Western Sahara before the CJEU
Just a quick heads-up to our readers that yesterday Advocate General Wathelet of the Court of Justice of the EU delivered his opinion in Case C‑266/16, Western Sahara Campaign UK, The Queen v Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is a very important opinion, dealing with numerous issues of international law, above all the principle of self-determination; the AG concluded that the Fisheries Agreement between Morocco and the EU was invalid because it was in violation of self-determination, as the Agreement applied to the territory and waters of Western Sahara. This is the first time that a request was made under the preliminary ruling procedure for a review of validity of international agreements concluded by the EU and their implementing acts. In that regard, the AG concluded that it was possible to rely in such proceedings on the rules of international law which are binding on the EU, where their content is unconditional and sufficiently precise and where their nature and broad logic do not preclude judicial review of the contested act. These conditions were in the AG’s view satisfied here. In addition to self-determination, the AG also examines the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources and the law of occupation, including the capacity of the occupying power to concluded treaties for the occupied territory.
The AG’s opinion is rich and rigorously argued – obviously it remains to be seen whether the Court will follow it. I would only add that the opinion and the case concern the validity of the Agreement from the perspective of the internal legal order of the EU, which then incorporates (other) rules of international law. But one could also look at the validity question purely from the perspective of general international law, and the rule set out in Art. 53 VCLT. In that regard, the necessary implication of the AG’s analysis seems to me to be that the Agreement was void ab initio and in toto as it conflicted with a peremptory norm of international law, the right to self-determination. For background on the UK litigation from which this case arose, see this post by David Hart QC on the UK Human Rights Blog. For analysis of the earlier Polisario litigation before EU courts, see here.