LUXEMBOURG Dec 21 The European Court of Justice
ruled on Wednesday that two political and trade deals between
Morocco and the European Union did not apply to Western Sahara
and are still valid, avoiding a diplomatic dispute with Rabat.
The court said the two agreements from 2000 and 2012 "do not
concern" the Polisario Front, which wants independence for
Western Sahara and had challenged the accords on the grounds
that Rabat was benefiting from the disputed territory.
The top court's decision overrules a 2015 decision by the
lower General Court that the trade deals were void, at the time
prompting Morocco briefly to suspend contact with EU
institutions and the EU to lodge a legal appeal.
A court adviser said in September the annulment should be
overturned, and EU judges decided to follow that opinion. The
court also rejected the Polisario Front's right to appeal.
The EU and Morocco have struck agreements allowing duty-free
quotas for agricultural products such as tomatoes and granting
access for European vessels to fish in Moroccan waters in return
for financial assistance. The two sides also began negotiations
in 2013 to form a deeper and broader free trade agreement.
Morocco has controlled most of Western Sahara since 1975 and
claims sovereignty over the sparsely populated stretch of desert
to its south, which has offshore fishing as well as phosphate
and possibly oil reserves.
But its annexation of the region led to a rebellion by the
Polisario Front backed by Morocco's neighbour Algeria. The Front
and Morocco have been at loggerheads ever since.
(Reporting by Michele Sinner, writing by Robin Emmott; editing
by Philip Blenkinsop)