Balancing act: French foreign policy in the Maghreb

Balancing act: French foreign policy in the Maghreb
Lonzo Cook

France's relationships with its former North African territories, Morocco and Algeria, are a complex interplay of economic opportunity, historical baggage, and regional competition. Decades of colonial rule have left deep grooves, shaping infrastructure, institutions, and even national identities. Today, France finds itself trying to balance between two increasingly assertive nations. 

Morocco has emerged as a regional economic powerhouse, and a key player in North Africa and beyond. France has been a significant beneficiary of this growth, enjoying robust trade relations and investment opportunities with its southern neighbor.

This economic bond contrasts sharply with the diplomatic and political strains that have emerged. Grievances on both sides have exacerbated tensions: France's visa restrictions and legal actions against Moroccan officials fueled discontent in Rabat, while allegations of Moroccan espionage and corruption caused consternation in Paris. The diplomatic entanglements also involve the European Parliament, with resolutions and accusations further complicating the Franco-Moroccan relationship.

Bilateral ties have recently begun to thaw, highlighted by France reiterating its support for Morocco's autonomy plan for Western Sahara. This apparent tilt toward Morocco has deeply strained French relations with Algeria, a staunch supporter of the Polisario Front's fight for independence in the disputed territory.

Algeria presents a different set of challenges for French foreign policy. As a major supplier of natural gas to France, Algeria holds significant leverage. The specter of a gas cutoff looms large, a chilling reminder of Europe's dependence on foreign energy. This dependence hampers France's ability to take a strong stance on issues that might anger the Algerian government. Algeria's fight for independence, a brutal war etched in national memory, adds another layer of complexity to relations between Paris and Algiers.

The dilemma for France is clear: how to nurture economic ties with Morocco while securing energy supplies from Algeria. 

Recent efforts to improve relations with Morocco underscore the strategic importance of cooperation in areas such as security, migration, and energy. Economic partnerships and development initiatives offer avenues for strengthening bilateral ties, aligning with broader efforts to diversify energy sources and enhance regional stability. 

Navigating the delicate balance between Morocco and Algeria presents a formidable challenge for French diplomacy. The rivalry between the two countries, coupled with France's own strategic interests, requires an approach that acknowledges the complexities of regional dynamics. President Macron's diplomatic strategy will be crucial in navigating these complexities and charting a course towards constructive engagement and cooperation in North Africa.

*Lonzo Cook is a journalist and writer. He spent two decades at CNN in a series of senior editorial and management roles including leading breaking news operations across Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. In addition to writing on international affairs, national security and business, he works with media companies and corporations on how to evolve and create content to stay relevant to key audiences.


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