By Lahcen Haddad
The European Parliament scheduled last week for discussion, amendment and vote a draft resolution aiming to condemn Morocco’s alleged “abuse” of children and unaccompanied minors, in supposed “violation” of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child. The draft resolution was tabled by Renew Europe along with Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) groups. This draft resolution is not only contrary to the spirit of Morocco and EU long-standing strategic partnership but it could be counterproductive as it runs the risk of escalating the already tense relations between Morocco and Spain.
As such, it could lead to reactions and counter-reactions that will have dire consequences for cooperation with regard to irregular migration, human trafficking, organized crime, terrorism and narco-trafficking, in the West Mediterranean, North Africa and the Sahel. As a Moroccan Member of Parliament and member of the Moroccan-European Parliaments Mixed Committee, always keen on preserving and developing EU-Morocco relations, I am deeply concerned by the possible negative impact of such a resolution if adopted.
For decades, Morocco and the EU have nurtured and developed a historical and strategic partnership spanning a wide array of domains, especially at the level of political, commercial, financial, cultural, scientific, security and migratory sectors. What makes this partnership unique in the immediate neighborhood of the EU is that it has grown steadily over five decades, rarely faltering, spurred by the shared will to go even further in solidifying cooperation and collaboration, in a spirit of mutual respect, trust, loyalty, and a deep consideration for the interests of both parties. These shared principles and values should continue to inform this exemplary partnership and should be the basis for co-managing issues and crises whenever they arise — as is always the case between neighbors tied with a complex web of shared interests and interconnections.
Morocco, a stable and credible country, has never acted as a simple neighbor to the EU. It has been cited as a model country pioneering initiative within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). This qualified it to be the first country to obtain Advanced Status, to sign a Scientific and Technical Cooperation Agreement, an Open Sky Agreement, a Galileo Agreement, a Cooperation Agreement in matters of Civil Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), to put in place Sub-committees and working groups, including one dealing with “Human Rights, Democratization and Good Governance,” among others. This exemplary partnership has been a source of emulation by the EU’s other neighbors and partners.
Being the only country in the southern neighborhood able to build a comprehensive North-South partnership model with the EU that is beneficial for the Euro-Mediterranean and Euro-African regions, Morocco is tied to the EU by a series of long-standing mechanisms, the last of which is the joint political declaration of 2019, which focused on the fundamental pillars of stability in the Mediterranean area, and the need to face multiple common challenges, namely health issues, different forms of security, climate change, digitalization and cybersecurity challenges, migration, extremism and terrorism etc. That is why the preservation of this relationship is fundamental for the future of both shores of the Mediterranean.
Morocco’s African roots, its proximity to Europe and its strategic position within the Mediterranean basin and the Arab World, make it an inevitable, committed and essential player in the management and monitoring of the considerable migratory flows that the region has experienced during the last decades. As such, Morocco is actively engaged in all regional and international consultation and cooperation processes on migration (High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, the Valletta Process, the Rabat Process, 5 + 5 Dialogue, the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Compact on Migration).
The “migration component” has always had an important and central place in the Morocco-EU Partnership and should therefore not be jeopardized. Migration is one of the priorities identified by the Joint Political Declaration of 2019, making it a fundamental axis of the relationship, and it is incumbent upon both sides to develop innovative ways to co-manage it in an intelligent and win-win manner.
Morocco, like the EU, approaches migration in a comprehensive way — taking into consideration the specificities, complexity and sensitivity of this phenomenon and the principles of shared responsibility. This integrative approach, which makes Morocco a model in this domain, is part of a North-South partnership, reconciling migration management with development challenges and international responsibility.
Regarding migration management frameworks, Morocco was the first country in the EU’s Southern Neighborhood to conclude, in June 2013, a Mobility Partnership with the EU and nine of its member states (Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom and Sweden). This partnership marked a new phase, aiming to consolidate common achievements and to reach ambitious objectives in various areas, in particular with regard to legal migration, illegal migration and trafficking, as well as asylum and refugee issues.
The results speak for themselves. The cooperation between Morocco and the EU in the field of management of irregular migration flows has, since 2017, resulted, according to the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the prevention of more than 280,000 irregular migration attempts, the dismantling of more than 1,020 trafficking networks, the prevention of some 50 attempted assaults on Ceuta and Melilla enclaves, and the rescue of more than 80,500 migrants at sea. If anyone wants to teach Morocco a lesson in this regard, I would advise them to ponder these telling and irrefutable facts.
Morocco bears a heavy burden in terms of human resource mobilization efforts and financial costs related to the surveillance of its 3500 KM coastline. It is estimated that Morocco spends close to half a billion dollars a year guarding Europe from the migration inflows, dollars it could happily use to develop its poor rural and mountainous areas. EU financial support over the past 20 years has covered only 4% of Moroccan efforts in monitoring, managing, and controlling massive inflows of migrants. What happened in Ceuta on May 18 was sad and deplorable. But it was a one-time flaw that should not blind us to the many successes of Morocco-Spanish (and EU) cooperation in the field of migration.
Morocco attaches great importance to the issue of migration of children, especially unaccompanied minors. It has always worked closely with its partners, mainly European countries, in the framework of a cooperation mechanism based on prevention, protection and concerted return of minors, in compliance with its international commitments and in the spirit of the preservation of the principle of the “child’s best interest.” On June 1, 2021, King Mohammed VI reiterated Morocco’s clear and firm commitment to the return of duly identified unaccompanied minors. This decision has come to help deal with a complex issue and should be applauded by all parties. Trying to condemn Morocco at the moment it extends its hand to solve a thorny issue is not only counterproductive but risky for future collaboration with regard to migration issues in general.
Prior to this, cooperation mechanisms had been put in place by Morocco with certain countries, notably France and Spain, which had led to the return of several dozen minors to Morocco. The hurdles observed in the implementation of this cooperation is mainly due to constraints caused by complex procedures in some European countries. Through the King’s decision, Morocco has reiterated its willingness to collaborate, as it has always done, with European countries and the EU, to resolve the issue of unaccompanied minors. In my view, the EU and concerned European countries should strive to overcome the procedural constraints that may slow, delay, or hinder the implementation of this operation.
The human tragedy of illegal migration, of which the Ceuta events of May 18 are only a sad chapter, cannot be the object of political bargaining and maneuvering. The initiative carried out by Renew Europe along with Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) groups, to vote an emergency resolution on “Violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the use of minors by the Moroccan authorities in the migration crisis in Ceuta,” comes within the context of a diplomatic tension between Morocco and Spain.
Regardless of Spain’s dismissals and tired justifications, the crisis was caused by the Spanish government’s decision to allow Brahim Ghali, a guerrilla chief supported by Algeria, to enter the Spanish soil. Ghali has borne arms against civilians (including Spanish citizens) and Morocco, Spain’s strategic and economic partner, for more than four decades, is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity and is wanted by the Spanish justice. Morocco saw in the Spanish decision an act of disloyalty towards a loyal friend and neighbor. Instead of dealing with the issue, Spain tried to Europeanize it, using migration as a pretext to camouflage its diplomatic embarrassment.
If adopted by the European Parliament, the resolution on the “abuse” of children and unaccompanied minors will be counterproductive because it will antagonize a long-standing ally on key issues such as migration, terrorism, trade and investment. It goes without saying that this could harm the Morocco-EU Partnership and undermine all diplomatic and dialogue efforts conducted up till now by both parties. How can we foresee deepening migration cooperation and making it more effective in the wake of the possible adoption of such a resolution? How can the European Parliament expect Morocco to be a loyal partner of Europe with regard to migration and terrorism if at the same time, it insists on condemning it on an issue that has been instrumentalized by Spain to avoid dealing with real bilateral tensions?
The passing of this resolution will constitute a denial of the common successes achieved in the framework of the exemplary Morocco-EU relationship. It will be in flagrant contradiction with the positions taken by senior European officials who consider Morocco a fundamental partner in the field of migration management. The European Parliament should play the role of a facilitator, a broker of peace and understanding — instead of aggravating an already complex and tense situation between two neighbors called upon to collaborate and work together, namely Morocco and Spain.
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