Inclusion, Exclusion: Algeria and the Making of Europe

22 February 2023

** This is the third in a series of four reviews of Megan Brown’s The Seventh Member State: Algeria, France, and the European Community. Previous reviews include:

1. When Algeria Was Europe? — Danielle Beaujon

2. The Last Dreams of Empire — Melissa K. Byrnes

Brown will respond on Friday**


In modern political history, the mid-twentieth century offers itself as a particularly dense moment of study. The conclusion of World War II and the reconstitution of democracies after fascism, the fall of European empires and the emergence of independent nation states in the Global South, and the realignment of international political order along Cold War lines and international laws and federalist governance are just some of the developments that define this period, with ever-present consequences on the political realities of our own. Each of these developments is, of course, complex enough in its own right to fill the pages of an academic study. Certain projects, however, have taken on the ambitious task of treating these topics together, investigating the interactions, imbrications, and contradictions between these contemporaneous political changes. Megan Brown’s Seventh Member State is one such excellent study. Examining European integration and French decolonization together, Brown asks how it was, and what it meant, that the expansion of “Europe” in one sense — governmental and economic integration on the continent — coincided with its contraction in another — the end of empire and, in the case under examination here, the loss of French sovereignty over Algeria. Interrogating European integration and decolonization within a single frame, Brown finds a complex relationship between these two concurrent political developments, one which ultimately necessitates nothing less than a reexamination of the boundaries of Europe itself.


Spanning the birth of “Eurafrica” in the interwar period through Algeria’s formal exclusion from the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1976, Brown’s study argues that Algeria was an integral, if ambiguous, part of the founding of European integration. Integral because, as Brown shows, Algeria was (at French insistence) one of the areas explicitly named in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which established the EEC and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and laid the groundwork for today’s European Union (EU). In theory, Brown suggests, this inclusion of Algeria had the potential to envision a multicultural, multiethnic Europe that was not an anathema brought on by the 21st century’s so-called “migrant crisis,” but rather was constitutive of Europe’s founding. At the same time, however, Brown illustrates how these early efforts for European integration were not separate from the political frameworks of European empire; they were, in fact, tools for European and French officials to maintain their imperial interests and colonial sovereignties. As Brown puts it: “When French officials picked up their pens to sign these [European] accords, the France they represented was not a nation-state but an empire” (3). As colonial rule gave way to decolonization and then independence, Algeria nevertheless remained a part of the European community. It continued to be, at least nominally and legally, a part of the EEC until 1976, fourteen years after independence from France.


Algeria’s place in Europe, however, was as ambiguous as it was central. As Brown shows, French interest in including Algeria in Europe was anything but stable. Different political tides swayed French officials to either exclude Algeria from Europe to make sure it remained French; include Algeria in Europe to curry international favor against Algerian independence; or exclude Algeria from Europe in a French attempt to forget its colonial past. Algerian inclusion in Europe, moreover, was never a full one. Brown shows how European as well as French officials consistently attempted to deny rights and economic benefits to those who should have had them on the basis of Algeria’s participation in European institutions. The clear motivating factor for these exclusions were racist concerns about the extent to which Algeria — Muslim and African — could “really” be “European.” Thus, the Algerian case shows that for all the potential promise of inclusion that European integration could have held, it had just as much capacity for racist exclusion and continued economic, political, and social hierarchies of colonialism.


This push and pull of Algerian inclusion and exclusion structures Brown’s six chapters, which move chronologically, and tackle not only change over time, but conflicting approaches within each period. The first two chapters treat the first decade of European integration. They find a pre-history to this story in France’s imperial federalist designs — Eurafrica and the French Union — in the interwar period and in the immediate aftermath of World War II. In the first chapter, Brown locates Algeria’s confused position in Europe as stemming from its central yet uncertain status within French law and political imaginaries. Early- and mid-twentieth century French jurists, statesmen, and policymakers wondered: was Algeria a French colony? An overseas territory? A set of overseas departments? A part of the metropole itself? As Brown shows — despite conventional wisdom to the contrary — there was no clear answer.


The ambiguity of the law was the point and, in fact, was useful for French officials. In addition to being a puzzling question for contemporary jurists, this confusion over Algeria’s legal status allowed for a certain leverage in setting up participation in integrated European structures in such a way that continued a colonial status quo of French power and hierarchy. As Brown writes: “this wavering allowed [French officials in the early stages of European institution building] to maintain exclusive access to Algerian resources and markets while also drawing on international funds to feed development projects in Algeria” (31). Protecting French interests in this early period, as Brown shows in in her second chapter, thus meant excluding Algeria (along with the rest of the French empire) from integration talks. This way, French negotiators believed, imperial control over French Africa would remain specifically French, and not subsumed under European jurisdiction which risked diluting French sovereignty.


As the political tides changed across global and decolonial wars, French officials and diplomats continued to push for Algeria’s inclusion or exclusion from Europe depending on what they believed would be most advantageous to French interests at any given time. Chapters Three and Four address how, perhaps counterintuitively, the Algerian War of Independence spurred French negotiators to explicitly write Algeria into the fabric of European integration. Faced with an internal, anticolonial threat to empire, French officials insisted that Algeria was, in fact, a part of France and therefore Europe — so much so that the French architects of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 threatened to withhold their signatures unless Algeria was explicitly included and named in these accords. This strategy “reflect[ed] that the French had come to believe that inserting the empire in integrated Europe was the best way to preserve their overseas sovereignty and remain relevant in Europe and the world” (107).


Naming Algeria, however, was clearly more important than actually including it as part of Europe in practice. Following discussions among French actors and between representatives from the other “Six” (Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany), Brown shows how Algeria was de facto omitted from specific policies and programs even as it was specifically included in the Treaty of Rome. This Including Algeria in European integration, then, was only advantageous to French interests in order to shore up international support for French sovereignty over Algeria during a time of a crisis of imperial legitimacy. Similarly, it was only approved by the Six as a move to appease France (and to potentially use the same tactics to assert further control over their own colonies, such as Italy in Somalia and Libya and the Netherlands in New Guinea). With these tactics of inclusion, “the Six effectively left open the possibility to discriminate against Algerian and DOM citizens who would seek the benefits of EEC membership to which they were entitled by virtue of those places being both juridical parts of the French Republic and named in the Common Market treaty” (140). As Brown notes, “the racism undergirding this choice is apparent” (141).


Despite independence from France in 1962, Algeria’s explicit inclusion in the Treaty of Rome allowed the new sovereign state to remain in the EEC until 1976. In the fifth and sixth chapters, Brown explores Europe’s relationship with independent Algeria, first under the direction of President Ahmed Ben Bella, then under Houari Boumediene after the 1965 coup. It is in these last chapters that Brown’s argument about the potential power of the possibilities of inclusion and the invention of an exclusive Europe really take hold. In the early period of Algerian independence, it was not only French and European officials who pursued Algerian inclusion and/or exclusion from Europe based on their own interests. Algerian state actors, too, used EEC membership to advance their own interests, such as claiming EEC social security rights for Algerian citizens and developing foreign and economic policies that decentered France. The results of these policies were mixed. On the one hand, independent Algeria — from 1962 until the 1976 Co-operation Agreement between Algeria and the EEC — did secure certain foreign and economic benefits, such as a new economic relationship with West Germany and disinvestment in the Algerian wine industry, both of which broke Algeria’s economic reliance on France (224-230). On the other hand, French and European officials’ longstanding refusal to understand Algeria as a full member of the EEC had very real human consequences for Algerians who were denied rights to welfare benefits, labor protections, and mobility. Also affected were non-French European migrant laborers in Algeria who, in cases before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), had to argue that they had, indeed, worked in the EEC and were thus entitled to EEC pensions (237).


French and European officials, for their part, began to distance themselves from their prior position on Algerian inclusion. “This was due,” Brown argues, “to their inability to shed their racist assumptions about the Algerian capacity for self-rule or to acknowledge that French law had extended French nationality to Algerians prior to 1962” (179). Just as French officials at the end of the Algerian War had “invented decolonization,” so too did they invent an integrated Europe without Algeria, “an invention that would come to be viewed as natural and evident in the decades to come” (177). In this way, Brown argues that this current century’s “crises” of challenges to definitions of what and who is considered “European” — namely, Brexit and the so called “migrant crisis” — are not as out of line with the history of European integration as we might be inclined to believe (Conclusion). Rather, European integration has always contained both inclusion and exclusion, and has not been removed from the logics of colonialism and racism that undergirded centuries of European empire.


Brown’s study joins earlier works by Gary Wilder and Frederick Cooper as a historical study of future possibilities. The ramifications of a more inclusive Europe as a possibility not taken are apparent: this historical “foreclosure of utopian futures” has a direct bearing on today’s discourses of “communities of color and Muslim people living across Europe… as racialized outsiders in need of education to ‘become’ European,” and experiences of discrimination that follow this belief (19; 255). Brown argues that reckoning with Europe’s past as inclusive of Algeria, and therefore Muslims and people of color, is a possible way forward for enacting the promise that integration that could have been. Brown’s point is well taken, and it is a fine example of a “history of the present” that uses historical study to critically engage with and challenge the politics of our current moment.


That Brown, moreover, brings this approach to a study of high politics is commendable. Brown’s study primarily focuses on discussions at the levels of state actors and official policies, with occasional attention to individual actors’ interactions with political institutions, such the European Court of Justice. Brown’s close examination of the incoherencies of law and official decision-making keeps her from taking the power and logic of states and their actors for granted. The strength of this approach is particularly on display in the discussions of Algeria’s hazy legal status within French law in the book’s first two chapters. Rather than rushing through Algeria’s perplexing legal relationship to France to merely establish context, Brown pauses on this confusion, and in fact makes it a central part of her argument. Not only does Brown’s work then become indispensable for other scholars looking for a clear and complete examination of Algeria under French law, it also serves as a model for how to approach confusion as an object of analysis rather than a roadblock to understanding.


I wonder, however, how turning toward different vantage points on this history, beyond high politics and state actors, might produce different stakes in claiming Algeria as part of an inclusive Europe. Brown clearly shows the power that lies in a more expansive Europe, and the clear shortcomings that befell the limited incorporation of Algeria in the EEC wherein Algerian land and markets, rather than people, were envisioned as a part of Europe until being excluded altogether. What seems absent from this discussion, however, is the potential power that envisioning Algeria as separate from Europe may have had, particularly for Algerian nationalists and anticolonial actors. If an Algeria included as part of integrated Europe had its roots in French colonization, then were there voices who would have rejected Algerian inclusion in Europe just as loudly as they had rejected Algerian inclusion in the French empire? How would those voices interact with the claim that Algeria as a part of Europe might have constituted a “utopian future” (19)? This is not to deny or destabilize Brown’s call for radical inclusion in the EU today, but rather to suggest that future works continue this field of inquiry on the relationship between decolonization and European integration with attention to historical actors beyond the scope of the present study — namely, those who would explicitly identify as holding anticolonial politics.


These questions notwithstanding, Brown does a commendable job of navigating the many twists and turns of this story, never losing sight of either the inclusive possibilities that could have come with future visions of integration and the very real limitations that hampered this potential. The Seventh Member State will be indispensable reading to anyone seeking to understand not only Algeria’s place in Europe or the relationship between integration and decolonization, but also how more inclusive visions of the future can come from fuller understandings of unrealized utopian pasts.


Ariel Mond is a doctoral candidate in History at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Her dissertation examines political imprisonment, decolonization, and human and prisoner rights activism in France from 1945 to 1975.

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