Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Europe has been invited to fundamentally rethink its relationship with its neighborhood, on its eastern and southern flanks. The return of the tragic in European geopolitics invites the diplomatic powers of the continent to give substance to the idea of ”Europe power”, dear to Emmanuel Macron. While he is going to Algeria for a three-day official visit, from August 25 to 27, this trip is an opportunity to discuss certain contradictions of French policy in the Maghreb.
Algeria: one-on-one with Tebboune, visit to the Great Mosque, stopover in Oran… Macron’s agenda in Algiers
Indeed, the stability of the Maghreb has long been identified as a major strategic issue for Europe, both for security and migration reasons. It also becomes a source of opportunities. There are more and more cross-interests, whether to diversify the points supply energy thanks to Algerian gas, or to relocate production lines from China to a nearby foreign country. The Maghreb is therefore not only a pocket of risk, but indeed a space on which the will for European strategic power can be based.
At the same time, the Maghreb countries are engaged in initiatives to diversify their partners. They have perfectly digested the transformations of the world, which are being reconfigured around relations of complicity rather than alliance. The respective abstentions of Algeria and Morocco during the vote on the United Nations resolution demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces in Ukraine are the best illustration of this paradigm shift.
Emmanuel Macron is undoubtedly the contemporary French president who has innovated the most in diplomatic matters, particularly vis-à-vis the African continent, although the political dividends he has drawn from it are rather weak. He emphasized the necessary inclusion of civil societies in the construction of Euro-African relations, allowing him to get out of the one-on-one with certain autocrats. He has made economic development, particularly on climate and digital issues, major areas of work to reinvent the relationship between France and some of its partners on the continent.
Algeria-France: when Macron shook up the codes and… Bouteflika
In the Maghreb, however, these efforts have been largely undermined in the collective imagination by the punitive visa policy pursued by France for nearly two years. Indeed, on the pretext of the lack of cooperation of the Maghreb countries in the return of people in an irregular situation, France has drastically reduced the visas granted, by 50% in Algeria and Morocco and by 30% in Tunisia. These restrictions, which were to apply as a priority “to the ruling circles” of the three countries, in reality affect much broader socio-professional groups, such as the medical, artistic or business circles.
Liquidation of symbolic capital
Thus, in Morocco, this gave rise to a controversy after the rapper ElGrande Toto was unable to travel for a concert planned in Sète, before the consular authorities did not backtrack following the outcry. This affair clearly illustrates the aporia of the policy currently being pursued: how can the European position be established on its southern flank if the visa policy becomes a blind instrument of mass blackmail?
Obviously, the granting of a visa remains an eminently sovereign decision. However, where common sense dictates that situations be examined on a case-by-case basis with regard to diplomatic priorities, this bullying policy contributes to the liquidation of the symbolic capital of France and the European Union in the region.
Maghreb-France: the visas of discord
It is not a question here of calling for the issuance of more visas, but rather of rethinking the function of this instrument, both a tool for monitoring and promoting exchanges. At a time when the battle for information and symbols has never raged so much, the supposed benefits of the current policy should be weighed against the other priorities of French diplomacy et European.