• Foreign countries: Spain will reject unilateral changes of the maritime border with Morocco if there is no agreement between the two

The legislation just approved by the Moroccan Parliament to delimit its maritime borders is the principle of what threatens to become a long diplomatic dispute with Spain. There are two problems that arise. In the first place, overlaps are created with the Spanish waters that surround the Canary Islands . And secondly, Morocco appropriates the territorial waters of Western Sahara, a territory it occupied in 1975, but over which it has no sovereignty when it is considered by the UN as "pending decolonization." Thus, a new pulse between Spain and the southern neighbor is served.

Specifically, what was approved on Wednesday night in the lower house of the Moroccan Parliament are two laws to establish the limit of territorial waters - set by International Law in 12 nautical miles and that Morocco had not defined until now - and to create an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles and incorporate 350 miles of its continental shelf. The texts delimit the jurisdiction of Morocco in the Mediterranean Sea, from Tangier to Saidia (border with Algeria), and in the Atlantic, from Tangier to La Güera (border between Western Sahara and Mauritania). After this process, the laws will now be approved by the Senate and will finally be signed by King Mohamed VI . A month ago, the Foreign Commission of Parliament gave its green light to both bills.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Convemar) , in force since 1994, establishes that the maritime borders in which a country can exercise its sovereignty are delimited in 12 nautical miles from its coast, which is called " territorial sea". In that delimitation, each State is sovereign over its maritime, air, ground and subsoil space. From 12 to 200 miles, countries can establish an Exclusive Economic Zone where they exercise sovereignty to explore, extract, conserve and manage the natural resources of the sea and the subsoil. In addition, up to 350 miles, States may request the United Nations to expand its continental shelf and extend rights over the seabed by submitting legal, geological and oceanographic reports to underpin the process, which is settled in the Platform Boundary Commission Continental (CLCS) . Beyond would spread international waters.

In 2014, Spain presented to the CLCS a proposal to expand its continental shelf west of the Canary Islands, with an area of ​​220,000 square kilometers, which is still pending study by the Commission. Morocco then manifested a battery of reservations through two verbal notes. And in 2017, it registered a preliminary request to expand its continental shelf .

The two laws just passed by Rabat prepare the North African country to make a formal presentation to the CLCS. Both the extension of the Moroccan EEZ up to 200 nautical miles (just over 370 kilometers) and that of 350 miles would overlap with Spain's claim to delimit its EEZ and its continental shelf around the Canary Islands, since there is not enough distance between both coasts (just 100 kilometers). International Law establishes that in case of overlapping, interested countries have to negotiate an agreement. If a common position is not reached, the matter may end at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or at the UN International Court of Justice, based in The Hague.

Without a formal agreement, until now the principle of the "medium line" that distributes the delimitation to 50% has been respected between Morocco and Spain. However, Rabat stated in his verbal notes - and reiterated on Wednesday - that this principle cannot be applied, given the difference between the Canarian coast and that of Morocco, and advocates that the principle of equity, which considers length, be applied of the coast, the volume of population or the surface, with which the distribution would be advantageous for Morocco.

Natural resources

"It is not difficult to imagine the difficulties that a future bilateral negotiation will face when defining those marine spaces taking into account that the only procedure admitted to reach an agreement consists in the solution that the States concerned reach under international law and Convemar, "says Rafael García Pérez , professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela, in an article published last June in the 'Magazine of Mediterranean International Studies'. But "the fundamental issue that the Moroccan doctrine intends to ignore," adds this expert, is "the existence of Western Sahara as a territory pending decolonization." The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic enacted a law delimiting its maritime borders and the claim on these waters is logically associated with the decolonization process of Western Sahara. Until this dispute is resolved, these waters cannot be delimited .

The exploitation of the land and sea natural resources of Western Sahara by Morocco is a permanent subject of international controversy . Morocco obtains sand from the Western Sahara (an essential material for the construction industry), phosphates (it is one of the largest exporters of this mineral) and fish catches (it is the largest exporter of canned sardines). In 2018, the High Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the fishing agreement between Rabat and Brussels could not be applied to the waters of Western Sahara, "because it is not part of the territory of the kingdom." Although it did not invalidate the agreement and in February 2019 the European Parliament voted in favor of its application.

On the other hand, the great mining potential of the seabed that surrounds the Canary coast is at stake. The oceanographic investigations that were carried out to argue the expansion of the Spanish continental shelf revealed the existence of an underwater mountain range with rich deposits of cobalt and tellurium . Specifically, the old Tropic volcano has been defined as the world's largest tellurium reserve, an essential mineral for manufacturing solar panels and electric car batteries, strategic in the future that moves towards environmental sustainability. But the exploitation of this deposit is still far away, since the techniques are still to be developed and its ecological impact must be studied. Legal issues also limit access to these resources: Tropic is outside the 200 miles of the Spanish EEZ and, therefore, within 350 miles that overlap with those now intended by Morocco. And collides, again, with the contentious Western Sahara.

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