European Union Responses to Conflict in the Western Mediterranean
The European Union (EU) announced an increased commitment to conflict resolution beyond its external border when it adopted the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2003, yet this has not led to any practical initiatives in the western Mediterranean. While the more latent nature of conflicts there puts less pressure on the EU to act than do the ‘hot’ conflicts of the Middle East, various disputes over territorial sovereignty persist and tend to undermine the broader EU ambition to promote stability, Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and region-building. In addition to the bilateral disputes over Gibraltar, Ceuta, Melilla and a number of Spanish islands and rocks off the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, there is the broader regional conflict over Western Sahara, which has long brought tension to relations between Morocco and Algeria and between Spain and each of these North African countries, while also frustrating efforts to build the Arab Maghreb Union. Analysis of the EU's weak responses to both the deadlocked Saharan conflict and to the more recent confrontation that took place between Spain and Morocco over Parsley Island in 2002 shows the importance of internal EU divisions and the Union's concern not to upset partners in North Africa, especially Morocco. Yet, despite the EU's reluctance and/or inability to engage in conflict resolution in the western Mediterranean, its policies do have consequences for regional conflicts, even when the EU claims to be neutral. Its privileging of relations with Morocco involves an acceptance that the Moroccan authorities are valid interlocutors for reaching agreements that affect Western Sahara.