EU-Algeria: A mutually beneficial alliance

Written by Fernando Maura Barandiarán on 7 January 2016 in Feature
Feature

The EU should reinforce and strengthen its bonds with Algeria, says Fernando Maura Barandiarán.

Algeria's political, economic and strategic weight in North Africa and African geopolitics make it a pivotal point of reference in the European neighbourhood policy launched in 2004 to boost prosperity and stability at the EU's borders.

The association agreement between the European Union and Algeria, which came into effect in 2005, was another important step towards sealing a mutually beneficial alliance.

The spate of conflicts and changes that are shaking the international landscape on the southern and eastern borders of the European Union necessarily calls for the reinforcement and strengthening of bonds with Algeria, which is deemed a decisive player in the safety and stability of the Mediterranean.


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Several elements have come together to lead the European Union to take on the challenges faced by this neighbour. Therefore consolidating its position as an area of development and stability on the southern border has become a strategic priority for the EU.

The energy factor Algeria's strategic importance has traditionally been linked to its huge oil and gas fields. It has earned its place as the third largest oil supplier (in terms of volume) for the EU.

It is also the tenth largest oil producer in the world (1,875 million barrels a day in 2012) and the tenth largest gas producer (82,760 million cubic metres in 2011), second only to Nigeria in the African continent.

Even before the crisis triggered by the Arab Spring in 2011, Algeria's proven gas reserves and the quality of its infrastructure had already placed it as the most feasible partner to ensure Europe's energy security in view of the decline in gas production in the North Sea, making it the second largest European supplier after Russia. 

The breakdown in the relationship between the EU and Russia over the Ukrainian conflict has reinforced Algeria's position against other rivals in the energy arena. 

Algeria is the best option to offset Europe's excessive and risky dependence on Russian gas (as they cover 70 per cent of its needs) and avoid the threat of a cut in the supply as we saw during the 2006 crisis. The plans to build the Trans Sahara Gas Pipeline (TSGP), a 2565 km pipeline to carry gas from the Biafra gulf fields in Nigeria to Algeria, would multiply the supply capacity from Algeria.

The attack in January 2011 by Islamic terrorists from Libya against the Algerian gas plant of In Amenás, on the border with Tunisia, raised serious doubts about the Algerians' ability to ensure an uninterrupted gas supply. 

Algiers replied that its security forces had succeeded in ensuring the fulfilment of their commitments, even during the difficulties experienced in the nineties when the Algerian army had to face jihadist terrorism in a hidden civil war that cost about 200,000 lives.

So far, the threat from the western border has not affected the production rhythm that recently boosted Algeria from third to second place among EU suppliers, matching the supplies from the North Sea.

A potentially loyal and reliable partner Algeria's geography, as the largest country in Africa and the Arab world (2,381,741km2), its 37 million strong population, and a 5,668 dollar GDP per capita (2013) combine to make this country a large economic power in the region.

At present, the EU countries are their main trade partners with 52 per cent of imports and 65 per cent exports in 2013. One of the data highlighting the economic potential of this relationship is the 8.5 per cent rise in EU exports to Algeria in 2013, from 26,330 to 28,580 million US dollars (24,000 to 26,250 million Euro).

Furthermore, Algeria plays a key role as an EU and USA ally in the fight against jihadist terrorism. The prestige earned since its independence in 1962 among African countries and its growth capacity have secured this country a strong influential role in the Organisation of African Unity and its successor, the African Union.

This has been key, for instance, in its unconditional support for the self-determination in the Western Sahara. This is the only territory that remains to be decolonised in the African continent, and in finding a solution for this conflict through the UN's mediation. 

Its role as a regional power was never questioned, even during the civil war in the nineties that marked the first victory against the Islamic extremist attempt at destabilising the country.

Despite its reluctance to accept outside intervention, Algeria has proved its commitment to the fight against Al Qaeda and, in particular, its Maghrebi wing, Al Aqmi, with the launch of regional cooperation initiatives for defence and intelligence.

This action has taken shape as the CEMOC, the regional command for joint counter-terrorism operations created in 2010 with headquarters in Tamanrasset that includes Mali, Niger and Mauritania.

The counter-terrorism capacity and experience gained by the Algerian army (the principal one in the region with 130,000 personnel) was key to the success of the international intervention that crushed Al Qaeda's attempt to settle in the north of Mali in 2012.

Today, the Algerian government continues to play a strong role in the dialogue between Mali people, aiming to sustain the fragile peace achieved, and in the dialogue between the opposing factions in Libya, seeking a solution for its neighbour's crisis.

The European Parliament itself admitted that European institutions have "underestimated" the important role that Algeria could play in providing balance in the fight against terrorism in the region. EU countries are at present Algeria's main trading partners. For Algeria, it is essential to establish a bond with the EU that goes beyond bilateral relations.

The Algerian government's top priorities are to achieve further modernisation and development, strengthen its peoples' satisfaction, especially young people (who are highly exposed to welfare promises given by jihadist terrorists) to and resist the destabilising threat that surrounds them.

Algeria's safety and stability are more than a strategic necessity; good neighbour relations and a better cooperation with Algeria have an immediate healing impact on Maghreb, in North Africa and Sahel.

 

About the author

Fernando Maura Barandiarán is a former ALDE group MEP for Spain; he was a Vice-Chair of Parliament's delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union

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