In Hénin-Beaumont (northern France), the stronghold of the Rassemblement National (RN), on June 10, 2024, during the European elections.

The stage is set for a showdown. Between Algeria and the Rassemblement National (RN, far right), on the threshold of power, it’s like a badly-healed wound that’s being rekindled, a return to a poisonous memory. How can we imagine the bilateral relationship emerging unscathed from the RN’s possible coming to power? That it would be spared the aims of a party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was a “para” in the battle of Algiers (1957), who was also implicated in torture and who recycled a number of former OAS (Organization of the Secret Army, a paramilitary terrorist organization during the Algerian war, opposed to Algeria’s independence from France) cadres within its ranks? Such “French Algeria” DNA, which today makes the movement over-represented in southern French towns with a high concentration of pieds-noirs (French people born in Algeria during the period of French rule), will inevitably weigh heavily on the relationship between Paris and Algiers in the event of a Bardella government.

“An RN government will poison relations with Algeria,” said Madjid Benchikh, former dean of the Algiers law faculty. “The deterioration will be lasting because the rise of the far right in Europe is a groundswell.” For the time being, the official Algerian press is adopting a cautious approach in its coverage of the French election sequence. Although it is too early to be publicly alarmed, concern is growing, as illustrated by the position taken by Chems-Eddine Hafiz, rector of the Grande Mosquée de Paris close to the Algerian government, calling for “indignation” in the face of “the RN temptation.”

From the outset, the migration issue would be a priority for RN power vis-à-vis Algeria. The leaders of the far-right party make no secret of the fact. “I think it’s better to tackle these issues from the outset,” said Marine Le Pen in April 2022 during her campaign for the presidential election. The main “issue” is Algeria’s alleged unwillingness to readmit its nationals subject to an obligation to leave French territory (OQTF). The RN is promising a showdown on this issue, making the granting of visas for France conditional on full cooperation from Algiers in issuing the consular documents required for these returns.

Exemption in question

To this end, Le Pen’s party is planning to play a card to better force Algiers’ reluctance: the RN wants to call into question the 1968 French-Algerian Agreement, which grants Algerians an exemption to common foreign law in terms of movement, residence and employment on French soil. This idea was the brainchild of diplomat Xavier Driencourt, who returned from his two terms as ambassador to Algiers (2008-2012, 2017-2022) with the conviction that Paris had been too “naïve” in its dealings with Algerian leaders who, in his view, “only understand power relations.”

Since retiring in 2022, Driencourt has met Le Pen once and Jordan Bardella twice and, although he firmly denies being their “adviser” on Algeria, his name is circulating as a possible future foreign minister of an RN government. “I haven’t been offered anything yet,” said Driencourt. “And if that were to be the case, there’s a 99% chance I’d turn it down because I’m not a politician,” he said while leaving the remaining 1% in doubt.

Be that as it may, his idea of “condemning” the 1968 migration agreement has taken hold. It has been taken up by former prime minister Edouard Philippe – who disagrees on this point with President Emmanuel Macron, who favors the status quo – and of course by an RN delighted to discover the existence of this asset hitherto forgotten in the archives. “We’re going to review the 1968 agreement,” Sébastien Chenu, vice-president of the far-right party, told BFM-TV on Thursday, June 27. On June 10, he announced its outright “abrogation,” a nuance of language which suggests that the RN’s project is not yet very clear on the extent to which it will be called into question.

Rejection of ‘repentance’

The second issue that promises to strain bilateral relations in the scenario of a Bardella government is that of memory. In the name of its rejection of “repentance,” the RN has consistently rejected any effort of appeasement regarding the remembrance of the Algerian war, first sketched out by the left, then amplified by Macron. In 2012, Le Pen criticized François Hollande’s decision after his election to the presidency to “recognize” with “lucidity” the “bloody repression” of the October 17, 1961 pro-FLN (National Liberation Front) protest in Paris, which claimed the lives of dozens of Algerians, some of whom were drowned in the Seine, as a “profoundly destructive, profoundly divisive gesture for French society.”

The far-right party has made numerous statements of this kind. On January 20, 2021, when historian Benjamin Stora submitted his report to Macron on the reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria, Louis Alliot, RN mayor of Perpignan, said: “Shameful! Has Macron decided, through the Trotskyite Stora, to declare a memorial war on French families sorely tried by the atrocities of the FLN and their suitcase carriers [French militants who helped Algerian nationalists]?”

“It’s indisputable that there were positive aspects to colonization,” said MEP Nicolas Bay, then with the RN – he has since joined Reconquête!, another far-right party –, adding that in his view, the Stora report “will appear for the umpteenth time as a sign of weakness” and will be received “loud and clear” by those “who express hatred of our country.” More recently, during a debate in the French Assemblée Nationale on March 28 on the repression of the October 17, 1961 protest, Franck Giletti, RN MP for the Var region, lashed out at Macron, who, in his view, “has never stopped kneeling before the Algerian government” and who “is working to humiliate his country through continuous repentances that have become unbearable.”

Under these conditions, it’s hard to see what could be left of the French head of state’s attempt at memorial reconciliation, unless he decides to turn it into a combat issue in a troubled coalition. As the implementation of the Stora report’s recommendations would, by their very nature, require the cooperation of various administrations (Ministries of Culture and Education, Defense), an RN government would inevitably block any initiative. The future of the French-Algerian Commission of historians, which is working on the digital sharing of archives and the restitution to Algeria of property belonging to Emir Abdelkader (1808-1883), would be openly threatened.

Inevitable confrontation over Morocco

Finally, the third foreseeable bone of contention with Algiers is Morocco, a country which Le Pen declared in 2022 to be “dear” to France, while Algeria is not entitled to such a description. In the event of Bardella becoming prime minister, if he were to recognize the “Moroccanness” of the Western Sahara, a position expressed for years by Thierry Mariani, the MEP invested by the RN, as well as, more recently, Eric Ciotti, a new partner of the far-right party, confrontation with Algeria would be inevitable.

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This potential triple rift – migratory, memorial and diplomatic – would plunge the relationship between Paris and Algiers into the throes of a new crisis. But would it last? On both sides, pragmatism – dictated by intertwined human, economic and geopolitical interests – could well end up taking precedence over ideological posturing. For its part, Algeria has shown that it can very well live with a partner beyond the Mediterranean that comes from the populist and xenophobic far right, as illustrated by the excellence of its relationship with Georgia Meloni’s Italy.

The history of bilateral relations also shows that Algiers has often preferred to work with an uninhibited right wing – such as Charles Pasqua when he was interior minister (1986-1988, 1993-1995) – rather than with socialists vacillating between human rights and realpolitik. “Paradoxically, a far-right government in Paris might be easier to manage from Algiers’ point of view as things would be clearer and more open,” said a French diplomatic source. This, in any case, is the gamble taken by Le Pen who declared during the 2022 presidential campaign: “Once elected, I will adopt a discourse that is uncomplicated, clear and understandable for Algeria. I think our two countries have everything to gain from it.”

Translation of an original article published in French on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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