Rationales of eu north africa cooperation

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Europe has strong ties with the North African countries which were strengthened through the historical events, particularly with the Maghreb. After the Barcelona Process and the creation of the global Mediterranean partnership, the EU North-African relations were opened to an official and productive cooperation. However, one could not undermine the relations between the EU and some major countries in North Africa prior to the 1995 especially Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. These three countries have historical relations with the EU especially with former colonizers France and Spain. The EU-North African relationship can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s by the signing of economic agreements which were the basis of the new partnership.; for instance, the 1975 conference of security and cooperation between Europe and the Mediterranean countries that took place in Helsinki. The existence of the European norms and values in the politics and decision making of the Maghreb countries helped both sides to develop a longstanding relationship. Additionally, the Moroccan foreign policies were more directed toward Europe than any other region because of the colonial encroachment. This paper will analyze the EU North Africa relations and the rationales behind the cooperation, but before that I will give a theoretical explanation of the nature of the relationship.

Defining the Relationship

In the literature of the EU North African relations, the concept of dependence is applicable because of the nature of the North-South relations between the two parties. The asymmetrical nature of the partnership made the North African countries more depending on the EU than the other way around. "Dependency is a situation in which the economy of certain countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy to which the former is subjected"[1]. In other words, the dependence of one side is much greater than that of the other side[2] which results in a domination and exploitation of the center (North) to the periphery (South). As a result of this cooperation, North Africa is going to accumulate a much greater costs if the relationship breaks up because the Maghreb exports 67% and imports 65% of their total trade from the EU while the latter exports 2.4% and imports 2.3% from their total average[3]. Despite these differences and the insecurity of the Maghreb economy, the EU has also major interests in the region which push some scholars and researchers to argue that it's a interdependency based relationship. In the following section, The economy including agricultural products and energy resources in addition to such pertainig issues such as controlling migration and terrorism are the EU rationales to be discussed in details in the following section.

EU rationales behind the cooperation

European Union rationales vis a vis North African cooperation have different dimensions. The Barcelona Process is one of the major phases that strengthened the EU-North African association although it was a confined to. To understand the reasons behind the European interest in North Africa, one should go back to the Euro-Mediterranean conference that took place in Barcelona in 1995 aiming at improving the European Union partnership with the Mediterranean countries both the Mashriq and Maghreb. However, due to the US pressure on the EU intervention in the Arab-Israeli conflict as a result the EU focus its relations on North Africa. The first objective which is the major rational behind EU interest in North Africa is fighting political Islam and terrorism in the region. According to the EU government this partnership will create peace and security in the region and therefore prevent the rise of radical Islam in North Africa. The respect of the human rights declaration and the adoption of democratic values in the region was the surface behind the cooperation. However, the hidden interest was the fear from the spillover of the Islamist movement and terrorist activities into Europe through migration. The EU concern was to control the region to prevent terrorism from taking place in the European soil. The first main failure to achieve this goal was the 1995 and 1996 terrorist attack in Paris that was the result of the French support to the Algerian regime which was against the FIS (Islamist Opposition Movement), this event is one of the failure of the partnership to protect the European Security[4] The European were interested in the creation of a Free Trade Zone and to develop an economic network with North Africa in order to improve the economic sector and production of the Mediterranean countries with an emphasize on Maghreb. However, this interest was beneficial for both parts because it enabled the EU to access easily the natural resources and agricultural products in North Africa and it helped this latter to export its manufactured goods to the international market. Nevertheless, if we look at the transportation cost North Africa is not benefiting as much as the EU because of the type of commodities exported; for instance, the products exported to the EU are much more costly than the ones imported in terms of transportation (phosphates vs technology). Trade liberalization in the region was another factor behind the European partnership. This goal has been reached in 2000 more specifically in" the Agadir Declaration ofMay 8, 2001, in which the governments ofEgypt, Morocco, and Tunisia made a commitment to regional trade liberalization."[5]

The literatures on this topic argue that the EU foreign policy vis a vis North Africa was aiming at promoting human rights, democracy, development in the region. The EU is considered the largest donor in the world regarding providing aid especially to North Africa and one of the largest importers of North African agricultural product (67% of the total export of the Maghreb Region). Based on these elements, the EU is using a soft power strategy to promote their policies and interests in the region which are more about security and economic than the promotion of human rights and democracy in the region.

The aim of the European Union in having partnership or association with the Mediterranean countries particularly the North-African countries is to influence the policies of these countries for the EU's benefits. According to Youngs controlling North Africa and promoting EU's ideologies and politics was a way to show its power over these region and more broadly the Mediterranean countries[6]. The strong influence of the US in the Middle East and the failure of the EU intervention in this region especially in the Arab-Israeli conflict pushed the European Union to promote its ideologies and full influence on North Africa. Illegal migration from the south is becoming a crucial phenomenon in the European Community. Sub-Saharan Africans are using North African countries as a bridge to Europe which starts creating serious problems regarding employment and security especially in Spain and France. According to the realist school this cooperation is mainly to strengthen EU dominance instead of building a region which can be explained by the reluctance of the EU to pressure Euro-Mediterranean partnership objectives in terms of democracy and human rights[7]. However, the following section analyzes North African rationales and main interests behind the cooperation with the European Union.

North -African Rationales

Economic interest is the major rational behind Maghreb relations with the European Union. European roots existed in North Africa since the colonization time particularly in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Since that time the Maghreb region has been strengthening its relations with the European Union through agreements and trade cooperation. Tunisia and Morocco were considered emerging countries in terms of exports because of the increase of their total exports to Europe[8]. In addition to the benefits that the Maghreb is creating from trade with European Union (67% of Maghreb exports) it's also creating a fragile and insecure economic structure for the region. This can be explained by the economic orientation of the Maghreb towards Europe. The economic interest of the Maghreb started to be realized in 1969 when the EC signed a trade agreement with Morocco and Tunisia. The major aspect characterizing the EU- Maghreb relations was independent negotiations which did not put the Maghreb countries in a symmetrical position. Improving links with Europe was another rational behind the Euro-Maghreb relations that resulted in the creation of the UMA to have more weight and negotiate collectively with the EU. European financial support was major goal for North Africa; however, between 1995 and 1999 the Mediterranean region received only five milliards dollars which represent 90 million dollars for each country and most of this financial assistance went to Egypt and Turkey because for Algeria this fund represent only some few days of oil production[9]. The literature vis a vis the rationales behind the cooperation were more about economic for North Africa. Tunisia and Morocco had the strongest ties with EU as result Morocco was the second country signing the Euro-Med agreement with the EU after Tunisia. Attracting foreign investment and European aid to the region was another factor behind the economic interests of the Maghreb. After the decolonization process the region was underdeveloped, as a result Maghreb countries started a process of social, political, and mainly economic reforms as a result some countries in North Africa particularly Morocco, strengthened its ties with the EU for some political and social reasons. North African countries were negotiating independently with the EU to attract political support for their own internal issues. Under the context of democratization and human rights, Morocco is the second large receiver of EU financial support in North Africa because of the social and political reforms that the country has experienced during the last few years. Social development becomes another interest of Moroccan relations with Europe as a result the EU contributes by 47% from the Moroccan total foreign aid budget. The North African interest of the cooperation spread out to social and political interests. The EU is not satisfied with some North African countries political reforms such as Tunisia and Algeria but still trade and foreign aid toward these countries are not impacted which could clearly explain the security reason behind the European cooperation with the Maghreb. The partnership started by an economic interest of Europe in the Maghreb However, after the enlargement of the EU, security and political instability become the major cause behind European interest. After the enlargement of the EU, The interest of North African countries in trading with EU was negatively impacted because of the rise of competitiveness from the Eastern European bloc especially in agricultural products.

To some extent Algeria had some limited cooperation with the EU due to the political instability in the country. Algeria was one of the North African countries that refused to accept the European clause of democracy and human rights of the Barcelona Process. Algeria was not interested in international cooperation as much as solving its own internal problems. On the other hand, Algeria had mainly an economic interest behind the EU-Maghreb cooperation because it did not accept any European political advice although they were threatened by the EU to decrease the foreign aid and even succeed in putting pressure on the EU to remove conditionality on aid. Algeria had a great potential vis a vis energy which made France very flexible regarding their relations. The EU-Algerian cooperation started to decline due to the reluctance of Algeria to adopt the economic and political reforms. The EU particularly France started to become less independent on Algerian energy resources after replacing this latter Russian gas and Norwegian oil. After 2000, Algeria had reduced to some extent the political instability and Islamic threat in the country. To sum up, the North African countries had economic interests behind the cooperation with the EU. Nevertheless, this interest has been developed to the extent that it became also social, political and secure. The rise of terrorism in the region not only threatened the Europe Union but also the political regimes and the promotion democracy in North Africa, as a result European financial aid regarding peace and security became highly essential and appreciated by North African countries. In terms of social development, developing countries rely on foreign aid because development for them is more foreign than internal issue. However, and since all North African countries are not enough developed, foreign aid become the major reasons behind the partnership at least for Morocco and Tunisia. From a North African perspective trade and foreign aid are the main rationales behind the partnership and for the EU it is more about security due to the fear from the spillover of terrorism to European countries. In accordance with the EU emphasis on security, the International world criticized the EU for being supportive to the authoritarianism in the Maghreb region in order to control the political Islam.


From a European perspective the EU North Africa relations are difficult to discern because different constraints such as Islam and terrorism prevent it from flourishing. In general, the EU is very flexible regarding its relations with the North African countries because they do not use hard power or push governments for political and economical reforms (the case of Algeria), they just put these principals at the surface of their relations to achieve their main objectives. Frankly, the EU has made some progress in achieving their goals because now clandestine immigration is more controlled by the North African countries and there is a dramatic increase in the flow of the European investors to the region. After analyzing both parts interested in the EU North-Africa cooperation, one could ponder that we have a European dominance over the region exemplified by the flow of foreign aid and direct foreign investments in North Africa particularly to Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. From a realist perspective it is an interdependence relationship. However, from a capitalist and economic point of view it is an asymmetric relationship. Regionalization of the Maghreb is one of the reasons behind this dependency, because each country in North Africa is dealing with the EU independently. However, I do believe that it is a win-win situation because the EU is indirectly meeting its interests through direct investments which will open more job opportunities in the region and therefore reduce the flow of migration to Europe. The foreign aid investment brings benefit to the EU too because of the cheap labor market. According to Youngs democratization and human rights principals become adopted in North Africa until the EU started funding projects regarding those issues; however, still we are far from being democratic states.


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