The European Commission could face billions in damages for helping Morocco exploit occupied Western Sahara, after the EU lost another court battle in Luxembourg.
“I think if I calculate the total amount, it would be maybe more than three or four [billion euros]”Gilles Devers told EUobserver on Thursday (September 30).
Devers is a lawyer representing the Polisario Front, the political wing of the exiled Sahrawi people from Western Sahara.
His comment follows a ruling earlier this week by the General Court of the European Union in a case the Polisario brought against the Council, on behalf of member states.
The EU’s second-highest court on Wednesday annulled the EU’s 2019 agriculture and fisheries agreements with Morocco, because they were obtained without the consent of the Sahrawis.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975, sparking clashes with the Sahrawis for their right to self-determination.
When those rights are denied, thousands continue to live scattered in desolate refugee camps in the Algerian desert amid a stalled ceasefire first negotiated by the United Nations in 1991.
The Sahrawis want independence, not the autonomy that Morocco offers. Therefore, the EU-Rabat agreements were called into question, raising bitter questions about their legality.
But Devers pointed out that any decision to claim damages from the EU commission would first have to be made by the Polisario leadership.
“That’s for them to decide, but technically as a lawyer, I can bring [a case] against commission for the damage caused, “he said.” We could claim damages. “
The latest sentence is based on a 2016 court ruling, also won by the Polisario.
It also follows a 2018 ruling by which the court said that a fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco could not include the waters of Western Sahara.
The EU then modified the agreements for the 2019 agreements, which were then immediately challenged by the Polisario.
On Wednesday, the court found that the EU had not legitimately obtained the consent of the Sahrawis before concluding the pacts as required in the 2016 ruling.
They also reinforced the international position of the Polisario after its legitimacy was questioned.
Devers said the coup against the EU was also a major defeat for France, which has been a staunch defender of Morocco.
“France wanted these deals, so now what will France explain to its European counterparts?” he said.
An EUobserver investigation in 2018 exposed Morocco’s lobbying on French liberal and socialist MEPs, prompting the resignation of the European Parliament rapporteur on file.
When asked on Thursday if the European Commission would now involve the Polisario, he declined to respond.
Instead, he referred to a joint statement between the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and the Moroccan foreign minister.
“We will take the necessary measures to ensure the legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of trade relations between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco,” they said.
The EU has two months to appeal.
Hugh Lovatt, senior policy researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the court is unlikely to reach another decision if the case is appealed.
‘Friction with Rabat’
“At some point the city council will have to face the reality that this will increase friction with Rabat,” he said Thursday.
Lovatt described the EU’s policy on Western Sahara as viewed “exclusively through the prism of its relations with Rabat.”
“I think now they have to pay the consequences of such a shortsighted approach to the issue,” he said.
In 2019 alone, Morocco exported some € 434 million worth of fish, tomatoes and melons from Western Sahara to Europe. Now it can also lose 52 million euros annually in EU funds with the fate of some 128 EU fishing vessels, mostly Spanish, also at stake.