Europeanization and the Algerian Question with Dr. Megan Brown

The French History Podcast
The French History Podcast
Europeanization and the Algerian Question with Dr. Megan Brown
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Gary: Today’s special episode is an interview with Dr. Megan Brown. Brown received her Ph.D. from City University of New York, and she currently teaches modern French history at Swarthmore College. The following interview discusses her new book, The Seventh Member State: Algeria, France and the European Community, published by Harvard University Press. The book explores a very unique legal paradox that occurred between the 1950s to 1970s, when the economic agreements that served as the precursors to the European Union were forming. The French state legally claimed Algeria was a part of France, not a colony, but just as much France as Provence or Aquitaine. When Algeria won its independence from France, this led to a serious dilemma, as France and five other European member states signed a number of economic treaties which included Algeria. What followed was a legal battle as Europeans debated whether Algeria could be part of this pan-European project. This incredible little known story speaks to the heart of two very important phenomena occurring in Europe at the time decolonization and Europeanization. While the concept of a united Europe grew and took root in more countries, individual European countries were then shrinking as they lost their colonies. It’s a remarkable story, and none can tell it better than Dr. Brown.

Thank you so much for joining me, Dr. Megan Brown, to discuss your book, The Seventh Member State: Algeria, France and the European Community. Your book presents a remarkable phenomenon that occurred due to the convergence of two historical trends, internationalism and decolonization. Let’s deal with the first. When France and five other European countries founded the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community, how did Algeria fit into these trade unions?

Megan: Thank you so much for having me on today. I’m really excited to be speaking with you about my book. When we think about Algeria’s place in these European post-war institutions, it’s important to first think about Algeria’s very distinct status in relation to France. It’s a very long history. France first invaded and began to occupy parts of Algeria in 1830, and that was a colonial and imperial connection that lasted until Algeria’s independence in July of 1962. For much of that history, France administered not all, but quite a bit of Algeria specifically than the northern portions that border the Mediterranean Sea, as departments of France and departments of France is not the same as saying a US state, but it is the sort of French continental way of administering their own national territory. So what that meant is that Algeria’s land, but typically not its indigenous population, was treated as legally a part of France, not as a colony. So that meant that when France negotiated with the five other European countries to found first the coal and steel community and then the European Economic Community, it was a France that included Algeria as within its borders in a way that was different than how French officials in Paris thought about, say, Senegal or Indo-China. So when France approached these negotiations, they were thinking about how France would fit into these European institutions, but they were also thinking about themselves still as an imperial power with holdings on both sides of the Mediterranean. Algeria is not at this time France’s only overseas department. But because of the war for independence that began in 1954, it was the one that in some ways most concerned these authorities who were negotiating again for these institutions. But they were also looking at Algeria and thinking, how are we going to preserve this space? So what I argue in the book is that as the Algerian war began to look more like a crisis for French leaders, they began to see European institutions as a site for waging a war against Algerian anti-imperial nationalists. So this was a shift because when it came to the coal and steel community. Algeria actually did not figure into that treaty at all. But when it came to the EEC, the European Economic Community, French officials were insistent that the treaty extend to Algeria.

Gary: Thank you so much for clearing that up. I definitely needed a little help with some of the technical legalese as this is a very complex situation that you describe. Moving on, you argue that a major component of French policy was an ideology of Eurafrica. Can you explain what this was and why it was so important in French history?

Megan: Sure. And, you know, first, I’ll just say that European integration history is really complicated. Like the French, European integration is love acronyms. So it’s not only complicated in terms of so many treaties, so many acronyms, but it’s until recent years, I would say even with Brexit, it’s not something that a lot of people, particularly in the U.S., have been paying much attention to. So it makes sense to be a little, to feel maybe a little lost in the weeds. But I think in an exciting way, as more and more people are starting to ask what these institutions were and what they are.

Gary: Well, at least I’m not alone.

Megan: Definitely not. But to your question about this ideology of Eurafrica,  Eurafrica was a geopolitical ideology that dates really to the interwar period, but has its roots even earlier than that. But essentially, it was this vision held certainly in the interwar by Europeans, I want to emphasize not by African thinkers in this time, but it envisioned Europe and Africa as a single geopolitical entity or even as a fused continent where the Mediterranean becomes a sort of interior lake almost to this larger continent. In the interwar, thinkers were envisioning Europe leading, controlling Africa. So in some ways it’s very common imperial rhetoric of the time, the difference being that rather than presenting this as this European nation is ruling over this African territory. Rather it was the idea that European peace could be built by a sharing of African territory, so still a deeply imperialist vision. But adding to it, this sort of internationalist dream of a peaceful Europe, which after World War One makes quite a bit of sense. After World War Two, really strikingly, the term Eurafrica did not fall out of fashion, even though it had quite a deep connection to some fascist thinkers and Nazi sympathizers and Germans themselves from the interwar period. The term remained, but thinkers began to emphasize that this could be a type of brotherhood or partnership between Europeans and Africans. So now they would be brothers in this process of peace and unity rather than Europe wholly taking the lead. That being said, although, you know, racism in its most overt ways, in some ways became, fell out of fashion in Europe after World War Two with Nazism, it still at this time was not at all an ideology that truly pictured African people taking an active and equal role in their own lives in comparison to European control. So really, in both of its guises, the inter-war and then very much in the post-war, it was a way of presenting and sort of preserving a world in which Europe was highly relevant and powerful. And after World War Two and with the rise of the Cold War, this became a very important for European leaders, especially the European states that were founding the European Economic Community. And those states, they’re known together as the six that’s France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and West Germany. They see it as a way to be sure that they will not be subsumed by a larger US USSR conflict. The French leveraged their own version of it, in which their empire was really the key to this ideology and the key then to European peace and to preserving this European wide power in the world after World War Two.

Gary: So one of the major points of your book is how France had a very unique role in the European community. How did France’s role in these European economic institutions differ from the rest of Europe?

Megan: It’s a great question. Some really important work has been done, particularly looking at the interwar period, but also after World War Two, to emphasize in terms of Eurafrica, how this was a pan-European vision, how this was something that would support goals for multiple European states. But France had a role in terms of wanting to preserve their empire that made its position in European unity building. Very peculiar in some ways. And they came to the table for these European negotiations with very particular goals in mind regarding their place as an imperial power. But they also came to the negotiating table knowing that they had an incredible amount of power to wield in terms of European integration. When we look at the history of European integration after World War Two, there’s a sort of celebratory history that really emphasizes European integration as being the key to European peace after World War Two. So symbolically, the most important states to be joining together for integrated Europe were France, along with West Germany. The idea being that if these two countries could shake hands, then truly there could be a signal for peace. And so symbolically, right, the European Coal and Steel Community is binding together and symbolically, but also literally the war industries of Europe. Right. So if they’re together in this trade institution, they cannot war with each other. There will be peace in Europe. France really flexed its muscle in these early integration years, showing that without French support, European integration or European institutions would fail. So the big example of this is the failure of the European Defense Community. The treaty was signed by the six in 1952, but then it was meant to go to the individual states for ratification. The French National Assembly refused to ratify it and so it failed. There is no European Defense Community and then there never was. The French reasoning behind this was a really fascinating mixture of concern about rearming West Germany in 1952 is quite fresh off the heels of the end of World War Two. And so there’s still quite a bit of disdain and distrust of West Germany. But it also had an imperial edge because French authorities feared that were there a European army, the French would have to divert too many of their troops from the war that they were at the time waging in Indo-China, and also divert troops from quelling uprisings in places like Madagascar. So when the French refused to ratify the EDC treaty, they in effect showed that without French support, European institutions would fail to get off the ground. And strikingly, like I said, West Germany is the other big player here. But West German authorities were pretty eager to show their support of the French as a way to kind of normalize their position once again in this Western European fold. So France’s outsized role in European integration meant that the imperial dreams they kind of positioned onto Europe became possible to be fulfilled.

Gary: So we’ve talked about this a little bit, but can you explain why Algeria was so important and so different than the other colonies that France had in these European commitments?

Megan: Absolutely. I talked a bit about the departmental status that parts of Algeria held. So again, this idea that Algeria was administered like parts of continental France. So this would mean that there an administrative structure that in effect would be akin to the departments in which you could find major cities like Lille, Marseilles. And this meant that for the French sort of imaginary of where France was. The idea was that Algeria was France not a colony at all. And this is something, you know, most famously, Todd Shepherd writes about the invention of decolonization. This was something that French officials and the French population were very eager to sort of forget and let go of after the loss of Algeria and even as it became clear that the war was increasingly unpopular with the metropolitan population and for their own reasons. Algerian anti-imperial nationalists also have no interest in remembering or thinking through Algeria as being France because they waged a war to, in effect, assert that Algeria was not France, that Algeria was an independent state. Although I’m sure we’ll talk about this soon. Despite doing that, they were eager to assert that Algeria might have European rights after their independence. So the departmental status mattered in that sense, so that it was understood as being a part of France at the time. The second element that’s really key is that Algeria was a settler colony and it had been for at that point a few generations of settlers and their families. So what this meant is that. As France was looking at Algeria and the rising conflict in Algeria after World War Two, they were not just looking at a place where they largely extracted resources. They were looking at a place that was home to really by 1962, roughly 1 million people who held French citizenship and were considered French. Which in some ways we could see as being coded white European, despite the fact that many of those people had been born in Algeria and had ancestry from other places, not France, such as Spain, Malta and more.

Gary: We’ve talked a fair amount about the European perspective, particularly the French perspective. Let’s talk about the Algerians. As Algeria entered into the European market. What was the response by Algerians? How did they help shape the political economic landscape?

Megan: It’s a great question. So in terms of my book, I think one of the things that’s important to note is the often silence on the part of Algerians that they are they are not always actively engaged in these conversations. And that’s because, I mean, in large part, like I said, you know, during the Algerian war, Algerian nationalists have little interest in saying, oh, yes, what is our place in Europe? Because they’re busy pushing against the idea that Algeria has any relation to France, has any relation to Europe. Right. They’re saying, no, we are an independent state. We are an independent people. There are some notable exceptions before Algerian independence. One big one is it said earlier that Algeria was not included in the purview of the treaty for the European Coal and Steel Community. That was limited to Europe’s continental territory of the six. And I found an instance of a representative from Algiers who gave quite an impassioned speech, really decrying that decision and noting that there was real French hypocrisy in this, that French authorities in Paris were claiming that Algeria was France, and they were making demands on the Algerian population that certainly supported this kind of assertion. And yet, when push came to shove, France was saying in this international treaty, no, no, Algeria is not really part of France. And so he was pointing out that this was unfair. And he talked about the idea that his constituents, who would have been largely Muslim Algerians, would find themselves to be treated as poor second rate relations due to this choice. But French authorities in Paris, for the most part, were not really concerned with his concerns or the concerns of his constituents. And so it wasn’t until the EEC treaty and I should say the Coal and Steel Community, that treaty was signed in 1951,  that was before the outbreak of the Algerian War. By the time the French were negotiating the European Economic Community, that treaty was signed in 1957. The Algerian war has been on for about three years by that time, and the war was really ramping up in its severity. And so what that meant is that French authorities began to be concerned more about what the situation in Algeria was and how European integration might serve their needs there. After independence, after 1962, that’s when we begin to see Algerians who are interrogating what Algerians place within a European market might be. But during the War of Independence, it’s really Algerian action, meaning the fighting of the war for independence that begins to, in the view of French officials, force French officials hands and make them more inclined to demand a version of European integration that has a type of Eurafrican edge to it, where by including Algeria, they will be able to hold up and support their imperial claims to Algeria and also elsewhere.

Gary: Let’s talk about the Algerian war for independence. How did the French government try to use their European agreements during the Algerian war? And conversely, how did the Algerian resistance use these same inter linkages?

Megan: Sure. So during the Algerian war, essentially when the French first began to negotiate with the six for the treaty, that led to the European Economic Community. At first they had plans to include some general trade agreements that would allow for favorable trade between all of the territories of the French Empire and the six. They did a very serious about face in 1957, very close to the actual cementing and signing of the treaty, creating the European Economic Community, where they said, actually, wait, we do want those types of trade agreements generally for the Empire, but we need to name Algeria. And I would contend that there’s a symbolic and an economic element to that decision. Symbolic because here we have five other European states who are, in effect, signing a treaty, agreeing that France includes Algeria, agreeing that France extends to Algeria. Right. Because if this European treaty is naming Algeria as one of the territories where Europe and European regulations exist, then surely that means that they’re agreeing that the French are right, that Algeria has been France all along and will remain so. Its economic because the treaty would allow the French to tap a particular pool to development funds for Algeria, meaning that they would be receiving European wide here. By European wide I mean the six receiving their contributions to fund projects in Algeria. And the French strongly believe that were more development aid extended to Algeria where more projects funded that they would be able to stem the problems that caused the revolution in the first place. And of course they were wrong. The treaty, although it was signed that included Algeria, did not and Algerian nationalist claims for independence and they were ultimately successful in 1962, the offer of development, aid and funding projects did not, you know, create a situation where suddenly Algerians believed that they were wrong about the war. But the Algerian independence fighters, in terms of their interest with Europe, it really did not come up during the war. If anything, they were appealing both to France’s partners and to other European states and to the United States. And also, really importantly, Matthew Connelly’s work shows at the U.N. to say, you know, the French are wrong, you should support us in our fight for independence. But immediately after the war, and actually, really strikingly for the next 14 years, independent Algerian authorities did use the links that they had with the European Economic Community to themselves demand development funds and the rights of Algerian migrant workers living in Europe, and also to at least try to secure the continuation of the favorable tariff rates that had been set by the 1957 treaty.

Gary: So you started to talk about what was going to be my next question. And also, we’ve arrived at the second major historical trend I mentioned earlier, which is decolonization. One notable point of your book is that decolonization from France did not mean a complete decoupling from Europe. How did Algeria’s relationship to Europe change following its independence, or did it?

Megan: Yes. So that is really the big question, whether or how it changed and it was a question at the time. So Algeria gets its independence or I should say wins its independence in July of 1962 and really fairly quickly. Algeria’s first president, Ben Bella, sends a telegram to Brussels to the seat of the EEC and asks the six. Given that we are named in the EEC Treaty, what is our relationship to integrated Europe? And he says, I will be sending negotiators to Brussels to discuss this question. The reaction is sort of, you know, diplomatic archives are not always the most colorful, but I find this sort of tizzy over how to even react to the letter to be kind of nerd amusing because they’re so concerned and all of the different members of the six have different attitudes about what kind of letter to send back to him, how to reply to this very troubling question, because they certainly are unable to just say, what are you talking about? Because it’s right there in the treaty. So the regime change in Algeria, Algeria’s independence, doesn’t actually clarify what Algeria’s relationship is to Europe. That being said, at the time that Ben Bella sent his letter, much of the treaty hadn’t even gone into effect. And that’s actually pretty common for European institutions. No treaties. They they have a lot of delays built into them. We can see even how long the Brexit process has been. It’s now five years since Britain formally invoked its exit from the EU. But it’s a slow process. So all of these delays are built into this. But the six simply don’t agree on how to respond to Ben Bella or how to think through Algeria’s future, current and future relationship to the EEC. So because France has now signed the treaty, in effect, some of its European partners are emboldened to challenge France more. And what I mean by that is, like we discussed earlier, France is seen as critical to the success of European institution building without a French signature institutions cannot be set up in this period. While France has agreed the treaty is signed, the EEC is in effect. And so now there’s more openings to be critical of France because the treaty cannot be undone. So in particular, we see challenges from the Netherlands where they are not very interested in maintaining favorable trade ties with Algeria. They are not very interested in having the development money that they have set aside for European projects to be going to Algeria. Italians are also very critical because they, during negotiations for the EEC and then after Algeria’s independence were quite fearful in particular of Algerian workers competing with their own underemployed population to find jobs in the fix and also concerned that Algeria and exports like olive oil would be in direct competition with Italian agricultural exports. The French themselves were actually fairly ambivalent about what the future relations between Algeria and the EEC would be. But essentially the six and Algeria settled on what is known as the status quo. And this is a term that gets used a lot in the archival record. The status quo, where Algeria will get to continue holding onto some of those tariff rates where the Social Security regime established between the EEC and Algeria is maintained. It was never a regime that was as supportive to Algerian families as it was to people living in continental territory of the six. Meaning that workers, Algerian workers families were less supportive depending on which borders they found themselves in. So the French, like I said, were fairly ambivalent. They wanted the status quo to continue, but increasingly they were hesitant to alienate their European partners. For Algerian officials, on the one hand, it appeared that the EEC links were quite useful economically. But increasingly across the next decade or so they were engaging in non-aligned politics, they were pursuing relations, for example, with Arab states and in doing so they were highly critical of Israel and pushed to not do business with states that recognize Israel, which made relations with West Germany complicated but not non-existent. So it was a lot of push and pull and there’s a lot of sort of starting and stopping from Algeria’s independence in 1962, really throughout the 1960s until the mid 1970s, and it’s only in the mid 1970s that this question is finally settled. What is Algeria’s place within the EEC? And it settled with a cooperation agreement signed between the six and Algeria in 1976. It was signed the same week that the EEC signed quite similar agreements with both Morocco and Tunisia. So this agreement in effect made no mention of the fact that Algeria had been named in the EEC treaty in the first place. So in some ways really erased the entire history of Algeria as inclusion in the EEC, which again at this point dated from 1957, the treaty signing until 1976, this cooperation agreement signing. So that means that Algeria spent roughly five years before its independence and another 14 years after its independence, as at the very least nominally, but also in terms of certain regulations, very much part of the EEC. The treaty, again, this new agreement in 1976, a recent history. But the connections really lingered in part because European nationals who are not French, had worked in Algeria during its EEC years, meaning that they were able to claim European Social Security benefits for their years working in a state that was now considered to be definitively not European. And there’s at least one instance of an Algerian worker in western Germany who was able to count both his years working in France and his years working in West Germany towards his pension under a European pension scheme and thanks to those years. So it’s a really, really messy and long unraveling of Algeria from the EEC and I think it’s really important that we recognize that this is not just there is independence in a snap of the fingers. Everything is broken, everything is done. Algerians and to some degree European authorities had really quite good reasons for wanting these connections to continue. And so it was an extremely slow, uncomfortable and halting process filled with ambiguity. To finally pull apart Algeria from Europe in its entirety.

Gary: So speaking of long, convoluted and messy processes, you compare Algerian disentanglement from Europe to Brexit. Why is that?

Megan: Yes, so. And the situations are so different. It’s not a straight comparison. But what I think is really important is that we question claims to the uniqueness of Brexit because there is a historical record that precedes it. Algeria, as I said, officially is untangled from European institutions in 1976. And then actually it is something I don’t touch on much in my book. But Greenland, when it gained its autonomy from Denmark in 1979, actually also opted in that sense to leave the EEC and it transferred its status to an overseas country or a territory which is a European integration term, OCT in 1985. So there are these pre-histories to Brexit. I think that they’re both forgotten because certainly Algeria can be dismissed and for Algerians themselves that there might be a desire to forget these connections. Right. To proceed with the history in which these connections are recognized as having been forced upon them by Europeans and specifically by the French. But I think that there’s also a sort of silence and forgetting, because right now Algerians are not considered to be Europeans. And in so many ways they are children, grandchildren, great grandchildren of people born in Algeria and elsewhere in France’s former empire are often made to feel like they are not true French people, true French citizens, that they have to adhere to particular types of French culture and ways of being in order to belong. And so there’s a lot of reasons that this history has been forgotten. When we look at Brexit, it seems on its face to be this first example of Europe’s borders contracting rather than expanding after this really impressive march towards expansion, particularly after the end of the Cold War. But Brexit is not the first example of this contraction. You know, in so many ways, when we look at European history, if we’re looking at a histories empire, we could say, France’s loss of empire or Britain’s loss of empire, the Netherlands. But we don’t think through this idea that Europe as a body can be seen as having contracted. Brexit is not the first example. When we consider Empire, we see these important earlier moments of disentanglement and of a sort of shrinking of where Europe understands itself to be. So both of them in some ways challenge us to think about where Europe is and who might belong in Europe. And this remains extremely relevant. Ukraine’s president, for example, really soon after the Russian invasion began, requested that Ukraine could fast track its entry into the EU. This is extremely unlikely to happen, but we see in another way this sort of utility. Certainly for Ukraine, for trying to assert a different type of European geography, one that would serve them. But as the case of Algeria in the EEC shows, most often Europe’s borders are shaped by what is best for European member states. When it was no longer useful for France and for the six, really the expanded Europe of nine. To consider Algeria to be an extension of Europe. Then that historical reality was foreclosed and it was erased. Just last year, France, for example, announced that it would limit visas extended to citizens of North African states, of Algeria, of Morocco, of Tunisia. I see this as sort of another example of European states enforcing particular visions of borders that serve them. And that very conveniently set aside various long imperial histories and lots of ways in which populations from outside of Europe were drawn into Europe geographically, politically, economically.

Gary: Well, thank you very much for this fascinating talk. The book is The Seventh Member State: Algeria, France and the European Community. Thank you again for joining us.

Megan: Thank you so much for having me on. I really enjoyed this.

Gary: As always, donations keep the podcast going. So if you would like to make a one time donation or become a patron, please consider doing so. Thank you very much for your continued support.

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