French and Algerian prime ministers have declared a wish to “deepen” their countries’ ties as Paris seeks to repair relations with its former colony and major gas exporter.
Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane personally welcomed French Premier Elisabeth Borne’s delegation on Sunday, before a top-level meeting mainly addressing economic cooperation.
French and Algerian ministers present signed around a dozen texts including “declarations of intent” on employment, industrial cooperation and tourism.
“This is a step to build even deeper cooperation between France and Algeria,” Borne told reporters afterwards.
Borne’s two-day trip to the North African country comes just six weeks after President Emmanuel Macron concluded his own three-day visit as part of a rapprochement drive.
Ties between the North African country and its former colonial ruler had deteriorated after Macron last year questioned Algeria’s existence as a nation before the French occupation, and accused the government of fomenting “hatred towards France”.
But the contentious subject of the two countries’ history, particularly during the war, were not set to feature prominently on Borne’s agenda.
Borne and her cohort are the latest in a string of top European officials to visit Algeria, Africa’s top natural gas exporter, as officials search out alternatives to Russian energy supplies since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Ahead of her trip, Borne’s office said deliveries of natural gas to France were “not on the table”.
Instead, the visit would focus on “education, culture, the ecological transition and the economy”, she told news website Tout Sur l’Algerie (TSA).
She is set to meet with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Monday.
Elisabeth Borne said the three pillars of the “strengthened” partnership with Algeria were the economy – pointing to the desire to “develop trade, innovation and create jobs” – mobility and visas, with a focus on greater educational and cultural cooperation for youth.
During Macron’s visit this summer, Algerian entrepreneurs had quizzed him on the difficulties of getting visas to France after their numbers fell significantly in autumn 2021.
On Sunday, Macron and his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune spoke on the phone and confirmed their “satisfaction with the positive direction” of ties, Algiers said.
Earlier in the day, Borne had laid a wreath at a monument to martyrs of Algeria’s eight-year war for independence, and visited a cemetery for French nationals who lived in Algeria during France’s 132-year rule, which ended in 1962.
The two countries have agreed to create a joint commission of historians to examine the colonial period, including the war.
Borne on Sunday said both sides were still working on the make-up of the commission.
Benabderrahmane underlined the “importance of continuing joint work”, through this commission and “the establishment of mixed working groups concerned with issues of memory”.
Macron has ruled out a state apology for acts committed during the colonial period.
Gas supplies to Europe
Macron and Borne have both underplayed the role gas supplies play as Paris attempts to repair ties with Algiers.
In her interview with TSA, Borne noted France does not depend heavily on natural gas.
But she said Paris wanted to develop joint projects in the sector with Algeria “to increase the efficiency of its gas production capacity, which will increase its export capacity to Europe”.
Algeria’s Sonatrach signed a $4 billion oil and gas production deal with Italian, French and US majors in July, but experts have cast doubt over Algeria’s ability to ramp up capacity in the short term.
The European Union’s energy commissioner, Kadri Simson, is also expected in Algiers on Monday and Tuesday.