Shortly after the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell visited Morocco, Europe’s Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Oliver Varhelyi, visited the Moroccan capital Rabat to meet Nasser Bourita, the North African nation’s minister of foreign affairs.
Varhelyi’s visit was the latest in a series of bilateral meetings meant to solidify Morocco’s place as a strategic partner for the EU as the country of 37 million people continues to occupy a privileged place on the political agenda of some European officials.
Due to its geographic and political position at the nexus of the Atlantic, southern Mediterranean and North Africa, Morocco is a key interlocutor for certain officials in Europe who hope to advance Brussels’ self-proclaimed “Neighborhood Policy” – the foreign affairs framework aimed at bringing the EU and its eastern and southern neighbors closer politically and economically – in the coming years.
The diplomatic pas de deux between top officials in Rabat and Brussels’ bureaucrats has set lofty goals for the two sides. These developments come on the heels of a number of high-level visits, including by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to Rabat. The talks have helped strengthen the relationship between the EU and the Kingdom of Morocco, while at the same time helping to usher in an unparalleled deepening of the two sides’ bilateral cooperation.
In the interests of the 27 individual countries that are a part of the EU, the European Commission has in recent years sought to strengthen its links with countries in the southern Mediterranean, particularly Morocco. Major events, including the annual EU-Africa Summit, have, for both Morocco and the countries in the European Union, taken on far more strategic importance as a result of the many instabilities that have emerged in the Maghreb – the Francophone areas of North Africa – since the revolutions of the Arab Spring shook the region more than a decade ago.
Partially as a result of the upheavals in the wider Middle East, Morocco has positioned and developed itself as an indisputable oasis of social and economic stability in a part of the world where such claims are few and far between; a fact that is not lost on Europe’s more clear-eyed politicians. Morocco’s energy, migration, security, counter-terrorism, climate and education policies are all issues that form the basis of its relationships with Europe. Taking fossil fuels out of the equation, the EU’s trade with Morocco already amounts to roughly €44 billion.
The ‘green partnership’ that has been developed between Rabat and Brussels is the first of its kind to be signed with a country that is not a member of the EU. Morocco’s climate adaptation strategies and green energy transition, which includes its development of hydrogen, have caused a flurry of activity from investors coming from Europe, all of which are scrambling to take full advantage of the new economic opportunities in the country. This has placed Morocco in one of the most advantageous positions to fully benefit from the green energy revolution, as its production costs are some of the lowest in the world.
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Green Deal czar, has described the Morocco-EU partnership “as the kick-off for a development that will link up the whole of Europe and the whole of Africa”.
Since its return to the African Union in 2017, Morocco has become an essential link between the northern and southern Mediterranean to sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the Maghreb. This has led to a simple maxim in Brussels’ foreign affairs policies – Morocco must be regarded, particularly concerning its southern flank, as an indispensable nation in the EU’s Neighborhood Policy.