A multi-day visit to Algeria by French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and a cadre of ministers has yielded some success. On Monday, October 10th, a total of 11 bilateral agreements were signed in France’s former colony, inaugurating a new phase in what had been a strained Franco-Algerian relationship.
Before embarking on her task, Borne told the Algerian website TSA that “the time of misunderstanding is behind us,” and that her visit would focus on “education, culture, the ecological transition and the economy.”
Accompanied by fifteen ministers—over a third of the government, a size exceedingly rare for such foreign trips—the PM commenced her diplomatic visit in earnest on Sunday. The delegation’s arrival in Algiers, constituting Borne’s first international visit as PM, came just six weeks after President Emmanuel Macron concluded his own three-day sojourn aimed at ending months of tensions with Algiers.
While there, Macron and his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune signed the so-called ‘Déclaration D’Alger,’ a document that laid out six areas of bilateral cooperation and would serve as the foundation of a renewed partnership between the two nations.
Yet Macron, because of previous ill-considered statements on Algeria, which raised the hackles of many Algerians, is currently unpalatable to that country. It was up to the French PM, then, to mend the damage and launch a charm offensive so as to give a “new and concrete impetus” to ongoing efforts at reconciliation.
After being greeted by her counterpart Aïmene Benabderrahmane, Borne began her visit by performing gestures of goodwill, such as the laying of wreaths at the Monument of Martyrs—which commemorates the Algerian war of independence of 1954-1962—as well as at the Saint-Eugène cemetery, where many Algerian-born French are laid to rest.
Perhaps wisely, painful memories of Algeria’s colonialist past and the subsequent war had not been further touched upon, though a commission of both French and Algerian historians is in the process of being set up. For the moment, a state apology for French acts committed during the colonial period has been ruled out by the Elysée.
The day before her Monday lunch with President Tebboune, Borne chaired an intergovernmental committee—the CIHN, a Franco-Algerian council of ministers of sorts—with Prime Minister Benabderrahmane; its outcome saw notable agreements for cooperation in industry, tourism, crafts, agriculture, the fostering of start-ups, as well as cultural projects, particularly in film. Commenting on the headway made, Borne stated that her visit “anchors a new dynamic and a lasting cycle that will benefit our two peoples and their youth.”
Yet, while this signing of 11 bilateral agreements is a feather in the PM’s cap, one issue—for the homefront, a most vital one—remained largely untouched.
A possible short-term increase in natural gas deliveries to France by Algeria—Africa’s top exporter—is not in the offing, and was not even on the agenda. During a joint press conference with the Algerian prime minister, Borne explained that France and Algeria would instead “continue our calm relations.”
In her earlier interview with TSA, Borne noted that this is not a major concern, since France does not heavily depend on natural gas. Yet the country has committed to joint projects in the sector, with an eye to ramp up Algeria’s gas production capacities (unlikely without outside help, according to experts), so that Europe as a whole would be served. Mutual cooperation on Algerian exports of liquified natural gas is also envisaged.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine France, like many European nations, has been busily seeking new partners to secure its energy needs.
The apparent lack of clear and in particular, immediate, ‘wins’ for France has drawn criticism from some corners. On Friday, October 7th, vice-president of the right-wing opposition party Les Républicans Michèle Tabarot asked: “If it is neither a matter of [historical] memory, nor of [illegal] immigration, nor of gas, what will be the use of a trip of such magnitude?