France and the three Maghreb countries, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, are bound by longstanding historic, cultural and economic ties that makes the three North African states a priority area in the French foreign policy.
A report recently published by the Paris-based think thank, Institut Montaigne, stresses that the Maghreb is a priority area for France in three fields: security, economic development and cultural influence.
The document, dubbed “New Arab World, A New Arab Policy for France,” argues that the Maghreb remains the most important Arab region in French foreign policy accounting for 80% of overall French-Arabs, 85% of Francophones in the Arab World, 80% of immigrants in France.
It added that 6 million French nationals originate from the Maghreb, while deploring that 100% of all individuals who perpetrated terrorist attacks in France are also from the North African region.
Counter-terrorism cooperation is a key area to which France attaches particular importance in its ties with the Maghreb. Both France and the Maghreb are threatened by terrorism, hence the need for sustained cooperation between the two sides’ security services to counter violent extremism and avert radicalization.
Migration is also an issue requiring close cooperation between Maghreb states and France. Demographic growth combined with political and economic instability in the Sahel are pushing thousands to seek better opportunities through illegal migration that puts pressure on transit Maghreb countries, notes the report. Immigration should be considered as a shared challenge requiring cooperation of countries north and south of the Mediterranean, the authors of the report note.
At the economic level, the report calls on France to follow Germany’s strategy in Eastern and Central Europe. “France should develop an ambitious and integrated economic strategy towards the three Maghreb countries.” In this regard, the document advocates the setting up of EU-Maghreb free trade agreement coupled with an improvement of the legal, administrative and financial frameworks in the Maghreb countries.
Concerning cultural influence, the 200-page report underscores the shared destiny between France and the Maghreb and calls on France to develop a “soft power” based on promoting the French language and culture in addition to improving knowledge about the Maghreb in France.