European Affairs

Is North Africa Stuck with Europe?     Print Email
Roger Levy

A Comparative Political Economy of Tunisia and Morocco: On the Outside of Europe Looking In
By Gregory White

Reviewed by Roger Levy 


In the early 1970s, Tunisia started dismantling the protectionist measures it had implemented after it gained independence from France in 1956. President Habib Bourguiba opened his country's economy to its powerful neighbors on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Morocco followed suit a dozen years later.

The cross-Mediterranean linkages quickly tightened to a point that, White argues, may be hazardous to the further economic development of North Africa. Referring to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, he remarks in a tongue in cheek way that "The Maghrib may have put all its eggs in a cart hitched to a powerful and unpredictable horse."

The author, a professor of government at Smith College, proceeds to analyze very exhaustively the reasons behind Tunisia's total engagement and Morocco's tardier and somewhat more diffident reliance on commercial ties with Europe. He discusses the repercussions of Algeria's on-going civil war on the other two North African nations. His decision not to provide for Algeria the depth of coverage he bestows on the other two Maghribi countries is reasonable considering the turmoil in Algeria.

"The Maghribi countries are better seen not as entities separate from Western Europe, but rather as part of the Mediterranean political economy and, therefore, as part of a subsystem in an economic space dominated by Europe," White writes. Nevertheless, he advocates that North African countries should more actively pursue economic alliances with other regions.

The links between Tunisia and Morocco and the European Union have been formalized in a succession of Association, Cooperation and Partnership Agreements. None of these, however, prevent Tunis and Rabat from seeking bilateral accords with other entities besides Europe.

New links with other regions, however, may never measure up to the old ties between France, Italy and Spain, the former colonial powers in North Africa, and the Maghrib. For that reason, it is doubtful that the other choices suggested by White, i.e. Central and Eastern Europe, the Machreq [Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria] and North America, could counterbalance the preeminence of the EU in relations with Tunisia and Morocco.

So, if Tunisia and Morocco are stuck with Europe, how advantageous for the two former French protectorates has been their intimate association with Europe up to now, and how productive will it be in the future?

If we are to believe White, the Maghribi countries have not fared well. In particular, the author emphasizes the drastic consequences for both countries of Europe's moves to protect its agriculture. The citrus fruit, olive oil, tomatoes and other vegetables, which could be exported without restrictions to France before Moroccan and Tunisian independence, now have only very limited access to the European Union.

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy has depressed agricultural employment in North Africa and has deprived Tunisia and Morocco of scarce export revenues. Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, tourism contributed to both countries' balances of payments and provided numerous jobs, but White sees it exclusively as a cause of environmental degradation.

The successive accords between the EU and the Maghribi countries have encouraged the development of industries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and White concedes that "a certain degree of success has been achieved in increasing industrial exports to Europe." Unfortunately, he does not elaborate.

The leading industrial sectors in both countries are textiles and apparel, which account for close to 40 percent of Morocco's industrial exports and for more than 50 percent of Tunisia's. These industries, however, will face a major challenge in 2005, when the Multi Fiber Arrangement (MFA) expires.

The MFA has for many years curbed apparel exports from the lowest-cost producers. After it ends, countries with lower labor costs, such as China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, may §ood Europe with their goods at the expense of products from the Maghrib.

Morocco and Tunisia should join forces with Egypt and Turkey to lobby Brussels for aid under the European Union's Mediterranean Development Assistance (MEDA) program to upgrade their facilities and train their personnel, and seek preferential treatment for the fabrics and clothing they ship to Europe.

Close ties between the European Union and the 12 non-member Mediterranean countries that signed the Barcelona Declaration, which launched the European Union's Mediterranean policy in November 1995, could make all the difference for the preservation of the textile and apparel industry in the non-member Mediterranean countries.

Unfortunately, even though its copyright date is 2001, this book is far from up-to-date. There is no reference, for example, to the succession to the throne of Mohammed VI in Rabat, or to Phase Two of the MEDA program. There is no discussion of how the economies of Tunisia and Morocco are likely to be affected by the forthcoming enlargement of the European Union to include countries from Central and Eastern Europe, together with Malta and Cyprus.

On the bright side, readers with a keen interest in the topic will delight in the approximately 550 footnotes and will find the 25-page bibliography a superb source of additional works, in English and in French.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number I in the Winter of 2002.

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