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Morocco edges closer to Europe

As Granada hosts the EU-Morocco summit, a host of diplomatic, economic and political issues condition Europe’s relationship with the North African country.


Question: Which country applied for EU membership the same day as Turkey in 1987? Answer: Morocco.

While full membership for the Maghrebi nation is viewed as impossible, the weekend of March 6-7 does signal a landmark on the long road toward a truly advanced status of integration into European structures and political realities onto which the Moroccan ruling elite is pinning so many of its hopes.

The EU-Morocco summit, held within the architectural gem of Al Andalus, Granada’s Alhambra palace, is designed to celebrate the achievements of the past few years; Rabat has secured an advanced partnership status with the EU, unique in the Arab world, and agreed to an extensive trade deal – but it is unclear just where the relationship is headed as a new decade begins. The surprising absence of King Mohammed VI, without the explanation of any apparent diplomatic grudge since the resolution of the Aminatou Haidar affair in December, adds to a sense of uncertainty about Granada’s significance. Add to that the somewhat blurred lines of authority dividing the host Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain and new EU President Herman van Rompuy, and a less than satisfying outcome seems almost guaranteed.

Still, word coming out of Brussels in the days leading up to the summit focused on the “extraordinary” relationship between the EU and Morocco, and a determination to strengthen an economic relationship which has already seen Rabat receive more euros in aid than any other government in the bloc’s Mediterranean partnership sphere. One of the strongest hands King Mohammed’s governments can play is the fact that Morocco has two former colonial suitors, each anxious to outdo the other and secure contracts for its big businesses through holding the diplomatic higher ground.

If France, and its proxies in Renault, France Telecom et al, has traditionally ruled the former colonial roost, recent years have seen Spanish investment rise to challenge that of its European rival. Zapatero’s Socialist government decided to befriend the Moroccan king and – controversially, within Spain’s left-wing circles – show enthusiasm for Rabat’s much-touted but still nonexistent policy of federalization as a way out of the impasse over Western Sahara. The summit’s final statement will include a reference to the need to find a solution to the decolonization of what was once the Spanish Sahara, as well as the importance of respecting human rights in the kingdom and the territories under its control, but just as Brussels praises Morocco’s “strategic choice” in drawing closer to Europe, so has the EU now tied in its lot on its southern flank with Paris and Madrid’s special guest.

Mohammed’s waning zeal

Clearly, Mohammed VI’s Morocco has little to do with the militarized dictatorship run by his father, Hassan II. But the son’s reformist zeal seems to have waned during his decade in power, and it is far from clear that anything beyond the current puppet democracy (the king, who is also the richest man in the country, directly appoints the prime minister and other key officials) is in the offing.

Bent on reminding the world of these and other flaws in the Moroccan veneer during the summit weekend are the speakers at an alternative event in Granada, including Aminatou Haidar, the pro-independence Sahrawi activist whose month-long hunger strike in Lanzarote airport last year strained Hispano-Moroccan ties after Rabat had deported her to Spain against her will. Haidar, who has been kept under virtual house arrest in Laayoune since finally returning home in mid-December, with the security forces keeping a vigil on her home and visitors therein, will no doubt echo the sentiments of the Polisario Front leader Mohammed Abdelaziz, who this week denounced Morocco’s “illegal occupation” of Western Sahara, which made the country ineligible for EU advanced partnership status. He stated his hope that “no agreements” would be signed and even pointed out the Moroccan claim to being the world’s number-one producer and exporter of hashish.

Still, it will not be the first time that Brussels has ignored the Sahrawi viewpoint in its desire to foster closer ties with the country which, for all its faults, remains its star pupil in Europe’s North African back yard.

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Published: Mar 5 2010
Category: Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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