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EU-MOROCCO: Political agreement on Mobility Partnership: Towards the first readmission agreement with an African country?
07 March 2013
On 1 March 2013, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the EU's Commissioner on Home Affairs, Cecilia Malström, met with the Moroccan authorities in Rabat. In a press conference, Barroso and Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane announced a "new step in the relations" between the EU and Morocco, including a political agreement on the signature of a Mobility Partnership which, some suggest, may finally lead to the conclusion of a readmission agreement which the Moroccan authorities have so far refused to sign.
In a laudatory introduction, Manuel Barroso stressed the "very positive" nature of the EU's relations with a "privileged partner". Morocco is the only country in the region to have obtained, in 2008, "advanced partner" status in the European Neighbourhood Policy.
"The advanced status is reflected in the willingness to strengthen political dialogue, co-operation in the economic, social, parliamentary, judicial and security fields and in different sectors, namely agriculture, transportation, energy and environment. It also aims at the progressive integration of Morocco into the common internal market as well as at increasing legislative and regulatory convergence. Financial co-operation plays an essential support role for the success of this status.
The Action plan 2012-2016 foresees many areas of cooperation in addition to the EU's support to democracy and the rule of law in Morocco. 
Cooperation includes, inter alia:
- formal and informal meetings between the EU and Morocco in the framework of the 'Reinforced Political Dialogue'
- ad hoc participation of Morocco in meetings of several working groups of the Council of Europe such as the Maghreb/Mashreq working party, the Human Rights working group and the working party on Terrorism
- reinforced dialogue on cooperation in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)
- parliamentary cooperation between Morocco and the European Parliament; observatory status at the Council of Europe
- cooperation on civil protection and security especially in view of the potential signature of a cooperation agreement between Morocco, EUROPOL and CEPOL and the future creation of the Higher Institute for the fight against criminality (Institut Supérieur de lutte contre la criminalité)
- Cooperation on countering terrorism and organised crime
- Cooperation on migration, border management and international protection in view of the signature of a Mobility Partnership and the reinforcement of asylum law and effective access to international protection in Morocco.
The EU and Morocco have cooperated on migration issues for some years, in particular through the framework of the Euro-African conference in 2006 and the Union for the Mediterranean as well as the Rabat process, which has been praised by officials of all the participating countries as shown in a video  produced by the International Centre for Migration Policy and Development (ICMPD), one of the coordinators of the inter-governmental forum.
In recent years, the EU has sought to conclude a Mobility Partnership with Morocco. This was given further impetus in 2011 when the EU and Morocco launched a "Dialogue on migration, mobility and security." After Tunisia, Morocco was the second country to "benefit"  from this cooperation scheme, established in the wake of the Arab Spring which began in December 2010 in Tunisia.
During the press conference on 1 March 2013, Barroso announced:
"Today, we are launching an agreement to facilitate visa issuance procedures for certain categories of persons, especially students, researchers, business men and women. In the long term, it seems fair to support an evolution towards full visa-free mobility for Moroccan citizens, taking into account the global bilateral relations between the EU and Morocco, and on the condition that safe and well-managed mobility can be ensured.
Beyond the relevance of a Mobility Partnership at present for Morocco - which has signed many bilateral agreements on labour migration with EU countries including France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. A Mobility Partnership would not really change much for its workforce: it has signed many bilateral agreements on labour migration with EU countries including France, Spain, Italy and Germany. It can therefore be reasonably assumed that the prospect of a visa liberalisation regime for all Moroccan citizens is the main reason the government agreed to sign a Mobility Partnership.
The Mobility Partnership will enter into force only after some Member States have proposed avenues for mobility in their country. Precedents exist in the EU's agreements with Georgia and Cape Verde, whose Mobility Partnerships led to labour migration schemes in Member States who expressed an interest in accepting temporary migrants. News circulated by French Press Association AFP (Agence France Presse) and relayed in many Moroccan newspapers after the visit of EU delegates said that:
"The EU and its agencies (EUROPOL, FRONTEX, the EASO and the European Training Foundation) and 8 Member States of the EU (Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United-Kingdom) have put forward concrete initiatives towards the implementation of this partnership and reinforced cooperation with Morocco on all aspects linked with migration and mobility.
The Commission is making the signature of a Mobility Partnership (MP) with Morocco dependent on one key condition:
"The implementation [of MPs] will be conditional upon a genuine commitment from the third-countries concerned to readmit irregular migrants who are not entitled to stay in the territory of the Member States and take effective action aimed at preventing irregular migration, establishing integrated border management, document security and to fight organised crime, including trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants.
For the past ten years Morocco has refused to sign any such agreement. It would be a major shift if it became the first African country to conclude a readmission agreement with the European Union.
Morocco already readmits its own nationals based on readmission agreements signed with Spain, France, Italy and Germany. Moreover, the EU association agreements foresee a readmission clause applicable to nationals of the third country signatory of the agreement. Association agreements have been signed with several countries of the regions, including Morocco in 1996 but no readmission agreement has been signed yet.
The reluctance of Morocco to sign a readmission agreement with the EU is mostly linked with an unwillingness to readmit irregular non-Moroccans that have passed through the country before entering the European Union. In August 2012, Moroccan Foreign Minister Saâdeddine El Othmani stated that Morocco would not be the "gendarme of the European Union."
This attitude is not specific to Morocco. In its evaluation of EU readmission agreements in February 2011, the European Commission noted that, due to the reluctance of many third countries to be forced to readmit non-nationals, "[t]he concrete need for third country national [TCN] clauses should be thoroughly evaluated for each country with which the EU enters into readmission negotiations." The study concluded that no third-country national clause should be imposed on countries where it will constitute a major disincentive.
This position was re-affirmed by the Commission's head of DG Mobility and Transport, Stefano Manservisi, during a meeting of the LIBE committee at the European Parliament on 21 February 2013. However, this proposal has so far not been put into effect, for two reasons. On the one hand, the European Commission cannot decide alone whether to withdraw the third country national clause from a readmission agreement under negotiation. Member States have to agree on this, which they do not seem very keen to do, as demonstrated by the case of Armenia.
"We did not make the proposal to return third country nationals in the readmission agreement with Armenia but Council outvoted our proposal. Therefore we were obliged to follow the mandate which is covering also the readmission of third country nationals, even in a country which has no common border and therefore where we assess the risk much lower.
This quote shows the second reason why the "TCN clause" is hard to withdraw: the geographical location of the third country. The Commission's position on Armenia, which does not share a common border with the EU, will certainly be different when it comes to Morocco.
Despite the Moroccan authorities' opposition to "pay[ing] for the permissiveness of neighbouring countries,"  it remains unclear whether a readmission agreement will be signed. Nevertheless, based on the Commission's insistence that the signature of a Mobility Partnership is conditional upon the signature of a readmission agreement, it seems very likely that it will. 
Whether this potential agreement will include a "TCN clause" remains uncertain. However, an EU readmission agreement with Morocco applicable to Moroccans only would not be in the interest of the EU.Bilateral readmission agreements are well enforced and Member States will be reluctant to negotiate an agreement without a "TCN clause", especially as Morocco is increasingly known for being a transit country for migrants en-route to Europe.
Ongoing informal removals
In practice, the signature of a readmission agreement applicable to third country nationals would only make official informal removals of third country nationals to Morocco which are already being carried out, in particular by Spanish border guards.  According to Migreurop:
"Expulsions to Morocco target all migrants arrested in Moroccan waters and in the border area. They take place without any control or respect for human rights. Numerous migrants' stories testify to violations of these rights, both by Moroccan and Spanish security forces.
These practices are reinforced by tightened immigration laws that have been denounced as directly linked with EU-Morocco cooperation. In its 2009-2009 report, Migreurop emphasised that:
"In October 2008, the principle of 'advanced status' [was] granted during the 7th EU-Morocco Association Council. The EU 'welcome[d] the efforts by Morocco to tackle illegal immigration, which have led to a substantial decrease in the flows arriving from this country'.
Although most irregular migrants in Morocco come from neighbouring Maghreb countries, sub-Saharan migrants are used as scapegoats to prove to the EU their good will, the report argued:
"Sub-Saharans are the collateral victims of a Euro-Moroccan policy that far outweighs their own cases. In 2004-2005, they were subjected to 20,000 particularly harsh refoulement [to the Algerian border mostly]. In this period when Morocco had to demonstrate its 'good will' towards Europe, it did not hesitate, particularly after the events in Ceuta and Melilla [in September 2005 when Sub-Saharan migrants were shot trying to cross in the Spanish enclaves], to multiply deportations to the middle of the Sahara with deadly consequences that aroused the disapproval of human rights defenders and the press throughout the world.
Related Statewatch coverage:
- Statewatch Analysis, The Global Approach to Migration and Mobility: the state of play, October 2012
- Statewatch Analysis, “A radically changing political landscape in the Southern Mediterranean”? The Dialogue for Migration, Mobility and Security with the Southern Mediterranean countries, July 2011
 Development and Cooperation - Morroco
, EuropAid's webpage
 European External Action Service, Projet de plan d'action pour le Maroc pour la mise en oeuvre du Statut Avancé (2012-2016)
, 25 April 2012
 ICMP, Rabat Process: results and opportunities
, 10 January 2013
 EU Neighbourhood Info Centre, EU takes another stride towards mobility partnership with Morocco
, 18 October 2011
 Unofficial translation of Barroso's statement during the press conference in Rabat on 1 March 2013. Video available here
 Unofficial translation of'UE-Maroc: Réadmettre les clandestins en échange de visas pour les Marocains
', Ristel Edimo in Yabladi, 1 March 2013
 Marie Martin, Extension of Mobility Partnerships with Euro-Mediterranean Partners
, Annual Yearbook 2012 Institute for the Mediterranean IEMed
 'Le Maroc, gendarme de l'Europe? A quel prix?
', Tahar Abou El Farah in La Vie éco, 6 August 2012
 Accords de réadmission ou chantage à l'expulsion? Rencontre internationale sur les accords de réadmission
, Migreurop, 27 November 2009
 European Commission, Evaluation of EU Readmission Agreements
, COM(2011) 76 final, 23 February 2011
 Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, afternoon session
, 21 February 2013 (video link)
 Ibid at 6
 European Commission, Communication on migration
, COM(2011) 248, 4 May 2011
 Migreurop, European borders: Controls, detention and deportations
 Migreurop, Europe's murderous borders
 Ibid at 15