Algeria: The case for a strong and independent civil society

Written by Pedro Narro on 8 January 2016 in Feature

One of Algeria's leading challenges is the need to diversify its economy, especially in support sectors such as food production, says Pedro Narro.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has welcomed the EU's 2014-2017 support programmes for Algeria, which not only focus on the necessary economic diversification but also include labour market reform and job creation, reform of the judiciary system and reinforcement of people's participation in public life. The EESC is in close contact with civil society organisations in the Mediterranean region. 

In 2014 an official visit to Algeria by the EESC President Henri Malosse and myself as the President of the Euromed Follow-up committee, helped strengthen ties between the Algerian National Economic and Social Council (CNES) and the EESC.

The visit gave the EESC the opportunity to talk with young entrepreneurs facing the same problems as their counterparts in Europe, namely the high costs of establishing a business and difficult access to finance.


The President also met with NGOs and independent trade unions who described the difficulties they were facing, especially in getting access to the media and recognition of their role by the Algerian authorities. 

During his meeting with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, Henri Malosse stressed the importance of independent civil society organisations, while I referred to the need to diversify Algeria's economy, especially to support sectors such as food production.


Tackling the problems needs a strong and independent organised civil society

In recent years, the EESC has laid special emphasis on southern Mediterranean countries, including Algeria, with the adoption of several opinions advising the European institutions on topics such as the European neighbourhood policy, the economic and social situation of young people, corruption and the management of water-related challenges. 

In Algeria, as with other countries of the region, the main drive of EESC action is to achieve greater involvement of civil society in the political dialogue, so as to give them a stronger voice in policy-making. 

A greater consultative role for civil society makes for better, more informed and inclusive policies. For this to be accomplished, it is vital for civil society organisations to be free and independent.


Developing the potential of young people and women 

Algeria has great potential in its industrial sector, in its private companies and in its agriculture. Its greatest potential, however, lies in its people, especially young people.

Young people are leaving rural areas to seek new lives and work opportunities in increasingly overcrowded towns and cities. This rural exodus gives rise to problems and unrest in cities. Young people have fresh ideas, they are energetic and dynamic and eager to try new techniques and processes, e.g. in farming or ICT.

With adequate public support, they could play a decisive role in diversifying Algeria's economy and thus create jobs and ensure their country is more integrated into the global economy.

Economic diversification and growth must go hand in hand with sustainable job creation. The government, together with business organisations, trade unions, agricultural organisations and consumer bodies, should put in place a strategy that encourages young people to play an active role. 

With their contribution they can develop proposals to improve the current situation. A society which is not inclusive of women cannot reach its full potential. Algeria has made some progress in improving women's rights, but women are still underrepresented in work and politics.

Young people - men and women - must be provided with the necessary means to turn their ideas into business, including an education that matches market needs and initiatives that promote the role of women. Young Algerians should be encouraged to participate in Erasmus Mundus, and EU schemes such as the Jean Monnet and Marie Curie programmes must be made more open to them.

Since 2010, Algeria has begun to modernise its infrastructure and wants to diversify its economy and attract foreign and domestic private investment; this is a step in the right direction. Foreign and domestic private investments, however, are only possible and sustainable when an appropriate legal framework is in place. 

Corruption is widespread throughout the world and civil society organisations in Algeria have a decisive role to play in ensuring that transparency and good governance practices take root.

However, the EU and its member states must set an ethical example in fighting corruption both domestically and in their relations with partner countries.


Water resources - managing the major challenges together 

Water is a common theme in the Southern Mediterranean. In this area all states need to work together towards achieving security of supply. Water supply is endangered through water losses, leakages and wastage. 

While Algeria has relatively large water resources, it is important that economic progress goes hand in hand with improved water management.

The cooperation agreement between Algeria and the EU covers a number of areas, all of which are dependent on a secure water supply, especially gas and oil production, the food industry and tourism.

The percentage of water supply derived from fossil sources or from overexploitation, is set to increase, which is unsustainable in the long term. Consequently, some fossil resources will rapidly be depleted and coastal aquifers further destroyed by saltwater intrusion. 

Moreover, the silting up of water retained in dams limits their lifespan - dams in Algeria have already lost a quarter of their original capacity - and there are fewer sites on which to build new dams.

Growing water demand creates strong human pressure on water resources, as measured by the Water Exploitation Index (WEI). It is therefore encouraging that the EU-Algeria agreement will also encompass water management and treatment.

A coherent strategy needs to be developed which reflects civil society's concerns, looking especially to optimise funding, prevent corruption and financial wastage and address as a priority the food, agricultural and social challenges.

Cooperation and solidarity are vital for improving the socio-economic situation in Algeria. For the European Economic and Social Committee it is essential that the EU's partnership programmes should adhere to a policy of conditionality. Economic development should go hand in hand with social development; employers and employees need to draw equal benefits from progress.


About the author

Pedro Narro is director for European Affairs, Spanish Farmers' Union (ASAJA), a member of the European Economic Social Committee (EESC) and President of the Euromed Follow-up committee

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