Nothing New in the North: The EU’s New Pact will not change much for Morocco


The Moroccan government can live happily with the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. But many activists are disappointed by the contents of the Brussels Pact.

 Frontera entre España y Marruecos
Teaser Image Caption
Border between Spain and Morocco.

This commentary is part of our dossier on the New EU Pact on Migration and Asylum.


Morocco’s reaction to the European Union (EU)’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum has been almost conspicuous by its absence. The country has so far made no official statements on the Pact and its newspapers and online magazines have not seen fit to report on the Europeans’ future migration and asylum policy framework. Meanwhile, civil society is still trying to piece its opinion together. However, one thing is already clear: the new EU Pact falls short even of Moroccan civil society’s extremely low expectations.

Basically, the new provisions from Brussels will not change much for Morocco. Moroccans setting off for Spain by boat to claim asylum in Europe will in future fall under the stool of the so-called border procedure and are likely to find it even harder to be granted protection status in Europe. Cooperation between the EU and its member states with the Kingdom of Morocco in the fields of border protection, returns and fighting the root causes of migration, which is already comprehensive, is likely to be further expanded and more strongly intertwined with other policy areas. The situation for migrants and refugees in Morocco, on the other hand, will barely change and will continue to be characterised by precariousness, insufficient legal protection and no legal routes to Europe.

The old game of tit for tat

The Moroccan government can live quite happily with the New EU Pact. Obviously, Rabat is not desperately keen to take on the EU’s dirty work on the external borders and has categorically refused to take back third-country nationals entering the EU via Morocco. However, Moroccan diplomacy is a past master in the game of tit for tat with Europe and has been practising the inter-linkage between different political areas, now enshrined in the EU Pact, to enforce its own interests.

The “migration lever” deals Morocco a trump card in its negotiations with the EU. The Kingdom is highly aware of this and is not afraid to play it. For its part, Europe currently has little of value to offer Morocco apart from money (which it already receives through a range of EU instruments), because there is no workable consensus between the European member states on the things Morocco is really interested in (e.g. a free-trade zone, visa simplification measures, recognition of the Moroccan Western Sahara). And so the tit for tat continues.

No tailwind for civil society

On the other hand, the new migration and asylum package will not give civil society players militating for the rights of migrants and refugees and providing humanitarian assistance on Moroccan soil any tailwind. Quite the reverse: the EU’s vision of intensified cooperation with the EU’s southern neighbours in the Mediterranean will probably further cement the Moroccan state’s privileged status as the EU’s only legitimate (dialogue) partner in the country. But without linking a partnership of this kind to human rights standards and guaranteed protection mechanisms for migrants and refugees, the EU is causing unwanted collateral damage.

With its very few, and very loose, references to the rights and protection of migrants in third countries, the EU is sending out a clear message to its partners in the Maghreb as to its order of priorities, which in the long term will have the effect of undermining the rights of migrants and refugees in these very countries, just as it will the working conditions of local NGOs. Not for the first time, the EU’s latest text is silent on the questions that have been occupying civil society actors in Morocco for years, such as the “hot expulsions” carried out by the Spanish Guardia Civil from Ceuta and Melilla, violent attacks by the Moroccan security forces on migrants or the fact that there is no direct migration policy dialogue between representatives of the EU and of Moroccan civil society. Unsurprisingly, many activists are disappointed by the contents of the Brussels Pact.

The New Pact has not yet been signed and sealed. There is still time to improve it. Efforts in this direction should focus in particular on a more human rights-based framework for cooperation with third countries such as Morocco. If Europe gives money to partner countries to stop people from crossing the Mediterranean, it should also make sure that migrants and refugees (irrespective of their legal status) enjoy basic rights and have access to basic humanitarian services in those partner countries.