France’s delicate balancing act in the Maghreb

To analyse. The ridge path is narrow and the missteps risky. The year 2023 promises to be delicate for Emmanuel Macron in his relations with North Africa, where he will have to show a precise balancing act between Morocco and Algeria. How to appease one without alienating the other? The dilemma was less acute under the previous mandates of François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy, when the tension between the two Maghreb enemy brothers had not reached this critical stage – Algiers and Rabat broke off diplomatic relations in the summer 2021 – and therefore did not subject Paris to such contradictory injunctions.

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The tradition was that France was rather pro-Moroccan, that the link with Algeria was irremediably tormented, although preserved, and everyone accommodated themselves to this heritage of history. At the Quai d’Orsay, a saying summed up the tropism of Paris: “A French president begins with Algeria and ends with Morocco. » The evolution of the regional strategic context as well as certain shifts in French diplomacy have, however, reshaped the landscape. A new point of balance must be found. And the exercise is perilous.

Mr. Macron’s next visit to Rabat, announced for “the first trimester” without further details, will give a valuable indication of the recalibration decided by the Elysée. This trip is all the more expected as it is supposed to close an icy sequence in the Franco-Moroccan relationship. A series of frictions – “visa crisis”, Western Sahara, Mr. Macron’s Algerian bet, etc. – had fed a deep unease between the two capitals. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, made a visit to Rabat in mid-December 2022 which helped to warm the bond somewhat. She announced on this occasion the lifting of the visa restrictions imposed in September 2021, in retaliation for the unwillingness of the Moroccan consular authorities in the readmission of irregular migrants expelled from French territory.

recognition of sovereignty

This “visa crisis” is also over with Algeria and Tunisia, which had been subject to the same sanction for the same reasons. Paris has taken the measure of the strategic error which consisted in penalizing the French-speaking elites accustomed to comings and goings on both sides of the Mediterranean. The latter were beginning to be won over by resentment vis-à-vis Paris and it was urgent to defuse the risk of a frank and open divorce.

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