CW 39/2021: Groundbreaking?
Press Review 24 September 2021 to 1 October 2021

Due to Western Sahara conflict, ECJ declares EU agreement with Morocco invalid

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Wednesday in Luxembourg on the litigation T-279/19: “Front Polisario v. Council of the European Union (EU) and annulled two EU decisions at once. At the centre of the ruling was the question of whether the EU was allowed to negotiate an association agreement with Morocco, which also concerned fishing rights off the coast of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, or not. Also affected was the import of agricultural products from Western Sahara, which the EU wanted to regulate within the framework of an agricultural agreement with Morocco. The liberation movement Frente Polisario filed a lawsuit against the agreements, which in its view were contrary to international law, and won the case before the ECJ. As in several comparable rulings since 2016, the ECJ declared that the EU representatives had not succeeded in proving that the people of Western Sahara as a whole or their legitimate representative, the Frente Polisario, had given their consent to the agreements, as required by international law. Moreover, the court reiterated that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco, but has a “separate and distinct status”. Morocco, on the other hand, considers the resource-rich region, which was largely annexed by Moroccan King Hassan II after the withdrawal of the Spanish colonial power in 1975, as an integral part of its national territory. As the representative of the Sahrawis, the independence movement Frente Polisario has long campaigned for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people and the withdrawal of Morocco from Western Sahara. Not surprisingly, the ruling was unanimously welcomed by the Polisario and celebrated as a victory. Moroccan Foreign Minister Bourita and EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Borrel, both apparently prepared for defeat in court, said in a joint statement that efforts would be made to maintain the legal framework that guarantees the stability of trade between the EU and Morocco. In the past, Morocco had reacted strongly to rulings of the ECJ with similar tenor. Relations between Germany and Morocco are currently in a deep crisis, partly because of the Western Sahara issue. The position of UN Special Representative for Western Sahara, which has been vacant since the resignation of former German President Horst Köhler, is to be filled on 1st November by the Swedish-Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura.

Tunisia’s President appoints new Prime Minister

More than two months after Tunisia’s President Kais Saied seized power, he appointed geologist Najla Bouden Romdhane as the country’s new prime minister on Wednesday. The 63-year-old professor is thus the first female head of government in Tunisia and the entire Arab world. Since Saied deposed former Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on 25 July and dissolved the parliament led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the North African country has been in a political crisis. While Saied’s actions were initially celebrated in many places in view of the rampant corruption and the difficult economic situation, critical voices have increased in recent weeks, fearing a return to a one-man dictatorship. After Saied suspended parts of the constitution last week and announced that he would govern by decree in the future, various protests erupted in the country on Sunday. The appointment of Bouden, who is now expected to present a new cabinet within the next few days, thus follows increasing domestic pressure. The extent to which Bouden will succeed in tackling the country’s deep-rooted problems is disputed. On the one hand, the geologist has no political experience. On top of that, the office of the head of government is weakened by the president’s new powers. For instance, president Saied can dismiss cabinet members himself. Therefore, some see the appointment as a move by Saied to simply appease critics. On the other hand, parts of the population draw hope precisely from the fact that Bouden – just as Saied when elected head of state in 2019 – does not belong to the country’s political elite, which is considered corrupt. Meanwhile, the challenges for the new head of government are enormous. Tunisia’s national debt amounts to over 80% of the gross domestic product. This year alone, over 5 billion US dollars in debt repayments are due. One of Bouden’s main tasks will therefore be to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on financial support for the Tunisian budget. Negotiations on this have been suspended since Saied’s bid for power in July.

In other news

Awet Tesfaiesus is the first Black woman to serve in the German Bundestag. The 47-year-old lawyer from Kassel, who fled from Eritrea with her family as a child, stood for the Green Party in the Werra-Meißner/Hersfeld-Rotenburg constituency and made it into the German Bundestag as 9th on her party’s nomination list for the federal land of Hesse.  She has been an active member of the Green Party since 2009 and was most recently a city councillor and spokesperson for integration and equality for her parliamentary group in Kassel city hall. The decisive factor for her candidacy for the Bundestag was the racist attack in Hanau in February 2020, in which nine people of migration background lost their lives. This is another reason why she wants to use her role as a parliamentarian in the German Bundestag to campaign for more equal opportunities, diversity and an asylum law, as well as to fight racism and discrimination.

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