Location and Brief Political Overview
Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country geographically located in North Africa. The country has the fifth largest economy in Africa and is a member of numerous internation organizations, including the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), and the the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Morocco initially joined the African Union on May 25, 1963, but left on September 12, 1984. In 1987, the country submitted a formal request to join the European Union (EU), but the request was denied. Morocco was later readmitted to the African Union on January 30, 2017.
Morocco covers an area of 274,460 square miles and has a population of approximately 35.7 million. It borders the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Algeria to the east, and the contested Western Sahara region to the south. During the period of European colonisation, Morocco was occupied by France and Spain. Eventually, Spain occupied the northernmost point of the country and Western Sahara, while France occupied the land between the Spanish colonies. Although Morocco gained independence in 1956, Spain did not relinquish control of the northern region that consists of Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Melilla, and Ceuta. As a result, a border fence separates Melilla and Ceuta from the rest of Morocco. The two countries also share a maritime border along the Alboran Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar.
Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that declared independence after the withdrawal of Spain during the 1970s. Morocco, Mauritania, and pro-independent activists contested the region, but Mauritania withdrew its interests in 1979. Although Morocco controls about two-thirds of the territory, there are ongoing conflicts with the Polisario Front, who recognize the region as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Joining the European Union
On September 12, 1984, Morocco withdrew from the African Union, and submitted a request to join the European Union three years later. The application was rejected on the basis that Morocco was not a European state. In January 2017, Morocco was readmitted to the African Union. Morocco is not a member of the EU, but maintains political, social, and economic ties with various European states. King Hassan once stated that Morocco was a tree with branches in Europe and roots in Africa. Although the country is an Arab state, half the population speaks French or Berber as a mother tongue. For about three decades, the country sidelined itself from African affairs and focused on building close ties with France and Spain. Additionally, over 65% of the country’s exports go to Europe. In 2008, Morocco became the first African and Arab country be granted "advanced status" by the EU Commissioner for External Relations.