The attempt to create a Western Sahara intergroup in the newly elected European Parliament is seen by some international relations experts as a “dangerous” move for the balance in the Sahara-Sahel region.
The Sahara-Sahel region came to the attention of media due to terrorist attacks that multiplied in recent months. The region is emerging as a new frontier in the fight against terrorist groups, as it is believed that extremist organizations, such as Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, are spreading and posing threats to countries bordering the Sahara Desert.
The question of Western Sahara has been in the UN agenda for the last 40 years, under whose auspices a peace process is being negotiated among all parties involved: Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Polisario and representatives in Laayoune and Dakhla.
Creating a Western Sahara intergroup in the European Parliament would mean taking sides in a conflict, which could “undermine the UN peace process” and “send the wrong message to Morocco”, according to experts.
Morocco is a solid ally of the EU, namely in the areas of migration and security, for more than 10 years. Morocco holds the second largest cooperation portfolio on migration among the neighbouring countries of the EU. The EU funded numerous programmes in Morocco to promote the socio-economic integration and rights of migrants, to improve migration governance, to better manage the borders of the Maghreb region and to fight against human trafficking.
European countries have worked closely with Morocco on security, providing training and equipment for counter-terrorism and conducting some joint operations with the North African country. The two sides have exchanged intelligence information, Morocco being a priority country for Europol to conclude an operational agreement with.
Last February, the European Parliament has given its consent to the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and Morocco. The agreement, valid for 4 years, aims at promoting the sustainable development of the fisheries economy in Morocco, including Western Sahara. In parallel, the European Parliament has voted on the agriculture agreement between Morocco and the European Union, with the goal of increasing the agriculture trade between Morocco and its EU partners.
The conflict of Western Sahara resulted in the closure of the border between Morocco and Algeria some 30 years ago, hampering economic cooperation and limiting the potential for economic integration at the regional level. Algeria, on the other hand, is going through a political transformation and the issue of Western Sahara is being internally discussed among Algerian politicians.
Creating an intergroup in the European Parliament on Western Sahara (which is not recognised by any of the 28 EU Member States) in such a critical time could also be detrimental to these discussions. The European Parliament should also make sure that the EU’s food aid is not being diverted to the Tindouf camps in Algeria, controlled by Polisario – an issue which was recently highlighted by the European Anti-Fraud Office and the European Commission.
Taking these important developments into account, the European Parliament is expected to adopt a constructive and neutral stance towards the resolution of the Western Sahara conflict by respecting the recently revived UN peace process. Peace and security in the Sahara-Sahel region is of vital importance to the EU, which could only benefit from a stable and strong Maghreb as well as from stronger cooperation with its allies in the region.