Diversification of the economy and North African integration are the springboards for establishing the wellbeing of Algeria, writes Gilles Pargneaux.
Since 2005 and the signature of a partnership agreement, the relationship between the European Union and Algeria has been excellent. The country is the region’s leading military force, and it has all the resources to be a considerable asset for the EU in a region beset by considerable instability in the south.
This partnership is nevertheless marked by areas where there is some haziness, where the EU finds it difficult to establish Algerian ambitions and desires with any clarity. Cooperation in terms of security is a good example of this frame of mind: on 30 January 2013, the British prime minister visited Algiers to tackle the issue of terrorism, and left without a clear answer about Algeria’s collaboration with the EU to deal with existing threats in the Sahel. This ambiguity in Algeria’s desire for cooperation, particularly in terms of sharing information, makes it the region’s great unknown for Europe.
Yet the relationship between Europe and Algeria has every potential to be outstanding. During a number of parliamentary missions, I have seen a real appetite for change among youngsters, for a fairer, more dynamic society. However, Algeria is in a situation in which young people are facing endemic unemployment, a catalyst for the black market and a feeling of disenchantment with politics. We should not forget that the under 30s represent 60 per cent of the country’s population, and that nearly a quarter of these young people are unemployed, without any prospects for development. Solutions need to be found as a matter of urgency. Getting closer to Europe is one of these solutions.
Our European neighbourhood policy is a powerful lever to help support the first Algerian challenge: the diversification of its economy. With 98 per cent of its exports dependent on hydrocarbons, Algeria’s reliance on this sector is clear, and even dangerous. To borrow a famous French saying; when Algerian state energy company Sonatrach gets a cold, Algeria sneezes. The 49 per cent drop in Algeria’s trade surplus in 2013 can in no small part be explained by the nine per cent fall in hydrocarbon exports alone. Exploring new prospects for this economy will help to create new jobs and provide access to new goods and services, giving the country back its economic independence. With these programmes to encourage diversification or the move towards standards, the EU is trying to support the emergence of an economy that will create jobs for Algerians and bring this society out of its current lethargy.
Without the emergence of a strong middle class, there is no hope for Algeria. The hydrocarbon sector alone is incapable of achieving such a feat, which is why the EU needs to take responsibility for making sure that first and foremost the EU-Algeria partnership helps the people and not the interests of energy sources.
A second lever for the relationship between Europe and Algeria is support for north Africa’s regional integration, which demands concrete projects with a focus on cooperation on security in particular. This cooperation is not possible if only a few stakeholders are involved. It needs to unite everyone, both in the north and the south. Obviously I’m thinking about the need to get closer to Morocco, which this cooperation could encourage. It is undeniable that north African countries are faced with the same terrorist fringes and the same risk of the breakdown of the rule of law in their Sahelian regions.
Algeria has an undeniable role in terms of the security of the Sahel: its history and its military clout confirm that. However, the republic of Algeria needs to accept the shared nature of security management in the Sahel. This cooperation will sow the seeds for further cooperation, whether in terms of farming, industry or universities. It is vital for north Africa to embark on its regional integration, and to do that, clear, detailed and concrete projects are the best goals to pursue, as was the case at one time for the coal and steel community in Europe. The EU needs to put all its weight behind this to make such a rapprochement between Morocco and Algeria possible.
We must not forget that north Africa is one of the least integrated regional areas in the world, and that every year around two per cent of GDP is lost by north African populations. This is a force for change to help the populations of the whole of north Africa, and one that the EU has the resources to support, and an opportunity for Algeria to seize.
Diversification of the economy and north African integration are the springboards for establishing the wellbeing of Algerians, springboards that Europe can help to build. The upcoming 2014 Algerian elections must be an opportunity to seize the chance for Europe and Algeria to make the most of the partnership that binds them.