French elections could have profound consequences for Algeria

Algeria

Published on Tuesday 2 July 2024 Back to articles

Xavier Driencourt — France’s 2008-2012 and 2017-2020 ambassador to Algeria — could be the RN’s choice of foreign minister

As Algeria Politics & Security – 18.06.24 explained, in the context of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s meeting with President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit in Italy, Algeria is extremely worried about the implications of Macron’s sudden and unexpected call for parliamentary elections on 30 June and 7 July. If, as has been anticipated over the last couple of weeks, the extreme right wins a clear majority and takes control of the government, the consequences are likely to be profound.

In the first round on 30 June the Rassemblement National (RN) achieved a stunning victory taking 34% of the vote, followed by the left -wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) coalition coming second with 27.9%, and Macron’s centrist Ensemble pour la République trailing in third with 20.7% of the vote.

Although these results were broadly in line with predictions, this does not mean that the RN will win the necessary 289 seats in the 577-seat Assemblée Nationale to form a majority government. So far only 76 MPs have been elected outright, with the remaining 501 seats still to be contested in the run-off second round of voting on 7 July. In France’s complicated electoral system: to win a seat a candidate must obtain more than 50% of ballots cast representing at least 25% of registered voters. If this is not obtained in in the first round, the two highest scorers plus anyone else who collected at least 12.5% of the total registered voters advance to a second round when the candidate who obtains the most votes is elected.

This week the NFP and Ensemble will seek to block the RN from winning the majority of the remaining 501 seats. They are negotiating agreements so that the candidate with the least number of votes in the first round withdraws and encourages their supporters to vote for the other party which will then have the best chance to beating the RN. The parties involved in the second round have to say which candidates are standing or withdrawing by tonight. 

This strategy is not simple or straightforward but, if it is successful on 7 July, the NFP and Ensemble may be able to prevent an overall RN majority, however, this will depend on their supporters being willing to support the other party and this is by no means certain. The financial markets currently believe that RN will not obtain an outright majority in which case there will be a hung parliament. Nevertheless, while that will bring some comfort to Algiers, it is not a recipe for stability. 

On the other hand, if the markets are wrong and RN secures a majority, it could open the door to almost three years of power-sharing or ‘cohabitation.’ Macron would continue to run the state and foreign policy, at least until the 2027 presidential election, while the extreme right would run the government and domestic policies including immigration. The last time this happened was in 1997-2002 when socialist Lionel Jospin was prime minister under centre-right President Jacques Chirac. 

As far as the Constitution goes, cohabitation leaves domestic policy in the hands of the prime minister and while the president retains responsibility for foreign and defence policy. This is unlikely to be of much comfort to Algiers, because the far-right will almost certainly push its racist and anti-Algerian agenda including on the 1968 Franco-Algerian agreement, and the Western Sahara dispute. These would normally be considered as foreign policy but RN has little respect or regard for normalcy.

Xavier Driencourt — France’s 2008-2012 and 2017-2020 ambassador to Algeria — is cited by the French media as a likely future minister of foreign affairs if RN win a clear majority on 7 July. Writing in Le Figaro on 28 June, he discussed what bilateral relations might be like in such a scenario. 

In addition to denouncing the 1968 Franco-Algerian Agreement on immigration (Algeria Politics & Security – 18.06.24), he said that the RN had stated in its electoral promises that it would: end the land law for the acquisition of French nationality; end the regularisation of undocumented immigrants; undertake mass expulsions of foreigners in irregular situations; and issue fewer visas for certain countries. Attempts by an RN government to abolish or radically change the 1968 agreement will cause serious ructions with Algiers and acts of violence cannot be ruled out.

Driencourt also suggested that an RN government could change France’s position on the conflict in Western Sahara in line with Morocco’s expectations.

The RN will also call into question the latest achievements and the recent bilateral progress such as: the return of items belonging to Emir Abdelkader; and compensation for victims of France’s nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara. 

In his article Driencourt warned ‘that the worst unknown for Algiers would obviously be power in the hands of the RN and Jordan Bardella, its leader, as Prime Minister. ‘That’, he said, ‘would be a leap into the unknown for the Algerian system: unknown young interlocutors, having never exercised power, ignorant of Algeria and its rules as well as its system, reputed to be close to the pieds-noirs and having never made the usual trip to Algiers prior to all French elections.’ 

Driencourt emphasised that ‘the dissolution of the National Assembly in France would reshuffle the cards in the Maghreb and have repercussions not only in France but also on the other side of the Mediterranean’

The Macron-Tebboune meetings at the G7 summit were intended to reassure Algeria that everything should continue as before with possible cohabitation in France. But it is clear that, if the RN does come to power on 7 July, it will be a long and very difficult time for the Algerian regime.

The RN is likely to take a leaf out of Algiers’ playbook. Since 2016, following amendments to its Constitution, Algeria has excluded dual Franco-Algerians nationals from strategic posts. It is also impossible for a person born Algerian to renounce their nationality. The RN also wants to rule out dual nationals from certain functions and, ironically, many well-informed observers in France claim that it was inspired by Algeria’s restrictive laws to limit the political rights of dual nationals. This has led to increasing protests in the diaspora. In 2020 a new constitutional amendment further tightened the 2016 amendments, restricting dual nationals from certain functions and jobs ‘linked to national sovereignty and security.’ In 2023, after the repression of the Hirak, this exclusion was widened to include the press. For example, although a dual national can play for the national football team, they cannot be a shareholder in a media company. The RN is likely to impose exactly the same restrictions, and possibly even more harsh ones, in France.

This excerpt is taken from our Algeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact info@menas.co.uk for subscription details.

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