EU faces £3.4bn compensation bill over Morocco fishing deal

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Warnings came after the EU’s general court struck down the bloc’s trade and fishing deals because they were agreed without permission from the people of Western Sahara. The vast territory on Africa’s Atlantic coast was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after the withdrawal of Spain. This has left to a decades-long guerrilla war by opposition group Polisario Front against the kingdom.

In a major victory for the independence movement, the European court annulled a decision by EU ministers to sign off on trade and fisheries deals with Morocco that included Western Sahara.

Laywer Gilles Devers, who is repressing the Polisario Front, suggested the EU could be made to pay the exiled Saharawi people up to £3.4 billion in compensation.

Mr Devers told the EU Observer website: “I think if I calculate the entire amount, it would be maybe more towards three or four billion euros.”

He suggested that any attempt to claim for damages would be the decision of the Polisario leadership.

“That is for them to decide, but technically as a lawyer, I can bring a case against the Commission for the damage caused,” he said.

Their court victory was a huge boost for the Saharawi people’s demands for self-determination.

Denied those rights in 1975, thousands have been forced to live scattered in refugee camps in the Algerian desert.

There has been a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in place since 1991.

But the Saharawi continue to fight for their independence and not just the autonomy as offered by Morocco.

The EU-Rabat deals were disputed on this basis, with claims that they didn’t secure the permission of Western Sahara’s people.

The ruling of the EU’s general court found the bloc had not “secured the consent of the people of the Western Sahara” for the deal.

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But the deal is likely to remain in place, with the court saying: “Annulling them with immediate effect could have serious consequences on the European Union’s external action and call into doubt legal certainty.”

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell now has to find a diplomatic split to protect trading relations with the Rabat.

The deals – one agricultural and the other fishing – will stay in place for at least two months more while there is an appeal to the ECJ’s ruling.

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The Polisario Front still hailed the ruling as a victory in their fight for independence.

Oubi Bouchraya, the Polisario Front’s ambassador to the EU and Europe, insisted Brussels and Rabat shouldn’t seek to replicate the agreements.

He told Euronews: “If the European Union reproduces, for example, the same scheme of the past and decides to introduce an appeal against today’s decisions, this would also be a bad message for Morocco, which can be interpreted as a carte blanche to carry out the policies that we all know and which have led not only to the failure of the peace process in Western Sahara, but also brought the entire region to the brink of collapse.”

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