Growing risks of deliberate EU failures in North Africa
Political crises and widening structural and governance shortcomings across North Africa have become emblematic of a troubled EU approach to the region that emphasizes illusory ideals rather than difficult commitments. , although common sense.
In the past decade alone, confusing stumbles in its attempts to navigate the region’s complex challenges have decimated any confidence in Brussels’ ability to deal with the serious threats brewing on its doorstep.
Given the speed at which a new Middle East and North Africa is emerging, spurred on by Washington’s “re-adjustment” of the presence of Washington in the region, time is rapidly running out for Europe to develop a coherent and sustainable approach to its commitments with its Mediterranean. neighbors.
Certainly, much of the attention in Europe and the rest of the world is rightly focused right now on the unrest in Eastern Europe and its potential to spill over into a global landscape filled with woe.
However, one should not underestimate how a resilient democracy in Tunisia, peace, prosperity and lasting stability in Algeria, Libya and Morocco are of similar strategic importance.
Instead, the reality is a dismal record of a decade of clumsy, knee-jerk reactions and glaring strategic miscalculations that will continue to hamper EU institutions and the bloc’s ability to coordinate its crisis responses. specific to North Africa.
The dissolution of parliament by the Tunisian president and the closure of almost all political life echoes the authoritarian regime that the Arab Spring aspired to undo. What at first seemed like a remarkable move is now a jumble of inconsistent and disconnected responses to a deepening socio-economic crisis and the reintroduction of systemic repression by security forces to rein in opposition.
Instead of a big turnaround, there is an accelerating slide into state failure, governance failures and a return to instability. Given the likelihood of such a worst-case scenario, the EU could have exerted indirect pressure on Tunis to conclude this political project as soon as possible. However, the bloc would rather “reward” the president’s desire for one-man rule by lending Tunisia around 450 million euros ($470 million) in budgetary aid, in addition to maintaining its access to a loan fund. €200 million, shared by Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, to mitigate disruptions to global grain supplies.
Libya, meanwhile, is mired in a self-inflicted mess, the longer the will of its war-weary population remains subordinated to the pursuit of extremely narrow interests by a privileged few and their outside backers. What remains of the country’s tattered, inefficient and multi-track transition processes are cults of personality vying to rewrite a long-awaited first chapter of Libya’s democratization in the post- Muammar Gaddafi. The actual transition to a stable, democratic and unified state – the crowning achievement of a years-long impasse – remains a distant and elusive priority, if it happens at all.
Europe must quickly assume its undeniable role as a major player in an increasingly multipolar world, and the first place to do so in an assertive way would be in North Africa.
This deplorable situation has only taken root given Brussels’ complete disinterest in mounting serious, well-coordinated and well-managed interventions to correct the collapse of the post-2011 Libyan order.
France and Italy are the nations most actively engaged in highly conflicting roles in the shadow of wider European inaction on Libya, doubling down on the pursuit of narrow, often conflicting interests, prompting even more interference from Russia and Turkey.
In Algeria, a promising Hirak protest movement has waned, ousted by an incompetent ruling elite that is quicker to suppress dissent than to enact convincing reforms to make the “Algerian dream” a reality. The risky gamble that should have led to Algeria’s “Tunisian moment” is now a sociopolitical hell, with the Hirak movement now reduced to a mere symbolic aspiration for democracy.
What remains is a dysfunctional state, where neither a fractured opposition nor an incorrigible ruling elite can effectively address Algeria’s glaring shortcomings before what will likely be severe socio-economic collapse.
This growing list of EU failures to skillfully manage its relations with North Africa is a by-product of a dysfunctional and misguided Southern Neighborhood Policy, officially known as ENP-South. At a broader level, what should have been a “privileged partnership” has so far turned into an ambiguous project that avoids meaningful engagement, allows member states to pursue competing strategies and ignores the serious institutional shortcomings that hamper North African societies, economies and politics. .
Moreover, the most dominant priorities on the EU’s southern borders are support for a punitive border regime and flawed diplomacy tinged with neo-colonialist ideals, instead of coherent approaches focused on ensuring stability at greater long term. However, a decade or more of continued strategic miscalculation risks entrenching dangerous trends that eventually metastasize into the shared cultural spaces and deep bonds between every society along the shores of the Mediterranean.
Given the proximity and strategic importance of North Africa, Brussels has correctly prioritized cooperation with Mediterranean states, reinforcing its ambitions to become an influential player in efforts to address global risks shared issues such as climate change, irregular migration, energy security, counter-terrorism and other hybrid threats.
Algeria, Tunisia and Libya remain the countries most at risk given their fragile socio-political dynamics, and any further destabilization could spill over to Europe, and even the rest of the world, if continued indecision sponsors or institutionalizes inaction in Brussels’ external commitments.
The EU faces many internal challenges stemming from the resurgence of nationalism and skepticism towards the EU, which distract from complex efforts to stabilize its southern neighborhood and invest in its long-term resilience. term.
Europe must quickly assume its undeniable role as a major player in an increasingly multipolar world, and the first place to do so in an assertive way would be in North Africa. Collective action must be guided by coherent strategies and clear objectives, not narrow transactionalism.
- Hafed Al-Ghwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell
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