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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Morocco's quest to be European
Moroccan capital
Rabat: Could it become a European Union city?
By Morocco correspondent Nick Pelham

King Hassan of Morocco once said that Morocco was a tree with its roots in Africa and its branches in Europe.

Perched on the fringes of Africa, Europe and the Arab world, Morocco sits half-in, half-out of them all.

After the acceptance of the Turkish candidature, EU membership for Morocco is no longer taboo

King's spokesman Hassan Aourid
It is an Arab state, but half its population speak either Berber or French as their mother tongue.

It is African, but is estranged from the Organisation for African Unity.

And for much of the last century, its policies were decided not in Rabat, but in Paris and Madrid.

Renewed Europe campaign

Morocco has been renewing its bid lately for membership of the European Union.

During his state visit to France on 20 March, Morocco's new king, Mohammed VI - known to Moroccans as M6 - called for a new relationship between EU and its southern neighbours.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco
King Mohammed VI has been seeking France's help for EU membership
"After the acceptance of the Turkish candidature, EU membership for Morocco is no longer taboo," said the king's spokesman, Hassan Aourid.

There has been little enthusiasm from Europe.

Many Europeans look askance at a Muslim entry into what remains "a Christian club".

The EU ambassador in Morocco, Lucio Guerrato, said "an evolution to integration was possible", but was careful not to commit himself to a time frame.

European politicians often see Morocco as a source of illegal migration, hashish and cheap labour.

France made little response to the new king's appeal for support for its EU application.

But from Morocco, the division of the world into separate blocs - Africa and Europe - looks artificial.

Trade links

Separated from Europe by the Straits of Gibraltar a mere 14 km wide, its economic and strategic interests are firmly rooted in states to the north.

Over 60% of Morocco's exports go to EU markets, Europe provides most of Morocco's tourists, remittances and loans.
Ex-King Hassan
Ex-King Hassan's plan for a bridge across the Straits never materialised
Morocco is also the biggest recipient of EU development aid.

Morocco broke new ground earlier this year, when it became the second North African state (after Tunisia) to start implementing an EU Association accord.

It paves the way for tariff-free trade between the kingdom and the EU by 2012.

Scores of European textile companies have already relocated to Morocco to take advantage of cheap labour ahead of a common market which could soon stretch from Lapland to the Sahara.

But Morocco would like to see the remit of the accord go far further: it believes a free movement of labour should accompany the free movement in goods.

Historical connections

From the Romans onwards, Morocco's history has also been interwoven with Europe.

In the 12th and 13th century Spain was ruled from Marakesh.

And another sign of its European proximity: its food is the least spicy in North Africa.

But while hankering after European association, Morocco is also playing up its African credentials.

Its bid to become the first African state to host the World Cup in 2006 is facing fierce competition from South Africa.

So how likely is Morocco to enter Europe?

A hint might lie in the fate of the bridge planned to span the Straits of Gibraltar.

Announcing the project in 1988, the late King Hassan undertook to complete it before 2000. Work has yet to begin.

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See also:

27 Sep 99 | Africa
Morocco: The great return
09 Feb 00 | Europe
Immigrants demand protection
02 Mar 00 | Business
Increase in migrant workers
24 Jul 99 | Africa
Testing time for new king
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