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Eurafrica and De Gaulle's Constantine Plan – Algeria and the European Communities 1958-1962

Posted on 30 July 2013


During her research stay at the Historical Archives of the European Union Muriam Haleh Davis spoke about her doctoral thesis tentatively entitled “Producing Eurafrica: Development, Agriculture and Race in Algeria, 1958 – 1965”.  Ms Davis is a doctoral candidate in History at the New York University and an associated researcher at the ‘Institut d'histoire du temps présent’ in Paris, France.


What are Eurafrica and the Constantine Plan?

The notion of EURAFRICA first emerged in the 1920s - it was a way of thinking about Europe and Africa as a common cultural unit. Even though the term itself dates from the 1920s, it echoes ideas about the marriage of the Orient and the Occident that had been circulating since the 19th century in France.

During the Cold War this became a really important strategic concept. The French saw it as a way to keep Algeria out of Communist or extremist hands. So there was a rebirth of the concept and it became increasingly central in economic and political debates.

Algeria, which was not technically a French colony but represented three French Departments, was quite logically the central element of this Eurafrica given its geographical and legal positioning.

Once the Algerian war started in 1954, the French worried about how to keep Algeria in this Eurafrican space. In 1958 French President de Gaulle launched the Constantine Plan, which was a way to develop Algeria economically with massive investments coming from the metropole. The ultimate goal was to keep Algeria in an Eurafrican configuration in one form or another - even though it was clear early on that the result might not be a French Algeria but some form of association or economic integration between the two territories.


What was the link between Algeria and the establishment of the European Communities?

Algeria was remote if you see the Mediterranean as a barrier. In that period the Mediterranean was seen much more as a link. Also Algeria was settlers’ colony with one million Europeans – some of whom had been living there for generations.

So psychologically Algeria was very close to the metropole. And there was enormous amount of exchange between France and Algeria both in terms of military service, immigration, and forms of expertise.

Because Algeria was technically French, Algeria was included in the Treaty of Rome. This became awkward for the French later, particularly as decolonization began. The Common Market was put into place in 1958, which was the same year as the unveiling of the Constantine Plan. Part of the strategy of developing Algeria was to make it competitive in this new economic space. This was a late realisation that the colonial pact of protection and of subsidizing certain industries for the settlers was not going to be viable if Algeria was going to be included in this open and liberal economic circuit.


What was the specific role of France?

France made its participation in the negotiations regarding the Common Market dependent on the fact that its colonial interests would be accounted for. In terms of Algeria, Article 227 of the Treaty of Rome meant that while the territory was a member of the Community of Six, it was only subjected to certain clauses of the Treaty of Rome. The questions around migrant workers or social welfare continued to be debated, for example. But during the negotiations for the Treaty of Rome and the establishment of the European Economic Community, France was adamant that their old colonial possessions be included.


How did the decolonisation change perspectives and realities?

Decolonisation was tricky for France because it was caught between the histories of decolonisation and European integration. It was particularly caught between the commitments it had made to Algeria in the Evian Accords, which were the negotiations that gave Algeria independence and outlined a certain form of preferential treatment for Algeria, and the new multilateral negotiations such as the GATT, which were against protectionism and trade barriers.

After 1962 the notions of association and integration gave rise to cooperation. France sent an enormous amount of young cadres to Algeria to occupy various posts. This was logical in that when the European population left there was a lack of qualified individuals to teach, run the farms etc. In short, Algerians needed technical training in order to run their own State.

The shift from integration to cooperation was often supported by the Algerian regime itself despite the Third World rhetoric. The country had real logistical problems to deal with and while leaders such as Ben Bella maintained a discourse of resistance and revolution, the regime was keen to continue negotiations with the EEC and to have French experts helping to build the new Nation State.

So there are certainly some ideological ambiguities around decolonisation.


What was the framework for the European Communities’ development cooperation with Algeria?

When the Convention of Lomé was signed it was necessary to make new arrangements for association under the Treaty of Rome for the former overseas territories. At a certain point when discussing tariffs for import each country did that with Algeria specifically. While France was always the privileged interlocutor and market for Algerian exports there were specific relationships with the various countries. The Italian government was less keen of having Algerian olive oil or wine coming to Europe because they had their own interest in exporting these particular products.

The relationship between Algeria and the European Communities changed clearly when after 1971 Algeria nationalised oil. Just seven years prior to this the French government effectively banned wine imports under political pressure from wine growers in the metropole. These were the main export materials that until then had cemented the economic relationship between Algeria and France. The 1970s – which represented a more clear economic separation between Algeria and France under the Algerian president Boumediene - was the after-life of development cooperation.

This break was especially notable since in the 1960s a number of French economists were very much involved in the decolonisation and advised the independent Algerian Nation State. People like François Perroux and René Dumont were active in the framework of policy development and in reflections about a transnational economic space. That became the framework of development. It was no longer a French-Algerian frame but a more regional configuration. This made sense because the costs of the Algerian war were enormous and France was ultimately looking to see how these costs could be reframed through European responsibility rather than being completely weighted on France.


What is the legacy of the Eurafrica, the Constantine Plan and European-Algerian development cooperation?

My dissertation focuses on the continuities between the colonial and post-colonial periods. And there were a wide range of similarities regarding the conceptions and practices of development, even in terms of modernising agriculture, for example. Moreover, many of the same bodies that were created under the Constantine Plan continued to function after 1962.

That is a historian’s take; I would say that in popular consciousness, while talking to people in Algeria, the fact that the Constantine Plan was not just a colonial attempt that ended in 1962 is quite revolutionary. The continuities I just spoke of – including the fact that there were also many individuals from the colonial government who served as experts in the post-colonial period – often seems antithetical to the strong nationalist consciousness that exists in Algeria. Those are the kinds of historical moments of discomfort that I am interested in besides the economic histories of the European Communities and Algeria, which are also of interest.

In 2007, the French President Sarkozy re-appropriated the term Eurafrica, which prompted many heated debates. The term had been largely laid to rest after the 1970s - even though there were various initiatives regarding Mediterranean cooperation, in terms of economy and immigration. His very bombastic use of Eurafrica was seen with a lot of scepticism. This is only natural in that while Eurafrica is a colonial concept, the term did indicate a hope of improving the lives of certain people in the 1950s and 1960s – however problematic this vision was. Personally I am doubtful that Sarkozy’s appropriation of this concept was really a genuine attempt to rethink the colonial legacy. It did, however, bring back the Eurafrica term in the limelight of political debate.

In the past years there have been many hopes regarding closer ties between Algeria and the European Union, - whether in terms of migration, business opportunities or in military interventions such as during the Mali crisis. Algeria might not have been the most enthusiastic but it has certainly been an active partner with the European Union. Now, given the political crisis in Algeria around the succession of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika it is difficult to make predictions for Algeria’s future, but I don’t see any reason to predict a dramatic change in course.