At a time when the European Union and the United States are anxious to promote political and economic reform in the Arab world, they should not overlook the Maghreb. The EU cannot ignore the political, social, and security challenges that confront this huge swathe of northern Africa, and the US cannot afford to neglect this region in its global fight against terrorism. New and bold – yet pragmatic – initiatives are therefore needed that combine the efforts of local actors and external actors.
The overall situation in the region is far from satisfactory. Algeria’s economy is massively dependent on oil and gas exports, Morocco’s is largely based on agricultural production (on which the weather has a huge impact) and remittances from expatriates, while Tunisia depends on European consumer demand and tourism.
Education and labor policies in all Maghreb countries are under constant pressure from increasingly youthful populations. In addition, the controversy over who should rule Western Sahara remains an obstacle to full normalisation of Algerian-Moroccan relations.
The EU is the region’s most important partner, accounting for over two-thirds of its external trade. Intense bilateral exchanges between states north and south of the Western Mediterranean have accompanied the “Barcelona process,” which created a comprehensive dialogue between the Union and its Mediterranean neighbors, including association agreements. Finally, a political forum for debate called the 5 + 5 Group periodically brings together representatives from Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, and Tunisia. For its part, the US has sponsored a number of specific actions to promote democracy and good governance in the region.