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Economy - Development | Politics

Difficult Algeria-EU ties may deepen

Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci

© Rép Algérienne/afrol News
afrol News, 8 June
- Algeria is dissatisfied with its relations with the European Union (EU), claiming these only secure EU gas imports and EU consumer goods exports. But a deepening of ties is now being prepared.

Štefan Füle, the EU's Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, has just finished a two-day working visit to Algiers - probably the most difficult since the Czech ex-Minister took on the delicate post in the EU diplomacy.

Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci, known for his temperament, told Mr Füle that he was not at all pleased by the EU's current Algeria policies and the EU's proposals for a deepening of ties. Algeria wanted a more meaningful relation with its greatest trade partner, he pointed out.

According to Minister Medelci, current relations too exclusively focus on trade conditions, which are designed to favour Europe. Algeria provides the EU with 20 percent of its gas needs, with trade agreements securing the EU with stable deliveries.

But Mr Medelci complains that European investments in Algeria almost exclusively focus on the oil and gas sector, in addition to channels for European exports of consumer goods. Trade conditions for such European goods were very favourable, while there were no incitements to raise Algerian exports of non-oil goods. Algeria was now seeking EU investments in agriculture, water, transports and small and mediums sized companies.

Algeria's relations with the EU are currently defined by an Association Agreement, which was signed in 2002 and came into force in 2005. Since 2008, a "Roadmap for the implementation of the Association Agreement" is in place, which seeks to reform Algeria's economic and trade policies towards European standards, thus opening up for less trade barriers.

While Algeria wants to deepen and improve the Association Agreement, the EU and Mr Füle are pushing on Algeria to rather join another programme, the European Neighbourhood Policy, to deepen ties. Most Mediterranean and East European countries have joined this policy, with only Algeria and Libya saying "no" in North Africa.

The neighbourhood policy is a step-by-step programme where the EU's neighbours are granted more and more favourable ties as they implements the so-called "common values", comprising of democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. So-called "Action Plans" set out an agenda of political and economic reforms, but Algeria has not agreed to sign any action plan.

"Algeria has not joined and has decided not to join the neighbourhood policy," Foreign Minister Medelci made it clear in his meeting with Commissioner Füle. But Mr Medelci said Algeria would continue dialogue about the neighbourhood policy after his country had achieved better economic terms regarding EU trade relations, investments and technology transfer.

As a sign of goodwill, two agreements worth a total of euro 172 million were signed during Mr Füle's visit in Algiers. This included a programme of financial planning for 2011-13 and a programme to support higher education. Also security issues were brought up, and the EU expressed its interest and support for Algeria's regional programme to fight terrorism in the Sahara and Sahel.

But most important, the meeting between Mr Füle and Algerian government officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, served as a preparation for the important Association Council in Brussels on 15 June. There, Algeria's Association Agreement with the EU is to be reviewed and amended.

Minister Medelci already has concluded on his review of the first five years of the association agreement, saying it is one-sided in favour of the EU. "All is not bad. There has been progress in some sectors such as trade. But other sectors are lagging behind, especially investments," the Algerian Minister told Mr Füle in presence of the national press.

Minister Medelci however was confident these imbalances would be addressed in expected amendments to the association agreement in Brussels next week. After that, one could start talking about the neighbourhood policy, he indicated.

Algeria's interest in deepening its ties with Europe is however much larger than the impression given by its Foreign Minister. Over 50 percent of Algeria's trade is with the EU. And more important, neighbour and rival Morocco is getting a growing political advantage by being the North African nation deepest tied to the EU. Morocco achieved an "advanced status" in its association with the EU in 2008.

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