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France-Morocco: Towards a Calming of Relations?

A week ago, senators from the right-wing Les Républicains party Roger Karoutchi, Bruno Retailleau and Christian Cambon sent an open letter to the President of the French Republic calling for a rethink of France’s policy in Africa. Published by the French daily Le Figaro, the letter was signed by 94 members of parliament from a wide range of political backgrounds, who have united to express their dissatisfaction with the issue. 

The letter comes a week after President Emmanuel Macron sent a message of congratulations to King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the Feast of the Throne. “The successes achieved by Morocco since the beginning of Your Majesty’s reign and under His modernising impetus are remarkable”, stressed the French President, while assuring that “France, with loyalty and respect, has always made cooperation with Morocco a priority”.

AFP/YOAN VALAT – French president Emmanuel Macron

The French President went on to say that he was convinced of “the exemplary capacity of the exceptional partnership between France and Morocco to provide appropriate responses to the major challenges of the moment. He also expressed his determination that the relationship between France and Morocco should grow and become even stronger”. With this statement, Emmanuel Macron seems to want to show that the partnership between Paris and Rabat is in better shape than it really is.

For several years, relations between France and Morocco have been stalled for a number of reasons. According to an analysis by the think-tank Telos, one of the main causes is “the lack of understanding on the Moroccan side of the fact that France refuses to follow the United States’ recognition of the Moroccan nationality of the Western Sahara, a lack of understanding that is all the greater given that France is considered to be the closest partner”. While other countries such as Israel, Spain and Germany have expressed their support for this issue, the lack of any change in Paris’ position is all the more frustrating for the Moroccan authorities. 

The second reason, again according to the Telos think-tank, was “the restriction (decided in September 2021 but now abandoned) of half the visas given to Moroccans”. This provision, perceived as humiliating by Moroccans, does not allow France to describe its partnership with Morocco as “exceptional”, since the use of “such retaliatory practices […] introduces and/or underlines a statutory inequality between the parties”.

AFP/FADEL SENNA - Un hombre marroquí sostiene su pasaporte frente a su ordenador que muestra un visado Schengen en la capital Rabat
AFP/FADEL SENNA – A Moroccan man holds his passport in front of his computer showing a Schengen visa in the capital Rabat

The third reason is Paris’s policy of rapprochement with Algeria. France’s juggling between these two neighbouring countries with strained relations is seen as a lack of consideration by Rabat. “The idea that you could send half the French government to Algeria and launch a state visit to Morocco at the same time quickly came to be seen as a further lack of consideration”, note the analysts at the Telos centre.

Finally, since 19 January, the Kingdom no longer has an ambassador in Paris. This was due to a vote in the European Parliament on a non-binding text denouncing the fate of imprisoned Moroccan journalists and expressing the “concern” of MEPs over Morocco’s alleged involvement in a corruption scandal. On the Moroccan side, this vote was perceived as a campaign of attacks and harassment orchestrated by MEP Stéphane Séjourné, Secretary General of Renaissance, President Emmanuel Macron’s party. All of these crisis events have thus disrupted relations between the two countries. 

“Today Niger, yesterday Mali, the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso have rejected France, French forces and French companies. At our expense, after the failure of Operation Barkhane, here come the Wagner militias, with little concern for human rights or democracy, but perfectly available to all dictators or leaders holding on to power by rallying their populations against the former ‘colonial power’”, say the senators. Recent security events in the Sahel region and North Africa have highlighted all the more the loss of French influence in this part of the world.

In their letter, the 94 MPs denounce Paris’s “strategic ambiguity” in Africa, which is detrimental to French interests, seems to be alienating Morocco, a country that has historically been an ally, and pushing it to seek other military and economic partners outside Paris. The senators also point to a deeper malaise, that of a growing mismatch between the French vision of Africa and the reality of the continent. “It’s probably about time, as Africa, a friendly continent, no longer seems to understand France, and is increasingly challenging its role and presence”, they note.

Manifestantes se reúnen en apoyo de los soldados golpistas en la capital Niamey, Níger 30 de julio de 2023. Los carteles dicen: Larga vida a Níger, larga vida a Rusia, Francia debe irse
REUTERS/ BALIMA BOUREIMA – Protesters rally in support of the coup soldiers in the capital Niamey, Niger July 30, 2023. The placards read: Long live Niger, long live Russia, France must go

Through their demands, the 94 parliamentarians are trying to convince Emmanuel Macron to rethink French policy in Africa. For them, reaffirming and consolidating the historical and strategic ties between France and Morocco is the key to ensuring that Paris can preserve its influence and relations in Africa.

Source : Atalayar