Afro-Euro Relations : The North Africa Perspective

6 Min Read

The Afro-European summit held last November in Côte d’Ivoire gave the Maghreb countries the opportunity to present their points of view on the pending issues with their European counterparts. The two sides, the north and the south of the Mediterranean, have common problems, with different ideas on how to tackle them.

The migration issue is the most topical issue. Many European countries are worried, especially those bordering the Mediterranean directly, such as Spain and Italy, which have witnessed an unprecedented flow of migrants. But, if we look carefully, beyond the contingent urgency, this problem has been existent for several years: at least a decade, and the representatives of the two sides have been discussing it for a long time, without reaching a lasting and effective solution.

Adopted for some years now, the European approach to the migrant problem is to make the Maghreb states a sort of containment zone for those fleeing sub-Saharan nations. In other words, the Maghreb countries have been asked to become “gendarmes” instead of their European counterparts, in exchange for some symbolic financial aid. Even if some European countries have not spared the European funds allocated for this project, reality shows day by day that the migration phenomenon cannot be stopped by the mere installation of detention centres or pure repressive measures . The migration flow is so far reaching that the resources available to the Maghreb countries are not adequate to counter it effectively, bearing in mind that the situation in Africa continues to deteriorate. In simple terms, it’s like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon!

Algeria has tried everything possible to stop illegal immigration. Highly expensive rejection operations; long and often unsuccessful negotiations with the embassies of the countries from which migrants flee, clustering centres, strengthened border controls, especially after the deterioration of the situation in the Sahel, but still the migration flow has never been as serious as in recent times. As transit countries for sub-Saharan migrants, the Maghreb states have themselves become a host country, with thousands of irregular migrants, who move and who work illegally, often exploited.  And, in addition to sub-Saharan citizens, it has also become the homeland of Maghreb migrants. From Morocco alone, there are about 250,000 migrants who have come to look for job opportunities across the border. Algeria has so far paid about 100 million dollars to manage this problem, but without managing to stop the flow of migrants or preventing the boats of death from heading to the south of Europe. It is clear that under such circumstances, the problem cannot be reduced to a matter of public order and police, because this will never be a solution. On the contrary, the development policies for sub-Saharan Africa, which give these economic immigrants the hope of a substantial improvement in their lives and of greater dignity, are suitable and therefore, most welcome.

The second pending issue is the security situation in the Maghreb and its neighbouring territories. Even here, despite bilateral cooperation agreements, there are still differences between Europeans and Africans. Issues like the French military intervention in Libya and in the north of Mali, and also the refusal of Algeria, for example, to intervene militarily outside its borders, both in Libya and in Mali, and the initiatives taken, outside of the African Union (UAE) and the European Union (EU) agreements, by some countries contribute in a certain way, to maintaining this climate of mutual distrust.

On the other hand, the efforts made by Algeria for the peaceful resolution of the Mali crisis through long and difficult discussions between the warring factions were short-circuited by the French military intervention. Also the project for the creation of an inter-forces major state of the Sahel countries, based in Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria, was placed in the closet by the creation, from Paris, of a G5 Sahel force. In this context Algeria, which had provided over $ 100 million in aid to the countries of the region, as part of the fight against terrorism, and which provided many training sessions for the benefit of its officers in the field, still refuses to be part of the African force created by France.

Finally, the economic question. The Maghreb countries expect even more from the European Union, especially in terms of direct investments, while now only trade exists between the two economic areas. European investments in this region of Africa are at their lowest according to these countries, who are eager to pull their economies out of their dependence on old systems that keep them at the mercy of fluctuations in global markets. The Maghreb countries dream of having their industrial fabrics able to create jobs and wealth, in order to give hope to their youth. They also dream of seeing their products placed on European markets: in particular, agricultural products that could provide them with some foreign currency.

The aforementioned “win-win” partnership is not yet on the agenda. The Maghreb is still perceived as a small market for European products which may only be appropriate as an alternative for European companies in difficulty.