The decision to appoint Stéphane Séjourné (b.1985) as France’s new foreign minister is causing a stir in Morocco. The 38-year old minister is a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron and the secretary general of his Renaissance party. He has been a member of the European Parliament since July 2019 and a member of its liberal, pro-European Renew Group, which he chaired from 2021 until his latest appointment.
It is Séjourné’s role in the European Parliament that is creating waves in Morocco. It was the Renew Group that pushed for the controversial resolution published by the European Parliament in January 2023 that criticised the Kingdom in an unprecedented fashion. It went for the jugular, urging the Moroccan authorities to respect freedom of expression and media freedom and to provide fair trials for imprisoned journalists. The resolution also expressed ‘serious concerns’ over allegations that the Moroccan authorities were involved in bribing MEPs to buy influence (Morocco Focus, January 2023). Séjourné was chair of the Renew Group when this report came out and created a major crisis in relations between Morocco and the European Parliament.
Séjourné has also been instrumental in trying to obtain the full details to find the underlying cause of the Pegasus scandal in which Rabat was accused of using the Israeli spyware to gather intelligence, not only on Moroccan journalists and activists, but also on European politicians. President Macron’s telephone is said to have been among those targeted for potential surveillance.
France’s new foreign minister is therefore regarded in Morocco as someone who is working against the Kingdom’s interests.
The domestic media was therefore quick to pick up on the news and there was an outpouring of condemnations at the appointment. It accused Séjourné of spearheading a campaign against Morocco, of ‘leading a gang’ in the European Parliament determined to tarnish the country’s image, and of being an ‘enemy’ of the kingdom.
Lahcen Haddad — a former tourism minister and head of the Moroccan-European Friendship Committee in the Moroccan Parliament — also criticised the appointment, describing Séjourné as one of the architects of Strasbourg’s anti-Moroccan decisions. When the January 2023 resolution was published, Haddad blamed the French ‘deep state’ for being behind it.
Some of the commentary went further and claimed that Séjourné’s appointment was rooted in Paris’ desire to symbolically ‘take down’ Morocco because it was the only country that could pose a serious threat to France’s regional interests.
Questions about Franco-Moroccan ties
Séjourné’s appointment therefore does not bode well for the future of bilateral ties which have long been strained. Rabat remains endlessly frustrated at Paris’ unwillingness to back its claims of sovereignty over the Western Sahara; while France’s September 2021 decision to reduce the number of visas that it issues to Moroccans caused significant upset.
Relations had begun to improve but then deteriorated in the aftermath of the September 2023 earthquake. Rabat’s decision to refuse Paris’ offer of aid led to a furore that involved Macron making an appeal directly to the Moroccan people via social media. This angering the Moroccan authorities and triggering accusations that he had gone over the head of the King (Morocco Focus, September 2023).
With relations already strained, Séjourné’s appointment is likely to complicate rather than help bilateral ties get back on a more even footing.This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.
The January 2024 issue of Morocco Focus also includes the following:
- Stéphane Séjourné’s appointment rings alarm bells in Rabat…
- Anti-normalisation calls get stronger
- Fears of a ‘year of strikes’…
- A new crisis hits the PAM…
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