Spain demands EU compensation in fishing row
Spain said Thursday it will ask for compensation from the EU after the European Parliament cancelled a deal giving its trawlers special access to fish in Moroccan waters.
"I am going to ask for compensation for the damage to Spain's fishing fleet," said Spain's Farm, Environment and Fisheries Minister Rosa Aguilar, who was in Brussels for talks.
The lawmakers blocked the extension by 12 months of controversial special access for EU fishermen to Moroccan waters, until the interests of disputed Western Sahara trawlers are taken on board. The access deal had mainly benefitted Spanish fishermen.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1976 after a Spanish withdrawal, and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state.
The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 but a promised self-determination referendum has never been held.
The blockage of the deal, which provided for annual payments to Rabat, prompted the North African nation to immediately ban all European fishing boats.
"We will defend our fleet and the men now without work," said Aguilar.
The motion in parliament, passed by 326 votes to 296, was taken on the eve of talks between European Union fisheries ministers in Brussels, set to agree quotas for the Atlantic, North and Baltic Seas as well as the Mediterranean.
The EU's 27 states had agreed in July to extend an agreement allowing their boats to fish more off Morocco in exchange for funding, which campaigners say breaches international law as regards the people of Western Sahara.
Under the deal, Morocco would have received 36.1 million euros ($46 million) to let some 120 fishing boats, mainly from Spain, operate in its waters.
Finnish liberal MEP Carl Haglund said that payments already made were "a waste of taxpayers' funds" with no environmental benefit and no economic impact either on the EU or Morocco.
Aguilar said "I respect the decision but I'm not supporting it."
"I am going to ask for negotiations to be started up again," she added as she went into talks with counterparts.
Angry Moroccan officials reacted swiftly to the parliamentary vote.
"No fishing activity from the European fleet will be tolerated and all boats operating in the area of the fisheries agreement are asked to leave national territorial waters on Wednesday before midnight," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Slamming what it said was a "regrettable" decision, the ministry said the EU move would have "serious consequences on future cooperation in fishing".
© 2011 AFP