Algeria and the European Union (EU), which celebrated 40 years of cooperation in 2019, enjoy excellent relations. This is the opinion of John O’Rourke, Head of the European Union’s Delegation posted in Algiers. “With the upheavals in Algeria last year, we have clearly felt sensitivity on the part of all Algerian actors that this dynamic must be left to the Algerians to find the solutions that suit them”, he stressed.
“Despite the excellent relations that we have with Algeria, there are differences of opinion. We think that it is not always very useful to spread this debate in the public arena,” he said on Wednesday, February 12th, during a meeting with the media at the Ferdi Lilly Hotel in Algiers.
The disputes are settled, he said, far from the spotlight. He mentioned commercial disputes. “It is not always necessary to delve into polemics publicly on these issues. There is no reluctance on our part. We would like to be transparent with the reservation that we have for the reasons I have just mentioned”, he noted.
“I have the impression that the issue of our trade relations is “phagocytizing” wider and deeper cooperation,” he regretted.
“Investments have not been up to par.”
Asked about a possible revision of the Association Agreement, which came into force in 2005, and criticized recently in Algiers, John O’Rourke acknowledged that trade must be accompanied by European investments in Algeria. “Investments have not been there, not up to the expectations of the Algerian side,” he stressed. He recalled that the Algerian press often discusses the issue of the business climate in Algeria (unfavorable to FDI). “What can be done to ensure that investments take off in Algeria? he asked.
Concerning losses, in a free trade area, he said, customs do not collect duties or taxes. In principle, it is the consumer who should benefit with lower prices. The basic question is that the diversification of the Algerian economy has not followed as intended. We are always ready to discuss and see how we can support the efforts that would be made in this direction, he emphasized.
This is a matter of Algerian business and investment law,” he replied. Both parties can, he said, review the Association Agreement, which is a binding international treaty. “At the latest news, neither Algeria nor the EU wanted to amend the Association Agreement. This is an Agreement that already offers many possibilities. It is a question of taking advantage of them”, said the European diplomat.
On the Algerian side, however experts argued that the Association Agreement was signed without preparation. And, the authorities have estimated in recent months that the Agreement has benefited the European side more than Algeria, with an estimated tax loss of 2 billion dollars.
*”We need a real economic partner.”
“The EU is trade-friendly. The EU’s economic strength is based on its exports. Open trade is important. We are Algeria’s first trading partner with a value of 40 billion dollars a year”, noted, for his part, Stépane Mechati, head of the political and press section of the EU Delegation in Algiers. He pointed out that European technical assistance programs help the Algerian economy to diversify and to modernize.
“We need a real economic partner,” he said. He recalled that the Algerian authorities had criticized the Association Agreement in 2015 as “too unbalanced” and noted that European investments in Algeria were too low. An evaluation was made of the Agreement in 2016 with a view to “improving it”. “The Algerian economic model must evolve to benefit from the Agreement,” he stated.
Stéphane Mechati pointed out that the EU wants to build its relations with Algeria on “an open, sincere and frank dialogue in respect of each other’s sovereignty and competences”.
*”We’re for a strategic partnership on energy”
“As neighbors or friends, we can share a lot of things, but we can’t agree all the time,” he said. Algiers and Brussels have been linked since 2014 by a “strategic partnership” on energy. According to Stéphane Mechati, this partnership is not only about hydrocarbons but also about energy transition and renewable energies”. John O’Rourke spoke of the training and financing actions initiated by the EU in favor of the Algerian media, including the “Spring” program.
According to him, the EU seeks to raise awareness in Algeria of its programs and activities, which are “sometimes less visible” with the help of the media. “We want to improve our image, not necessarily our golden image, and correct our perception among the Algerian population,” he noted. He promised a regular and lasting relationship with the media.
Referring to the current situation in Libya, John O’Rourke said the EU wants a resolution of the crisis in this neighboring country of Algeria.
“We see with satisfaction the skill and determination with which Algeria is acting diplomatically to resolve the Libyan conflict. We are one actor among others. We rally behind the efforts of the United Nations, which is leading the way in the search for a negotiated and consensual solution to the crisis now besetting Libya,” he added.