My experience of being at the European Parliament in Brussels has been truly enlightening and insightful in how the European political system operates. At first, the thought of trying to influence the decision-making process at European level seemed like a daunting task, however having the privilege of working with the Western Sahara Campaign (WSC) has opened my eyes to what a difference individuals can make when you sincerely believe in something.
As part of the WSC, our aim was to lobby MEPs to vote against the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) whereby on the 15th December 2011 the European Parliament was expected to vote on a one-year extension of the Protocol to the agreement. In the two days we were there, we had managed to meet with MEPs across various parliamentary groups, provided MEPs with sufficient literature of our cause, and even painstakingly posted the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) Briefing Paper to each individual MEPs’ pigeonhole – all of which were translated to their appropriate language. Although there was a lot to do in a short space of time, and not to mention the vast amount of photocopying and printing required! I can safely say none of it was laborious, in fact every part of it was worthwhile, especially when receiving positive responses from MEPs. Some of the MEPs and Parliamentary Assistants we met included: Mario De Sa – PA for Phil Prendergast MEP (S&D), Martin Callanan MEP (ECR), Emma McClarkin MEP (ECR), Jill Evans MEP (EFA), Christopher Morris PA for Julie Girling MEP (ECR), Sean de Burca PA for Jim Higgins MEP (EPP) and Laima Liucija Andrikienë MEP (EPP). What struck me was the empathy many appeared to have towards the Western Saharan cause and the knowledge people had of the region was impressive. Coming from the UK, where so little is known of Western Sahara it was really encouraging to see individuals showing real concern for Saharawis and the future of the occupied territory of Western Sahara.
The last day of our trip was rounded off with the ‘EU and Western Sahara: Trading fish – ignoring rights?’ seminar, held on 7th December and hosted by Norbert Neuser MEP (S&D). The event proved to be successful and informative, with a fantastic panel of guest speakers including Saharawi human rights activist, Ali Salem Tamek and Pal Wrange, Associate Professor at Stockholm University and former legal counsel to the Swedish government. The consensus of the panel was that the FPA was in violation of international law. Wrange reiterated the illegal annexation and occupation of the region by Morocco and that the agreement was ‘not in accordance with the wishes and the interest of the people of Western Sahara.’ Tamek also raised the lack of compliance with international law and urged the European Parliament to ‘be part of the solution, not the problem’, while rapporteur Isabella Lövin concluded the seminar stating that the ‘largest cost of extending the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement would be the credibility of the EU’.
After an eventful few days, being back home on the other side of the Channel, I watched with excitement as news stories started to unravel. The EU-Morocco fisheries agreement was being hotly debated and although we were prepared for the worst, none of us had quite expected the outcome would be so positive. On 15th December 2011, MEPs voted down the proposed one-year extension of the fisheries deal between the EU and Morocco by 326 to 296 votes, with 58 abstentions – we had won! Many have described this vote as a ‘remarkable victory’, and it has been. Perhaps this verdict wouldn’t have been possible without campaigning individuals and groups such as WSC, WSRW, and as put by the Free Western Sahara Network it goes to show ‘how targeted campaigning and lobbying can be effective and gives renewed energy to campaigners for justice.’
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was onboard with this campaign, especially John Gurr, Natalie Sharples, Rhian Jones, Sarah Eyckmans – it has been a pleasure to work with you all. And last but not least Jean Lambert Green MEP for enabling me to have a truly rewarding experience I will not forget.