Magharebia (Washington DC)

Morocco, EU Discuss Sahel Situation

Casablanca — The latest visit to Morocco by Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was an opportunity to revisit matters of common interest.

"I am here in Morocco to tell you how important bilateral relations are between the EU and Morocco, and how they need to be developed further," Ashton said after her Monday (November 5th) stopover. The EU official followed up her Morocco trip with a visit to Algiers.

The brief visit by Ashton was a reminder of the solid bilateral ties between Morocco and the European Union, according to Rachid Hallaoui, an analyst specialising in Morocco-EU relations.

"This visit is a way for the EU to re-occupy the geopolitical and geostrategic space between the EU and the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, including Morocco," Hallaoui told Magharebia. "Reading between the lines, you can deduce that the EU wants to demonstrate once more than it is one of the kingdom's main partners."

The analyst added that this visit remained political in nature: "While it's clear that the economic aspect wasn't in evidence, it's also clear that the issue of security in the Sahel was discussed at length, given the prospect of military intervention in Mali."

Wade Daouda, a Senegalese journalist, took a similar line, saying that Mali was going through the toughest humanitarian crisis in its history: "The role played by the EU, of those most concerned at the terrorist threat in the Sahel, is a strategic one. The aim is to find an urgent solution for Mali, and also to weaken the radical salafist groups who have turned the Sahara and the Sahel, covering thousands of kilometres, into a support base from which they can oversee their planned terrorist and smuggling operations."

Alongside Ashton's visit on Monday, Foreign Minister El Othmani recalled Morocco's position regarding the security situation in the Sahel-Saharan region: "I must point out that Morocco is committed to working with the ECOWAS countries, the countries bordering Mali, the EU and the international community to find solutions capable of guaranteeing the stability and unity of the Malian people."

The European official, paying her first official visit to the kingdom, declared that her meetings with the Moroccan officials had been a fruitful exercise in all areas.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's office issued a statement saying that the meeting between the head of government and Ashton covered the various development programmes benefiting from EU support and studied a number of regional and international issues of interest to both sides, particularly the security situation in the Sahel.

In its statement, the European Union's delegation to Rabat said that the European official's visit was part of the special partnership between the EU and Morocco, which remains one of the prime beneficiaries of European funding in the region.

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