Danish minister questioned over Western Sahara trade

The Danish Minister for Development Cooperation was criticized by two Danish MP’s in regard to Denmark’s and the EU’s intent to ignore the European Court of Justice ruling on trade with Moroccan colony Western Sahara.

Last Thursday in the Danish European Affairs Committee, the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs was questioned on a Danish government document that referred to EU-negotiations in regard to trade with Western Sahara.

In the document, the Danish government concurs with the European Commission recommendation to open negotiations about adjustments to the association agreement between the EU and Morocco, to maintain trade preferences between the EU and Morocco in regard to the Moroccan colony Western Sahara.

The problem is that trading with Morocco without the consent of the UN-sanctioned representative of the indigenous population the Saharawis, Polisario, is a violation of international law, a European Court of Justice ruling from December, and a Danish parliamentary motion.

Stealing resources
MP and EU- and human rights spokesperson for the Red-Green Alliance, Søren Søndergaard, told the Minister that the government was seemingly trying to “steal the resources of an occupied country, Western Sahara,” even though “the European Court of Justice says this is unacceptable.”

“Have you negotiated with Polisario, has Polisario approved this? Or are you simply ignoring the ruling? The Saharawis do not benefit from these trade agreements,” Søren Søndergaard told the Minister.

“And how can this be compatible with the efforts of the UN [to solve the Western Sahara conflict]?,” MP and EU- and foreign affairs spokesperson for Alternativet, Rasmus Nordqvist, added.

The two MP’s said that they expected a new, revised government document on the matter that amongst others things outlined Denmark’s views on Polisario’s right to be part of the negotiation process, before the Minister conveyed the position of the Danish government to Bruxelles.

They also urged the government to explain how the Danish position, outlined in the document, related to a unanimously adopted parliamentary motion that discourages the Danish public sector and Danish companies to trade with and in Western Sahara.

Minister reprimanded for evasive answers
In answering the questions of the two MP’s, Minister Ulla Tørnæs said that it was important for Denmark to comply with the ruling of the court, that “Western Sahara” must be a part of any new agreement, and that the Danish government’s actions must be compatible with the UN-led process to solve the Western Sahara conflict.

She was, however, admonished by the Committee Chairman for not answering the questions properly. And the two MP’s who had asked them were visibly not impressed.

Neither was Polisario’s representative in Denmark, Abba Malainin, He had sent a letter to the Committee before the meeting, stating that Morocco has no jurisdiction over Western Sahara and that Polisario “strongly opposes” the attempts of the EU Commission to violate international law and the verdict of the European Court of Justice.

But on one matter, Ulla Tørnæs was crystal clear. She maintained that it was important to maintain Denmark’s relation to Morocco and that “we [Denmark] have an interest in maintaining trade relations with that part of Africa.”

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