proposal. This consultation process concluded that a majority favoured amending the EU-Morocco Association Agreement to extend its tariff preferences to products from Western Sahara, primarily due to the expected benefits in terms of the economic development of the region. It is true to say, as the Deputy said, that the Polisario Front did not wish to take part in the consultation process and together with a number of NGOs expressed negative views on the proposal to amend the agreement. I understand the criticisms were primarily motivated by concerns that the tariff preferences would maintain the status quo in Western Sahara which they consider to be under Moroccan occupation.

The issue here is one of consent. Considering Ireland's historical position in regard to Western Sahara and the illegal occupation by Morocco, it is a sad day that we are supporting this. I find it astonishing that we seem to completely ignore how this disagreement violates the EU's own rules and the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union. On the one hand, we say we support these rules but on the other, we seem to be moving ahead on this. It does not add up. The people of Western Sahara have not given their consent to this deal but it would appear to be moving ahead despite that lack of consent. The primacy of trade over human rights and the development of the people in this region is completely wrong.

I understand the Deputy's concerns but the information I have is that there was a consultation process and that there were people in Western Sahara, who were part of that consultation process, who wanted to see the extension of the trading arrangements to Western Sahara. It is true to say that Polisario Front did not involve itself in that consultation for the reasons the Deputy outlined. That is why I say the proposed amended agreement is understood to be purely provisional pending a resolution of the dispute through the UN. We are looking for a resolution to this dispute. We support the UN's position on Western Sahara. In the meantime, there was a consultation on trading arrangements that involved Western Sahara, so there are conflicting priorities and views here. I do not believe it is quite as simple as the Deputy makes out.