Algeria could be a key strategic partner for Europe

Written by María Teresa Giménez Barbat on 6 December 2016 in Opinion
Opinion

Algeria could be a strategic partner for the EU in the fields of energy, security, R&D and more, writes María Teresa Giménez Barbat.

María Teresa Giménez Barbat

María Teresa Giménez Barbat | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


For a long time, Europe has underestimated the crucial role Algeria could play in providing balance in the Mediterranean region. Our dialogue is still based essentially on imports of natural gas from Algeria to European countries. 

My view is that a great change is taking place today, from scientific modernisation and political reforms to security cooperation in the region.

The turning point in our relations was the coming into effect of the association agreement, as part of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership in 2005.


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More recently, a set of priorities regarding our relations were jointly established in the framework of the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) in 2013 and its review in 2015, covering strategic areas of mutual interest such as migration and mobility, and security dialogue, in order to enhance regional stability and cooperation in the fight against terrorism and radicalisation.

As previously mentioned, a key component of our exchange with Algeria is represented by an energy-based economic relationship. The country is one of the most relevant suppliers of natural gas to Europe and the critical situation between the EU and Russia over the Ukrainian conflict has reinforced Algeria's strategic position to offset European dependence on Russian gas. 

If we look at trade figures in detail, 99.7 per cent of Algerian exports in 2015 came from energy and petroleum-derived products. EU exports to Algeria are more diversified, based on industrial and chemical products, and its investment is estimated at 40 per cent of foreign direct investment in the country.

According to a recent study by Oxford University researcher Ali Aissaoui, until now Algerian government policies pushed low domestic prices, neither encouraging rationalisation of demand nor providing incentives for upstream investment, resulting in a deterioration of national gas balances.

However, recent high-level policy talks about investing in renewable energy development, political modernisation and support of technological research and innovation could lead the country to a new stage, especially in its relationship with the EU.

Since 2009, the government has implemented a strategy to improve R&D: the number of publications and patents registered has grown significantly over the last years and partnerships have been established between research centres and economic enterprises, in part thanks to financial incentives and tax exemptions.

Cooperation programmes between Brussels and Algeria are aiming to develop the fisheries and agriculture sector, and ultimately reduce dependence on the hydrocarbon sector.

In February, the Algerian Parliament adopted a reformed constitution limiting the presidential mandate to two terms and introduced significant policies to promote gender equality and easier access for women in the labour market, as well as safeguard for the freedom of press, and created a national body for fighting corruption.

In terms of European and international security affairs, Algeria has a pivotal role in the stabilisation of north Africa and the fight against jihadist terrorism. 

Despite its reluctance to accept external intervention, Algeria has always proved its commitment in the fight against Al Aqmi and Al Qaeda, also by establishing in 2010 the regional defence command for joint counter-terrorism operations with Mali, Niger and Mauritania (CEMOC). 

The Algerian government played a strong role in achieving a fragile peace between the Mali people and today is a relevant actor in dialogue among the opposing factions in Libya, seeking a solution for the crisis in Maghreb.

As regards Algerian relations with neighbouring countries, I would like to highlight how Algeria has always expressed its unconditional support to Sahrawi people's right to self-determination and independence in western Sahara. Occupied by Morocco since 1975, western Sahara has been waiting for a referendum, initiated by the UN, for over 25 years. 

In a recent mission of our EU delegation for the relations with the Maghreb countries to Alger, the President of the Assemblée populaire nationale Mohamed Larbi Ould Khelifa reaffirmed such commitment towards Sahrawi. 

The EU's duty should be to share the same position and to defend internationally the right of Sahrawi people to decide about their future.

European institutions have undervalued how Algeria could be a decisive player in providing stability in the region and I believe it is time to strengthen our cooperation. Algeria and Europe share a common identity represented by the Mediterranean, and are linked by close historical, economic and cultural ties. The outbreak of conflicts and changes that are shaking the international landscape along southern borders of the European Union absolutely call for a strengthening of bonds with Algeria.

 

About the author

María Teresa Giménez Barbat (ALDE, ES) is a Vice-Chair of Parliament's delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries

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