A Power Audit of EU – North Africa relations

North Africa should be a top strategic priority for Europe

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North Africa’s ‘Arab Spring’ is a huge opportunity for Europe, but Europe is in danger of fumbling it

In 2011 the democratic wave sweeping the Arab world looked unstoppable. Not so in 2012: Egypt, Libya and Tunisia are all suffering from post-revolutionary hangovers – Algeria and Morocco may be only playing at reform. Security and economic problems abound.

Europe has the real ability to help more open and dynamic societies take root in North Africa, benefitting Europe as well as their neighbours across the Mediterranean. But absorbed by the economic crisis it is not delivering on its promised support.

The scale of the post-revolutionary challenges in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia is daunting, but for countries like France, Italy and Spain, substantial interests are at stake: trade, investment, energy, North African immigrant communities and security. In ECFR's ‘Power audit of EU-North Africa relations’, Nick Witney and Anthony Dworkin argue that the EU and its key member states must:

  • Go beyond simple ‘more for more’ conditionality and take a strategic view of the region and their relations with Europe.
  • Promote intra-regional cooperation on issues such as developing the vast potential of solar power and trade.
  • Help North African states tackle instability in the Sahel and other security concerns that also affect EU members.
  • Instead of acting like a giant NGO, the EU and its members need to treat North African countries as partners rather than clients. Revolutions need political, not technocratic, responses.

“As it struggles with the economic crisis, the Arab uprisings could not have come at a worse time for Europe. But if the key states of Italy, Spain, Germany – and above all France – work together they can benefit both North Africa and the whole of Europe.” –  Nick Witney

“The success of North Africa's Arab Spring should be a top strategic priority for Europe. Money is tight: but there are many other ways Europe can help – as this new ECFR report spells out.” – Javier Solana

Key facts:

  • Even including oil and gas imports from Libya and Algeria, the North African states between them still only account for 4% of the EU’s external trade.
  • Intra-regional trade accounts for less than 4% of North Africa’s trade. The border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed for decades over the Western Sahara dispute.
  • In 2010 Paris gave more aid to each of the North African countries than the EU. France, Spain and Germany are the big bilateral aid donors.
  • Remittances from abroad – in particular France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands – are economically vital (accounting for 5% of Moroccan GDP (€6.4billion)).
  • Algeria supplies 15% of EU gas imports (especially Italy and Spain).
  • Libya supplies 11% of EU oil imports (especially Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK).

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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