Connect with us

Europe

The French Elections and the Much-Need Change in Relations with Africa (That Won’t Come)

Published

on

On February 14th and March 21st, the two front-runners in the French national election to be held in late April and early May of this year, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen (who currently poll at 24 and 19 percent respectively according to Le Point polls) paid visits to Algeria and Chad.

As Francois Hollande, the incumbent President of France, is not running this year, it may well be the case that the next President of France was hosted by one of these countries. But in their visits, they both signalled and then rapidly undermined promises of change to the current relationship between their country and the continent, especially its Francophone parts – a change that is long overdue. Essentially, both candidates proved just how much they do not understand the gross imbalance and asymmetry in the relationship, in which Africa is essentially a pawn, pacified by aid and a heavy military presence, while itself doling out resources and continued fealty.

France has a long history of unequal relations with the African continent; a set of relations which have a fascinating durability, considering their unfairness. From the onset of colonialism in Africa, France was there, carrying away bulky parts of the continent, including the island of Madagascar, as well as huge chunks of Central and West Africa. Reluctant to let go of its colonies on the continent, France was the last of the European powers to grant independence to an African possession – thus Djibouti managed to wrest its independence in 1977 (a whole year after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak established Apple). The republic’s relations with Africa are usually referred to as “Francafrique,” a loaded term which describes the complicated, informal web of relationships Paris has maintained with its former African colonies and its support, sometimes in the form of military backing for politicians who favour French business interests – previous recipients of French favour include Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic (and for a while Emperor when he was crowned in Napoleon-style ceremony in 1976), the exceedingly unpopular Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso who was overthrown in 2014 and Alassane Ouattara, the current President of Cote d’Ivoire whose political opponent, former president Laurent Gbagbo, after arrest by French forces, is currently under International Criminal Court prosecution – and to this day, French boots are on African soil, the latest estimate placing them at well over 10,000 in countries that include Djibouti in the east, Mauritania in the north, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south, as well as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in the west of the continent. Nowadays, these military campaigns are largely undertaken in former French colonies under the official reason of protecting national interests or to combat jihadist militancy and secure the stability of southern Europe.

“The [French] far right continues to promote the idea that if there are problems in France, it’s because of the foreigners, especially Africans,” a spokesperson for Chad’s opposition party, Laring Baou, said of Marine Le Pen who made a visit to his country last month. “I remember her father’s words: ‘I like Africans — but only in Africa’.” In her visit that included a meeting with President Idriss Deby, Front National party candidate Madame Le Pen pledged to break with the decades-old “Francafrique” and abolish the CFA franc currency policy that binds France and its former colonies on the continent. “I’ve come to condemn the policy of Francafrique that they’ve carried out. I have come to say I will break with this policy,” she said. This is of course nothing new. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy and incumbent Francois Hollande had also vowed to end the Francafrique policy, but both kept France deeply involved in African politics and security matters.

Her statements the following day to the Chadian National Assembly were already proof that she intended to continue this time-honoured and presidential habit of not keeping her word. Madame Le Pen, whose party is known for its nationalistic views and has been labelled by mainstream media as Islamophobic and xenophobic, categorically stated that if she won the election she would maintain her country’s military presence in the country as well as increase France’s aid to the continent from the current 0.37% of France’s national GDP to 0.7%; promising to hand it over more directly to the governments of Africa rather than through the EU or the United Nations, which is the current French practice. It’s questionable whether this kind of increase would actually take place if she won (France has its own internal citizens in need of this aid, who would probably receive first priority), but even if it did, the implication would essentially mean the continuation of the Franafrique policy which she had decried only a day before – and its being more bilateral, as she promised, would mean a more direct line of dependency from the capitals of Africa to Paris. Furthermore, she stated that she would continue the highly criticised and inefficient practice of handing the donations over to the government as opposed to civil society. A break in the policy of Francafrique as we have known it and a redesign of the relationship with France would require a rollback of the military presence and dealing with terrorism in more civic procedures such as poverty-alleviation through upward mobility (in fact, a recent study by the Institute of Security Studies on Chadian jihadi young men found that many join such groups due to lack of opportunity costs for doing so, and not because of an attraction to fundamentalism; see: https://issafrica.org/research/policy-brief/malis-young-jihadists-fuelled-by-faith-or-circumstance?), less conditional and politicised aid, and a relaxation of France’s and the EU’s subsidies on agriculture which have had a crowding-out effect on African agricultural producers who must also pay heavy tariffs and abide by quotas as a result of the common tariff. Though Eurosceptic (and in any case not likely to do anything to curb EU quotas and tariffs if she takes France out of the EU as she has promised) there is little reason to believe that as an adherent to an ill-defined “economic patriotism”, she would adhere a set of policies which would cut back France’s own agricultural sector to the benefit of African producers. And so aid and troops, which is what she has promised more of, would only mean more of the same; which is not what the relationship needs.

The other key candidate, current front-runner Emmanuel Macron, does not offer much hope either. If Marine Le Pen offers only a slight modification to the relationship, Monsieur Macron offers little else. As an adherent of the EU as it is, in which he intends to keep France should he win, his victory would mean the retention of the CFA franc (the currency used by 14 states on the continent) and its ties to the euro at a fixed exchange rate – with the peg guaranteed by the French Treasury. The EU’s own assessment of the currency, whose acronym had once stood for Colonies françaises d’Afrique (“French colonies of Africa”), noted that “benefits from economic integration within each of the two monetary unions of the CFA franc zone, and even more so between them, remained remarkably low.” Macron, however, has been silent on this question – but I suppose it is rendered mute and the answer needs no uttering. He does not seem to offer revision on other aspects of the relationship either, despite initial glimmers of hope that he would.

In a TV interview during his Algiers visit, the independent candidate said French actions in Algeria, which became independent in 1962 following a brutal eight-year war of independence which is estimated by the Algerian government to have cost about 1.5 million lives, were “genuinely barbaric, and constitute a part of our past that we have to confront by apologising.” He later on went to state that France’s actions there amounted to “crimes against humanity”; a statement which was greeted by some as a first step in France’s coming to grips with its colonial past. (In fact, Algerian political parties, and Algerians in general, have long denounced the refusal of the French authorities to recognise and apologize for the crimes committed by colonial France in Algeria.) But, to his great discredit, he later apologised following heat that the statement generated, including from fellow candidates. Republican candidate and current third-runner on the polls Francois Fillon, who served as France’s Prime Minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced what he termed “this hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance that is unworthy of a candidate for the presidency of the republic.” And Wallerand de Saint-Just, an official in Le Pen’s party, accused Macron of “shooting France in the back,” while Gerald Darmanin, an ally of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, tweeted the following: “Shame on Emmanuel Macron for insulting France while abroad.”

France has plenty of museums, but to this day the country does not have a single one dedicated to its colonial past. This is telling, and perhaps protest against Monsieur Macron should have been expected among the politicians (while president, Jacques Chirac once tried to make schools teach of colonialism having been positive for the Maghreb region), as well as the general population, of whom some 100 people took to the streets, shouting “Macron, treason!” Before winning the presidency himself, President Francois Hollande suggested it was time to turn the page on France’s Algerian colonial history, but he stopped short of offering the formal apology many in Algeria still want to hear because of the likely uproar it would have given rise to. By the way, France’s definition of “crimes against humanity”, which has been in its law since 2001, includes slavery, which was practiced under French rule in the French West Indies, Saint-Domingue, and Martinique amongst others.

It is clear, then, that among the front-runners, and within French society in general, very few are prepared to peel their blindness to that country’s past in the continent; a notion which can only mean that none among them are ready to be serious and appreciative of the present situation and therefore of the need for a mature revisit of the relations. For that reason, it is apparent that change in France’s problematic relations with Africa will have to come from developments in individual Francophone African countries than from the reform debate in Paris.

Bhaso Ndzendze is the Research Director at the University of Johannesburg-Nanjing Tech University Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS). His research interests include international economics, security studies, and International Relations methodology and he has taught and written on Africa-China relations, the politics of the Middle East, soft power, and the war on terror among other topics at the University of the Witwatersrand. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in the popular press including Business Day, Mail and Guardian, The Sunday Independent and The Mercury among others. His most recent publication is the Beginner’s Dictionary of Contemporary International Relations.

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

How Romania’s battles over corruption hamstrung economic progress

Published

on

When Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January, news coverage in Western Europe mostly focused on the tensions between Brussels and Bucharest over the latter’s judicial reforms. Jean-Claude Juncker publicly called Romania’s ability to fulfil its presidential duties into question; the European Commission, meanwhile, accused the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) of backsliding on corruption.

Since then, however, Romania has executed its presidential duties without a hitch, hosting European leaders for a major EU summit in Sibiu on May 10th that earned plaudits from top EU officials like Donald Tusk. In hindsight, has the overarching media narrative ignored important developments inside Romania? Does the Sibiu summit demonstrate that Romania has regained its footing as one of Europe’s most dynamic economies?

Economic growth no longer extraordinary

Romania’s economy, while still growing at an impressive rate, has slowed down from the remarkable rates the country was registering as recently as 2017— when its 7% expansion outpaced nearly all European peers. 2018 saw growth rates of 4%, while estimates point to 3.5% for 2019.

Since it joined the European Union in 2007, Romania’s per capita national output doubled to roughly 60 percent of the Eurozone average. Record lows in unemployment led to double-digit average wage growth over the last four years. But the recent downwards trend has left many wondering whether the Romanian economy will ever resume its previous rate of development.

Is the DNA’s aggressive prosecution scaring off foreign investors?

Bucharest’s economic slowdown is due to a variety of factors, from tightened global financial conditions to falling birth rates. Foreign investors, however, may also be skittish thanks to the long-running battle between Romania’s political establishment and its controversial anti-corruption agency, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). Under the leadership of agency head Laura Kövesi, the DNA undertook (by its own count) 2,396 investigations targeting Romanian magistrates between 2014 and 2018. Kövesi’s tenure saw over 1,000 figures from the country’s political and business circles convicted for corruption.

The DNA’s swathes of indictments targeting Romania’s leading political figures, with charges ranging from forgery to money laundering, have certainly played into the country’s reputation for corruption. That image has hamstrung Romania’s ability to attract foreign capital and investment, from Europe and beyond.

EU leaders, meanwhile, have heaped praise on the DNA’s stack of convictions, holding the anti-corruption agency up as a model for other European countries to emulate. Concerns have mounted, however, that the DNA is abusing its power and reverting to communist-era investigative practice.

Long lists of convictions—but at what cost?

Hiding behind the DNA’s unusually-high conviction rates were potential due process violations, including lengthy pre-trial detainment periods equivalent to imprisonment before having been sentenced by a court of law, or otherwise threatening suspects that a lack of cooperation could see their family members prosecuted. Increased scrutiny of these violations may help explain why the number of cases resulting in acquittals rose markedly, from 12.2% in 2017 to 36.3% in 2018.

Some of the DNA’s most prominent targets have drawn parallels between its behaviour and that of Romania’s Communist-era security services. Alina Bica, who formerly served as chief prosecutor for organised crime and was arrested in 2014, described her experience with the DNA as “like in the 1950s when the communists came. You get called an enemy of the state, you get put in the truck…they damage your family.” Kövesi reportedly made a personal visit to the Supreme Council of Magistrates to persuade them to sign off on Bica’s arrest, while Bica’s husband was targeted with charges of tax evasion and her lawyer was also detained.

Many of those singled out by the DNA accuse the body of pursuing political or personal vendettas. Bica, for example, claimed the charges against her stemmed from her 2012 investigation into Transgaz, where Kövesi’s brother served as a director. PSD spokespeople have suggested treasurer Mircea Drăghici, currently under investigation for embezzling party funds, is being targeted as part of the lead-up to this month’s European elections.

Troubling collaboration with the intelligence services

Recent revelations about the DNA’s investigative tactics have given new life to comparisons between today’s anti-corruption czars and the communist-era Securitate secret police. Earlier this year, Romania’s Constitutional Court ruled secret protocols between DNA prosecutors and the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the SRI, were unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court concluded that the SRI, successor to the Securitate, had signed agreements allowing the intelligence agency to circumvent the authority of prosecutors in criminal investigations, while simultaneously conducting over 20,000 wiretaps a year on behalf of the DNA—an excessive violation of privacy.

The investigation by the Constitutional Court culminated in Kövesi’s removal from her position in 2018. Kövesi herself has been indicted on charges of corruption and abuse of office, relating to allegations by Romanian businessman Sebastian Ghita that Kövesi strongarmed him into paying for the repatriation of a fugitive from Indonesia. Romanian police claim they footed the bill, but criminal proceedings are ongoing. The former prosecutor nevertheless retains many fans in Brussels. Allies in the European Parliament want to name her to the new position of EU Chief Prosecutor despite the ongoing investigation in Romania.

Increased transparency

With the steady release of DNA documents to the newly formed Special Section for the Investigation of Crimes Committed by Magistrates and the National Union of Judges in Romania, which both operate independently of the DNA, efforts to increase transparency in Romanian governance may soon move beyond the bitter political rivalries that undermined Romania’s political stability and global reputation.

While the Sibiu summit was a political success, the economy is also regaining its footing. Consumer confidence is recovering, with better prospects for future savings. Wage growth remains impressive while lending activity continues to expand. And CFA Romania, an association of investment professionals, released a report predicting Romanian economic activity will improve over the next 12 months. It seems that, despite the corruption battles of the past several years, both Romanian businesses and consumers remain optimistic about their future prospects.

Continue Reading

Europe

Any signs of a chill between France and Germany?

Published

on

The past few months have seen many signs of growing friction and divisions between the two European superpowers, Germany and France. Before the February vote on changes to the EU Third Energy Package, meant to expand the European Commission’s power to regulate Europe’s electricity and natural gas market, France opposed, until the very last moment, Germany’s position on the issue. In April, Paris and Berlin failed to agree on how much more time Britain should be given to decide on its withdrawal from the EU. During the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, France and Germany supported various candidates. Moreover, they are equally divided on who will be the new head of the European Commission. What is happening in relations between members of the “European tandem”?

During the latter half of 2018, it looked as if relations between the EU’s two powerhouses were reaching a new strategic level. In a joint statement made in Meseberg in June, Berlin and Paris outlined their shared vision of the European Union’s future development. In late August, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas simultaneously spoke out about a new role for Europe to make it “sovereign and strong.” During their informal meeting in Marseille in September, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel agreed on a coordinated response to the main challenges facing Europe and on concerted work on shaping the “agenda for Europe.”

In November, the two leaders spoke in favor of creating a “European army,” “real Pan-European armed forces” capable of defending Europe. And in January of this year, they inked a broader cooperation accord in Aachen, which commentators described as a “new big step” in bringing the two countries closer together. The Treaty of Aachen covers new areas of political cooperation, including common projects and commitments in the fields of defense and international relations.

Just a month later, however, the Franco-German rapprochement hit a snag over two strategic projects worth billions of euros, namely the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and trade relations with the United States. Here the interests of Paris and Berlin differ the most. Underscoring the seriousness of the rift, Emmanuel Macron canceled a planned trip to a security conference in Munich in what many commentators described as a “demonstrative” move. As for the issue of completing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the compromise reached by France and Germany and approved by the European Parliament, imposed on Berlin “a formula that the German government wanted to avoid.”

Regarding the issue of trade relations with the United States, it wasn’t until mid-April that Brussels collectively managed to prevail over France, which had been blocking the start of pertinent negotiations with Washington.  Any delay may cost the German automakers multi-billion dollar fines from the United States. If the French succeed in delaying the start of negotiations, Germany, which is already experiencing a sharp slowdown in economic growth, may end up the loser again.

France’s sudden move left the German media guessing whether Macron’s actions were dictated by his displeasure about Berlin’s “slow response” to his initiatives, or by Donald Trump’s threat to sanction companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including the French concern Engie. Or maybe Macron had resorted to this “show of force” in a bid to strengthen his hand amid the conflict with the “yellow jackets” and growing tensions with Italy?

Indeed, the statement made in Meseberg and the treaty signed in Aachen could have proved too much of a compromise for Macron, if not a serious blow to his ambitions. According to critics, “the Treaty of Aachen dodges the most sensitive topics characteristic of modern Europe.” Including migration and political unification of Europe – something Macron is so eager to accomplish. The treaty makes no mention of a common EU tax and financial policy, while the issue of creating a single economic space is spelled out declaratively at best. Angela Merkel essentially emasculated virtually all of Macron’s initiatives pertaining to the financial and economic reform of the EU and the Eurozone. Emmanuel Macron has been out to become one of the EU’s leaders, or even its sole leader, ever since he became president in 2017. All the more so following Britain’s exit from the bloc and amid the ebbing political authority and the planned resignation by 2021 of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once the informal leader of a united Europe.

The current political situation in France is also calling for more decisive actions by President Macron. To ensure at least a relative success in the upcoming European elections, he needs to enlist the support not only of the traditional left-and right-centrists, but possibly of some representatives of the new European right too. Whether or not Angela Merkel stands down in 2021, or after the elections to the European Parliament (as has been rumored since April), Emmanuel Macron essentially remains the only top-level proponent of greater European integration. (Unless Merkel ultimately moves to the head of the European Commission, of course). With Macron eyeing a second presidential term in 2022, the advancement of the modernization model for France depends directly on the success of the European project. And here any significant changes in the European Union “mainly depend on the position of France’s privileged partner – Germany.”

All this means that Macron needs a breakthrough now that Berlin is going through a “complicated power transit” with Merkel having resigned as the head of the CDU and preparing to hand her post as Federal Chancellor over to a successor. Therefore, she is now taking her time and, according to her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is holding out for a new vector in the development of the European project as “the common denominator of the distribution of political forces after the elections.” Does this mean that Berlin’s is staking on the success of its candidate in the ongoing struggle for the next president of the European Commission? For the first time ever, the CDU and the CSU have managed to nominate a common candidate who has “good chances” of heading the EU’s executive body.

Meanwhile, Berlin is facing an intractable dilemma. Since 1949, “avoiding by all means situations necessitating a hard choice between France and the United States has been a key principle of German foreign policy.” This approach “survived all governments and coalitions, and was maintained after the reunification of Germany.” Under the present circumstances, however, remaining firmly committed to the transatlantic relationship threatens to further destabilize the European integration project, which is now seen as being key to Germany’s future. Simultaneously, a course aimed at minimizing damage from the policy of external powers that threatens the fundamental German interests might necessitate radical and ambitious geopolitical maneuvers that would almost inevitably revive the Europeans’ and Americans’ historical fears of “German instincts.”

US and British analysts already worry that “the

[geopolitical]

shackles that are voluntarily accepted [by Germany] can be thrown off.” They also wonder how long it will take before new generations of Germans want to restore their country’ full state sovereignty.

In Germany itself, promotion of such slogans have already given the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) the third largest fraction in the Bundestag. A major paradox of the current European and German policy is that Berlin’s activity or passivity is equally detrimental to the Pan-European project and could eventually lead to the EU’s fragmentation and even disintegration.

However, the Franco-German “tandem” is already being dogged with contradictions and compromises, which are highly unpopular among many in the German establishment. The cautious response by many EU members to the latest joint geopolitical initiatives of Berlin and Paris, gave Germany more reasons to fear that Macron’s global ambitions could exacerbate the differences that already exist in the EU. Many in Germany have long suspected Macron of wishing to make the EU instrumental in his foreign policy aspirations.

Some experts still believe that at the end of the day the current chill between Germany and France may turn out to be just a sign of the traditional “propensity for taking independent political decisions.” The sides are sizing each other up to see “who will be setting the rules of the roadmap in the future.”  Also, Paris’s tougher stance towards Berlin may be a tactical ploy, a pre-election maneuver to “hijack” part of the agenda from the “national populists” of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe where many people are not happy about the German “diktat.”

Emmanuel Macron has proved once and again his ability to ride the wave of public discontent with certain issues. His Plan for Europe, published in early March, carefully avoids any mention of France’ and Germany’s leading role in advancing EU reforms.

On the other hand, the foreign policy of the leading European powers has a long history, and long-term geopolitical considerations continue to play a significant role. Germany, for one, has traditionally been looking for a counterweight to the Anglo-Saxons, while France – to German dominance in Europe. As a result, the search by Paris and Berlin for common points of political contact is now turning into intense efforts to find the “lowest common denominator.” The overall impression is that we will only be able to see a greater deal of certainty in relations between the two countries after the results of elections to the European Parliament have been summed up.  The distribution of roles both within the “European tandem” and in the EU as a whole depends on which political forces – pro-Macron or pro-Merkel, the Europeans will vote for.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading

Europe

Sino-Italian Partnership and European Concern

Mohamad Zreik

Published

on

A crucial moment in modern European history is that the European doors opened to Chinese President Xi Jinping in Italy during a reception that is like receiving kings and leaders. Once again China is moving west despite all the American warnings from the Chinese dragon coming from the East, and this time it was Italy’s accession to the One Belt One Road initiative.

The Chinese president said that his country’s relationship with Italy is excellent and that the Sino-Italian common interests are the basis for a fruitful future. The Italian prime minister said that Italy is a key partner in the Belt and Road initiative and that trade between Italy and China should increase. But all this positive atmosphere is met with dissatisfaction and fear by the United States and some Italians, which is totally opposed to dealing with China because it considers it a threat to its national security and therefore to the national security of Italy.

In order to prevent espionage or transfer of experience by the Chinese, it was agreed to establish an oversight authority. In an expression of US rejection of the agreement, White House official Garrett Marquis wrote last week on Twitter that Rome “does not need” to join the “New Silk Road”. In an effort to ease US concerns, Luigi Di Maio said before taking part in an Italian-Chinese economic forum in Rome that the relationship will not go beyond trade, as we remain allies of the United States, and remain in NATO and the European Union.

The Italian economy, which is in a recession, is pushing the Italian government to form an alliance with China. Many European policy experts consider Italy to be a Trojan horse for China in the European region, which will have political implications for the future of the EU and the future of the Italian-American relationship; especially as the Chinese giant Huawei is expected to participate in the launch of the technology “G5” mobile phones in Italy.

China’s opening up is not limited to Italy, but to Europe as a whole. In the last visit by the Chinese president to Europe, he moved from Italy to Monaco and Paris and met President Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to open up to Beijing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opposed the Sino-Italian rapprochement with signing the agreement to join the Belt and Road Initiative, so that Italy will be the first G7 country to join the initiative.

Beijing is interested in investing in Italian ports, including the port of Trieste on the Adriatic, to boost its exports to Europe. Italy seeks to balance trade with China. According to official data, trade between the two countries grew by 9.2% compared to 2016, reaching 42 billion euros. Italy managed to cut its trade deficit with China by 1.37 billion euros, increasing exports to Beijing by 22.2%, while imports rose to 28.4 billion euros, an increase of 4% compared to 2016.

But the most important issue remains the weak Italian economy, which will survive under Chinese debt, and the Sri Lankan experience proves that China is dealing with countries with economic interests. So, will the European gateway withstand the Chinese economic giant, or will it be a Chinese economic and political region in the future?

Continue Reading

Latest

Trending

Copyright © 2019 Modern Diplomacy