You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too: Portugal and the Self-Determination of Western Sahara

UNIO - EU Law Journal, 5, 2, 2019, 103-127

25 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2019 Last revised: 9 Dec 2019


Western Saharan self-determination poses a conundrum for Portuguese foreign policy. Moral and legal imperatives which stem from the relentless efforts of the 80’s and the 90’s in international fora which advocated self-determination for East Timor impel the pursuit of an idealistic diplomacy of unconditional support for the parallel demand for self-determination in Western Sahara. Political, strategic, economic, historical and cultural ties dictate a realpolitik aimed at fostering diplomatic relations with Morocco without shunning Algeria, another key stakeholder in the Maghreb region. These constraints motivated the adoption of a neutral position towards the Western Sahara conflict. This strategy was exposed after the Court of Justice ceased in Front Polisario the de facto application of the EU/Morocco agreements in Western Sahara. Notwithstanding multiple pledges to the contrary, the Portuguese Government favoured Morocco’s stance within the conflict by lodging written interventions aimed at neutralizing the Court of Justice of the EU, and by approving Council decisions that expressly extended EU/Morocco agreements to Western Sahara in breach of EU and international law.

Keywords: Access to Documents; Court of Justice of the European Union; Decolonization; European Union; International Agreements; International Law; Morocco; Occupation; Portugal; Self-Determination; Western Saharaa separated]

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Pereira Coutinho, Francisco, You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too: Portugal and the Self-Determination of Western Sahara. UNIO - EU Law Journal, 5, 2, 2019, 103-127, Available at SSRN:

Francisco Pereira Coutinho (Contact Author)

NOVA University of Lisbon - School of Law ( email )

Campus de Campolide
Lisboa, 1099-032

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