French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Algeria on 25 August has been a milestone in the relationship between the two countries, especially in light of the exacerbation of the diplomatic crisis between them as a result of the war of words over the colonial period and Macron’s characterization of President Tebboune’s regime as military, which was followed by escalations from both sides since October 2021, the peak of which was summoning the French ambassador to Algeria and closing its airspace to French military aviation.
The visit –the second by a French leader to Algeria since 2017- emphasizes the regional value of Algeria to France. It also indicates looking forward to stimulating bilateral relations for serving mutual interests, based mainly on a vision for the future that relies on cooperation and partnership in security, military, economic and political affairs. This takes place amid global complications due to the Russian-Ukrainian war and the increasing severity of food and energy crises it has caused.
A Dire Context
Macron’s visit to Algeria took place in a complex context, both regionally and internationally. This complexity does not apply only to the current developments in Sahel as well as Sub-Saharan regions and their impacts on the French national security and France’s strategic interests there; it furthermore extends globally, shaped by the balance of military as well as energy powers as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
- Complicated Energy Chart: Algeria is the 10th gas producer in the world, which made it a destination for many European officials pursuing a gas source as an alternative to Russia, following the recent escalations between Russia and the west led by the United States. The escalations that led to cutting Russian gas supplies to Europe. The new European strategy is being shaped in the form of Spanish-Moroccan rapprochement to push energy cooperation forward, in parallel to Italian and French rapprochement for the same purpose with Algeria which has launched a new partnership with Nigeria and Niger aiming to install a trans-desert gas pipeline that exports natural gas to South European countries.
- Turbulence in the Regional Security Scene: Away from the European scene, a bunch of accumulated as well as new developments exist. Due to security faintness in Sahel and Saharan region, which is a strategic depth and security boundary for Algeria, the region suffers ongoing security turbulences. Since this area is the location of the French presence in Africa under the umbrella of fighting terrorism, Algeria is a core partner in cementing security there.
Regional countries –particularly Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger- were ranked on top of the International Terrorism Index 2022, in addition, Mali has announced- in May 2022- withdrawal from all organizations of Sahel States Group that consists of 5 countries, including the withdrawal from the Anti-terrorism Joint Force, which led to confusing the regional security equation.
On the other hand, the situation in Libya has badly deteriorated as military clashes erupted between the National Unity Government of Debeeha and the parliament-appointed government of Bashagha, over existence in the capital. These clashes may take the country back to the time of militias mobilizing and clashes, which represents additional pressure on the Middle East, hence, an additional source of security fears for the European countries in terms of terrorism and illegal immigration. Hence, France is looking forward to retrieving peace to these subjects through relying on conventional allies like Algeria who plays a significant role on the Libyan stage.
Multiple Signals and Various Goals
Macron’s visit to Algeria lies within the domain of both sides’ aspirations for fulfilling their strategic interests, especially that each of them is a crucial component of the other’s national security formula, hence, the signals and goals of the visit can be explained as follows:
- Asserting France’s presence: One of the objectives of Macron’s visit is to assure and cement France’s existence and to protect its hegemony and influence in that geostrategic region. This is an action amongst European countries’ race to create a footstep within North and West Africa as per the “Energy and Food” deal terms, the most recent of which was the natural gas agreement between Algeria and Italy signed in June 2022. In addition, the increasing Russian-Algerian military cooperation which may cause contraction to the French existence there (Russian-Algerian military drills are anticipated for this coming November). This may represent a retreat of France in its conventional areas of hegemony. This explains the volume of France’s endeavors to stand up to the Russian and Chinese presence in the region. Algeria –probably- is the most suitable port for this objective, especially with the necessity of cooperation over lack of security in the Sahel region.
- Securing Position Within the Geopolitical Competition: Taking into consideration what was mentioned above, and the increasing Russian penetration in North Africa -particularly the Sahel and Sub-Saharan states- and in light of the Algerian-Russian inclusive military and security partnership which in itself is a threat for southern Europe, in addition to the vast Russian domination in Mali following the French withdrawal, the domination that appeared in the arming deals through “Wagner” who deployed its units there, beside the armament deal that included Mi-35M Attack Helicopters and advanced radar system. Strengthening the military partnership included –in addition to Mali- Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger.
In order to face those challenges, there are several consecutive actions from the west.
NATO is pursuing partnerships with North African countries and Mauritania against the Russian expansion there which altered the balance of powers; hence, NATO is reconsidering its evaluations, in addition to relocating the French existence in a new pattern that enables it to get involved within the formula of powers in North and West Africa.
France and Algeria look for containing regional as well as international conflicts, according to a pragmatic vision that achieves their objectives and provides –for both of them- diversification in international alliances and reshapes their futuristic interactions.
Active Issues and Partnerships
There have been a variety of issues of mutual concern discussed during Macron’s visit to Algeria, such as:
- The Western Sahara: A pivotal element in Algeria’s national security, and an issue of geostrategic conflict with Morocco. Following cases of recognition of Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara and supporting the autonomy initiative, the last of which was Spain, makes it crucial for Algeria not to lose all its supportive elements in this issue. Since France’s stance is still undetermined over this conflict, it represents a factor of balance in consecutive diplomatic developments that may take place in the Western Sahara. A factor that may neutralize the Moroccan actions, especially after the king of Morocco Mohamed VI has requested partners to clear their stances in this case, during his annual King and People Revolution address on 21 August. France has been a solid front opposing the American recognition of Morocco’s claims over the desert; it also led a front that bans a comprehensive European decision that conforms to Trump’s initiative. It can be said that France’s support for Algeria in this issue is linked to protecting its security and economic interests in the region.
- Food and Energy: One of the reasons for an intense French existence recently in the depth of Africa is securing food and energy (gas) supplies. The French approach towards Algeria was not the only one since President Macron came to office, but rather there were visits to Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau and Benin, within a plan for re-arranging the French military in Africa, following the withdrawal of Barkhane force from Mali and the necessity to fill the space in another geopolitical domain, together with working on securing food supplies within the framework of FARM initiative between the EU and the African Union aiming to increase agricultural production and support projects especially in Cameroon.
As for energy, Algeria, Nigeria and Niger have signed an agreement to proceed with the trans-desert natural gas pipeline to Europe, which requires French existence within its path in order to secure energy source, which –in the same time- a source of national income for Algeria.
- Historical Memory Issues: The issue of historical memory back during the French occupation of Algeria is a controversial debate between the two nations, and one of the sources of disagreement between them. On the path of mending this issue, the visit formed some sort a resolution; that is establishing a bilateral committee of historians to analyze the colonial era, which helps reduce ongoing tensions over this issue.
- Illegal Immigrants: France’s decision to reduce the number of visas issued to Algerians by 50 percent is one of the tension subjects between the two nations, as origin countries refuse to take back their illegal immigrants from hosting countries like France. In light of the challenges Paris is facing, this issue is leverage for France in the mutual negotiations agenda, aiming to set regulations and strengthen cooperation in border control.
In all, signing a new partnership agreement between Algeria and France reflects the weight and significance of each for the other, an agreement through which they can define their mutual security, military, economic as well as political interests, in a vision for the future that erases the past.
The visit has been a positive move towards drafting future interactions that include intensifying cooperation in energy as well as security arrangements in the region that can clear both parties’ concerns, and assure French presence against intensified Russian and Chinese presence.