Abdo Alaoui
24 January 2024

Europe and Morocco: The End of an Asymmetrical Partnership (Part II)

As many non-Western countries revolt against their historical status in world affairs, Europe is becoming a second-tier actor with no real power to influence or derail the emerging world order.

One of the clearest signs of the changing dynamics in North African (especially in the Maghreb) geopolitics is the increasing decline of France’s prestige and geopolitical relevance. 

As many observers have convincingly argued in recent years, Europe is a declining power in the emerging world order. Over the past decade,the relationship between North African countries and Europe, mainly France, shows a second-tier, declining empire trying desperately to maintain its defiant, increasingly assertive former colonies in its neocolonial orbit.  Looking at this phenomenon from the bitter-end paradigm, it has appeared that France has lost its leverage as a custodian of “the binding feudal system.”

Therefore, Paris can no longer claim to keep the privileges it used to enjoy in its former colonies. Not only have other powers, such as RussiaChina, and Turkey, emerged to fill the void left by France, but Paris has demonstrated such weakness on the ground that some African countries have urged it to end its military presence as a first step toward ending its economic and political influence on the continent.

Besides, the bargaining power France used to have, even within the European Union, is being reduced, if not fading. In fact, the European Union has never worked as it was supposed to because of historical rivalries and dichotomous visions on how to free the continent from its dependence on the United States, face the Russian threat, and halt the Chinese economic boom and its overwhelming influence throughout the continent as a rehearsal for the Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013.

The Erosion Of Old Security Stereotypes On The Geopolitical Chessboard

Here again, France might be in the limelight, which presents a case where one can see the combination of all the paradigms mentioned above. First, the “linkage politics” paradigm: It appears that the French government is challenged by social, political, and economic internal problems. The way French foreign policy is performed makes it obvious that the French decision-makers are nostalgic for a supposed “diplomatic golden age” in a move to address the loss of competitiveness on the military level.

Second, “the bitter end” paradigm: On the European level, it would be unlikely to see France totally losing ground to its immediate competitors because the balance of power with respect to Germany and the United Kingdom is fully respected.

Third, “the joint survival paradigm”: So far, there is no war to wage, unless Europe is forced to endure unfinished business or pushed to take part in a planned war in the years, if not months, ahead. In any case, the Europeans are committed to repaying the Americans for protecting them over the last ninety years.

That is why France and some other European countries permanently seek scapegoats. They find them easily in their former colonies. France has many options because the former colonies are divided into different categories. The first category involves countries that have conserved and bravely defended their identities and historical heritage and have managed so far to evolve.

The second category involves countries created by the colonial powers. Over the last seventy years, they have managed to keep the status quo as it has been framed by the latter. They cannot make any consequential move without the green light of their former colonizer, who remains the principal, behind-the-curtains actor in these countries’ decision-making and foreign policy projections.

The third category comprises failed states, countries that have no recorded past and can’t hope for any better future. They are meant to be used as part of the struggle for power and hegemony in some regional subsystems.

In this balance of power configuration, some countries are more or less selected to get the job done with respect to the issue at stake. In the past, a direct military intervention with formal approval by the United Nations Security Council made it easier. Not now. The Security Council’s permanent members are so divided that securing a comfortable majority is almost impossible, not to mention the use of the veto right.

Yet, some countries prove to have more than one arrow in their quivers. They do their shopping in the markets of the second category of states mentioned above. This is the case with the renewed alliance between France and Algeria.

The border disputes now escalating between Algiers and Rabat date back to the French colonial penetration of Algeria in 1830. Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania lost huge chunks of their territories to this French colonial expansionism, and Algeria inherited these territories after it gained independence from France in 1962. 

It is worth noting that in 1983, Algeria managed to solve border issues with Mauritania, Tunisia, Mali, and Niger. Only Libya has so far refused to accept this fait accompli. And this is for a good reason: the disputed territory contains huge reserves of hydrocarbons, and Libya doesn’t want to give up its right to them. The negotiations started in the mid-1970s. But no promising outcome is on the horizon, given that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls most of the area on the Libyan side, is a sworn enemy of the Algerian military establishment.

Learning From Failed Past Experiences

Now that “the binding feudal system” is shaking, France thought it would be smart to use the same old methods and gather around its golden age projects among its former colonies. The main goal is to form an axis to protect its own interests in the region while sending a warning to increasingly assertive countries like Morocco and attempting, by the same token, to get back what it has lost in Sub-Saharan Africa to Russia, China, and even Iran and Turkey.

Algeria, it is believed, would be the right choice to fulfill this task because, during the mid-1990s, this country was selected among other developing countries in order to act as a pivotal state. Algeria is selected not for its capacity as a potential pivotal state but rather as a second-hand actor to perform the requested work on behalf of its sponsor and former colonizer. 

Recently shared reports evidence that Algeria was picked to undermine Morocco’s economic and political partnership with numerous countries in West Africa. Algeria would be assisted by Iran from behind the scenes or through Hezbollah militants, who presumably are monitoring a base station near the Polisario camps in Tindouf.

The main objective would be to create the conditions for political unrest in the region ahead of aborting ambitious projects such as the Nigeria-Morocco pipeline, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), or a regional integrated system led by African countries that have recorded valuable political and economic achievements in recent years.

Nonetheless, France ought to learn from past experiences such as the foundation of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in 2008, or the launch of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in 2009. Both organizations are now in dire straits because their inception was based on the same asymmetrical perception. First, the UfM was dealt with as an exclusive French domain to correct the Barcelona Process. Second, the EaP was left at Germany’s merci, given its eastern experience and loaded past with respect to the former USSR.

France and Germany had different agendas and couldn’t shake the post-WWII era’s unrealistic ambition; they believed they could shape Europe’s future regardless of their genuine power. And both had deliberately ignored the existential dimension for their North African partners as well as Russia’s crucial need for a vital space with respect to the South Caucasus in order to digest the 1990s hecatomb. The Russia-Ukraine war is to be understood from this very tangible perspective.

Read also: The Myth of the ‘Developing Nation’ is Falling Apart

France is tempted to make the same mistake with respect to the North African region. Playing the Maghreb countries against each other would bring no results. France holds a big responsibility for withholding accurate information and genuine findings about the issues at stake.

It is recommended that Europe, particularly France, contribute to the creation of a prosperous zone along its southern and northern African borders. This would enable the region to be a strong ground for what is thought to be the future European Silk Road. Helping to resolve the pending disputes in the region would be a chance for a win-win partnership, provided Europe (especially France) gave up on its old-fashioned style of using the carrot and stick.

Would France miss this opportunity? How well would its supposedly concocted project with Algeria or even Tunisia work? Everything depends on other countries’ involvement. Among these countries, the United States is at the top of the list. 

Washington is certainly willing to sing “the winner takes it all” hymns, regardless of the accuracy of the abovementioned paradigms. Why not implement the scenarios of World Wars I and II the way they had been written on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the so-called Cold War?

These scenarios don’t include destabilizing the West and North Africa, which are very important for energy and food security in the foreseeable future. In both requirements, Morocco’s future is very promising, and the Europeans have to live with this sound reality.

source : moroccoworldnews.com

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