French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to build a better bilateral future with Algeria, announcing a joint committee to study the colonial period. The news came on the first day of his three-day visit aimed at mending ties with the former French colony months after it marked 60 years of independence.
France’s 130-year control of Algeria ended in 1962 following an eight-year struggle for independence that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Speaking in Algiers on Thursday, Macron expressed the hope that France and Algeria would be able to “look back at the past with humility” in order to establish trust and cooperation in the future.
“We have a complex, painful common past. And it has at times prevented us from looking at the future,” Macron said at a joint press conference alongside Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
“We didn’t choose the past, we inherited it. We must look at it and recognise it, but we have a responsibility to build our future for ourselves and our children.”
Tebboune welcomed the “positive dynamic” in ties between the two countries, saying there were “promising prospects for improving the special partnership that binds us”.
Macron said a joint French-Algerian commission of historians would be set up to study the archives of the colonial period, adding that the researchers would have full access.
French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died during the war, 400,000 of them Algerian. Algerian authorities maintain that as many as 1.5 million were killed.
Shortly before becoming president in 2017, Macron referred to French actions during the Algeria war as a “crime against humanity“. His comments were controversial in France but welcomed in Algeria.
But a diplomatic crisis erupted last year when Macron questioned Algeria’s existence as a nation before French occupation.
He also accused past Algerian governments of fomenting “hatred towards France” in the years following independence.
Tebboune withdrew his country’s ambassador in response and banned French military aircraft from its airspace.
Macron’s office said he “regretted” the misunderstandings caused by his comments.
His aides believe both sides have moved on, noting the resumption of normal diplomatic relations and overflights to French army bases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Stabilising the region
Algerian media said Macron’s visit – the second since he took power in 2017 – showed both countries’ desire for relations built around “a new vision based on equal treatment and balance of interests”.
The two leaders are also expected to discuss boosting Algerian gas deliveries to Europe to help fill the vast shortfall following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
European nations are seeking to end their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, giving Algeria – Africa’s biggest gas exporter with direct pipelines to Spain and Italy – renewed clout.
Macron’s office has said gas is not a major feature of the visit – although the head of French energy firm Engie, Catherine MacGregor, is in Macron’s delegation.
Macron “has chosen to direct this visit towards the future, [focusing on] start-ups, innovation, youth, new sectors,” his office said.