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The bribe trail leads to Morocco: here are the interests at stake

The investigation into alleged corruption within the European Parliament could widen. And not only for the number of people involved, but also for the number of entities and third countries that may have played a role in the bribe. As leaked by the investigative bodies in Brussels, in addition to the Qatari track, there could in fact be a Moroccan track behind the bribes which the Belgian prosecutor is investigating. With Rabat interested in approaching the European parliamentarians above all for the issue related to commercial rights.

The links between Panzeri and Rabat

The possible involvement of Morocco it emerged above all from the indiscretions arriving from the Belgian capital. There aren’t many details at the moment, except those concerning the links between some of the main suspects and some political figures in Rabat. Starting from the links between Antonio Panzeriformer MEP of the Democratic Party, e Abderrahim Atmouna Moroccan politician who later became ambassador to Poland.

Ties that emerged above all in the interceptions between Panzeri himself and his wife Maria Colleoni, under house arrest together with his daughter. In conversations, he talks about trips and gifts he received in Morocco through his Rabat representative in Warsaw. “The suspect – the investigators write, as reported by IlSole24Ore – concerns having intervened politically with the members who work in the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco, in exchange for payments of sums of money and gifts or gratuities. And that he used ingenious and often incorrect methods to achieve his goals”.

In the past few hours then, the Belgian newspaper Le Soir he then referred to a search that took place last Saturday in the offices of the Belgian socialist MEP Marc Tarabella. It is not known at the moment whether or not the politician is among the suspects. However, it has been underlined by the local media that Tarabella is considered among the closest to Rabat. It is therefore possible that the investigators are trying to probe further into the Moroccan trail.

Trade ties and Western Sahara, pending issues with Morocco

Panzeri’s political intervention in favor of Morocco is said to be linked above all to the vote in which, in 2019, the European Parliament approved a fishing agreement with Rabat which explicitly also includes Western Sahara. That is, the region claimed by Morocco, with the sovereignty of the Kingdom recognized by the United States as of 2020, but whose official status by the United Nations is that of “non-autonomous territory”. Panzeri is among the deputies who voted in favor of that agreement, even if he was certainly not the only one given that the go-ahead came from 414 other fellow MEPs.

The real impact of the former deputy’s position on the vote is therefore yet to be verified. The episode, however, allows us to lead back to those who are the interests of Morocco in relations with the European Union. If Qatar, the other suspected country, has had an interest in approaching some deputies from Strasbourg for reasons related to its image, which is certainly not positive in view of the soccer World Cup currently underway, Rabat instead has two specific interests: the business relations and the status of the Western Sahara.

The Moroccan Kingdom is a strategic partner for Europe and has been lauded by Western diplomacy for its political reforms and stable political system, considered among the most democratic in the region. Recently, the former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, on a visit to Rabat as president of the Council of State, spoke of Morocco as “the most stable country in the Middle East”. This demonstrates the solid ties between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

From these ties, the Moroccan Kingdom has every interest in maximizing its political profits. Coming above all to important commercial agreements with the largest single market in the world. And, from a purely political point of view, trying to have Western Sahara recognized as a region under its own sovereignty. The agreement voted by the European Parliament in 2019 would fall within the sphere of Rabat’s economic objectives. However, in September 2021 the trade agreements between the EU and Morocco were rejected by the European Court. The motivation is linked precisely to the inclusion of Western Sahara in those documents. In other words, for European magistrates it is not possible to export goods to a region whose status, at the level of the United Nations, is still uncertain. In this way, the appeal presented by the Polisario Front, the movement that claims sovereignty of Western Sahara and which is at war with Rabat, was upheld.

This makes Morocco understand the importance of intervening on the second point, which concerns precisely the disputed region. The Kingdom considers Western Sahara to all intents and purposes as an integral part of its territory. The United Nations recognizes the status of the region as a “non-autonomous territory”. However, Rabat has two politically favorable elements: the presentation in 2007 of a peace plan which provides for a large autonomy to Western Sahara, in exchange for the recognition of its sovereignty, as well as the position of the United States which since November 2020 considers the region under Moroccan sovereignty.

Morocco has repeatedly asked Europe to adopt the same line as Washington. Although they have not obtained precise openings in this sense, some European countries such as Spain And Germany however, they have publicly expressed their opinion in favor of the Moroccan proposal on autonomy. However, it is clear how the government of the North African kingdom is aiming for a radical change of pace on the European side. Hence the lobbying work that resulted, according to the Belgian magistrates, in actual acts of corruption.

The investigation could expand

However, the suspicion, if the Belgian prosecution were to hold up, is that the investigation could soon involve other representatives of the European institutions. Because if on the one hand the European Parliament is the only elected body among the Community institutions, on the other it is also perhaps the least influential on the hottest issues. Doha and Rabat, to achieve their objectives, may have also turned to more prominent figures than those of the suspects.

At the moment, no leading figures have emerged on the EU political scene. “One wonders – reads the Politico.eu website – whether Qatar has made an intelligent investment, assuming that the accusations are founded“. A doubt expressed for Doha, which can be even more valid for Rabat. Then there is another question, certainly not secondary, which runs through many diplomatic corridors in these hours: Morocco, given the ties of the latter years in Europe, did he really need to bribe some deputies from Strasbourg?

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