The Last Dreams of Empire  

21 February 2023

**This is the second 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

Brown will respond on Friday**


Megan Brown’s The Seventh Member State is about dreams as much as diplomacy. Her deeply researched and engagingly written history of Algeria’s position within nascent European institutions is a story of frustrated aspirations, disappointments, and misunderstandings; a “history of the foreclosure of utopian futures” (19). This is not a Freudian analysis of the subconscious, however, but rather an expert examination of explicit — and competing — desires for a new world order. On one side, the Algerians and other anti-colonial liberation movements dreamed of viable independence from foreign domination. On the other, France and other European powers clung to lingering dreams of imperial glory. Brown’s focus on the intersection of European, imperial, and decolonizing processes illuminates much about the messiness of the end of empire and the persistence of Eurocentric racial ideologies.


One dream at the heart of European integration was that of “Eurafrica.” From Victor Hugo’s articulation of a United States of Europe that “would be constructed in Africa as well as in the metropole” (32), through the Schuman Declaration’s invocation of African development as an “essential task” for Europe (74), Brown reveals how persistently Eurafrican ideas shaped Europe. For many Europeans, Eurafrica stood for “a collective subjugation of Africa, through the shared exploitation of its resources and the opening of its territory to European migration.” This exploitation of African resources, territory, and peoples was “central to the project of binding Europe” (29). Even after decolonization, European officials thought of Africa as “a venue where Europeans could learn to cooperate … a useful site for European decision making” (193-194).


Africans, of course, contested visions of Africa as a site for European experimentation. In addition to anti-colonial nationalist movements, major actors like Léopold Sédar Senghor harnessed Eurafrican ideas to their own visions of self-determination in which Africa and Europe would be equal (39) and used intra-European negotiations as a forum to push for African rights (71, 92). Later, independent Algeria would make its own claims on these Eurafrican visions by insisting on benefits granted through European agreements (176).


For generations, Algerians had challenged French assertions that Algeria was not merely French but an integral part of France. Where French officials cited the administration of Algeria as a set of domestic departments that exemplified Eurafrican ideals (4-5), Algerians could point to the series of citizenship statutes that excluded Muslims from full rights within the Republic (among other imperial abuses) as evidence that the reality was far from those ideals. Indeed, French diplomats initially negotiated a deal that designated Algeria as part of the empire and not part of Europe (30-31). This demarcation, cemented in the 1951 Treaty of Paris (80), soon changed.


At the center of Brown’s argument is the 1957 Treaty of Rome which, along with establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), defined Algeria as French — and thus European — territory (141). Not only did this mark a significant change in French diplomatic tactics (107, 132-133), but it also inscribed Algeria into Europe itself — with repercussions that would be felt well after Algerian independence in 1962. One of the central contentions in the book — and in the claims made by both French and Algerian diplomats — is that Algeria was, in fact (and in international law), part of Europe after 1957. Moreover, from the moment of Algerian independence to the signing of the new Co-operation Agreement between Algeria and the EEC in 1976 (235), there is good reason to see Algeria as an actual seventh member state.


France’s abrupt decision to insist that the rest of the original European “Six” (Belgium, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and West Germany) recognize Algeria within the Treaty of Rome served both explicit and implicit imperial goals. The treaty was, after all, signed in the midst of the Algerian War for Independence (1954-1962). The French demand garnered formal European recognition that Algeria was French, a means by which “the French would showcase their legitimate legal claim on Algeria, regardless of calls for independence emanating from Algeria and beyond” (105, 107). When positioned against the Algerian strategy of appealing to the United Nations (109), this bid for European support reveals deeper imperial logics. France appealed to European peers — largely powers that had shared in imperialist dreams — to legitimate French authority in North Africa. The core assumption was that European powers still had the authority to rule on matters of sovereignty over and subjugation of territory across the globe. Non-European — and especially nonwhite — voices were presumed not to have such authority, regardless of their status as independent states or members of other international bodies (like the UN). Brown describes France’s European partners as equally bound by “an imperial common sense, whose logic and assumptions could go unsaid” (115).


Imperial logic meant that, whatever the Treaty of Rome said about Algeria as European territory, Algerians themselves were never expected to enjoy the full benefits of the EEC. France’s territorial integration of Algeria had from the beginning distinguished between appropriating land and assimilating people (especially with regard to political and personal rights). In the midst of their efforts to name Algeria within the Treaty of Rome, French officials “reaffirmed Algeria’s inferior status and positioned Algerian workers as people unworthy of full European rights” (136). The Six crafted EEC regulations regarding Algeria to be impossibly muddy and “effectively left open the possibility to discriminate against the Algerian … citizens who would seek the benefit of EEC membership to which they were entitled” (140). This was, in part, due to the concerns (especially in Italy) about labor and trade competition or the cost of development projects (147-148, 158-163, 220-221). Yet there was also a clear racial calculus in operation, particularly in the wake of Charles de Gaulle’s first veto of British membership in the EEC in 1963. Brown uses a Dutch cartoon to exemplify a belief in the “absurdity that France would open Europe to people whose skin color marked them as unassimilable”; excluding Algeria from the full benefits of the EEC “sent a strong signal coding Europe as white above all” (202).


As evidenced by her attention to Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) tactics, Brown is careful not to overlook the very real challenges made to these imperial assumptions. Algerian diplomats effectively marshalled both international support and anti-colonial solidarity to shore up their own legitimacy. Upon independence, Algeria demanded that its inclusion in the Treaty of Rome be taken seriously. Algeria’s repeated claims on EEC membership revealed the inherent racism of the imperial Eurafrican project: whatever might be said about the potential for integration and partnership, European powers were never willing to admit Algerians, Africans, and other nonwhite populations into full equality with metropolitan citizens. And yet, Algerian officials found ways to lay claim to a set of benefits, particularly aid packages, favorable tariffs, and benefits for Algerian citizens working on the European continent (177-8).


Extracting Algeria from Europe was slow and uneven—a further reminder that decolonization was a lengthy process, extending well beyond the formal independence of former colonies. It is unsurprising to see a French official insist in 1962 that it was “obviously absurd” to think Algeria might become the “seventh member state of the European Community” (181). Yet Brown carefully makes that case that there was, in fact, nothing obvious about this. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, then Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, asserted in a 1974 press conference that “it should be recalled that France signed the Treaty of Rome considering Algeria to be an integrated part of France and, by consequence, legally and historically we Algerians would have had the same rights as any other member of the European Community” (245). Brown emphasizes Bouteflika’s wording (“would have had”) as a means for him to call attention to the ways that France and Europe failed to live up to their word, to “underscore the futures never realized” (245-246). As France and Europe turned away from Algeria, Algeria’s own desire to move past its connections to France should also not be discounted (228-231).


In addition to the rights and concessions that Algeria claimed between 1962 and 1976, the circulating presence of other EEC citizens required European institutions to continue to acknowledge that Algeria had indeed been included within European borders. Brown effectively uses a set of European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases to further show the concrete effects of Algeria’s inclusion in the Treaty of Rome (237-243). As easy as it had been for EEC members and Algeria itself to elide this past, the ECJ and its legal rulings were a space in which the history of Algeria as part of Europe could not be ignored.


Besides dreams, Brown’s work also demands that we take silence seriously. Her research is meaningful precisely because Algeria’s role in Europe was intentionally unwritten. In the 1976 Algeria-EEC accords “European officials not only wrote Algeria out of the EEC; its history as a part of its foundational territory was erased from memory” (16). French officials literally crossed out references to the Treaty of Rome in a memo discussing Algeria’s position post-independence (181-182). Earlier silences served imperial motives by obscuring the violence of the Algerian War during the Treaty of Rome negotiations, allowing the Six “to continue pursuing European integration without introducing uncomfortable and potentially difficult-to-navigate questions” about French conduct in the war or the likelihood of France maintaining its hold over Algeria (124-125). France’s European partners sustained this silence to avoid both alienating the French (and thus undermining the entire EEC project) and publicly avowing support for French Algeria. Once the treaty was signed, they renewed their criticism (155). It is also possible to read in this silence a tacit agreement by the rest of the Six that France’s conduct in Algeria was its own domestic affair, a continuation of norms of non-intervention in other European imperial territories. The French argued for the expansion of EEC aid to Algeria even as they refused to acknowledge how “over 130 years of colonial rule undermined its economic growth” (158), in essence arguing for a reimagined European imperial structure to make up for the sins of earlier exploitation.


Brown concludes compellingly that “the EU’s history cannot and must not be told without a discussion of the place of empire in its forerunners’ foundational treaties and institutions” (251). The European project has been celebrated as a significant attempt to curtail the violence of nationalism, an example of how integrated markets can bring peace, prosperity, and a new form of global power. The Seventh Member State serves as a crucial reminder that this new Europe was hardly anti-imperial. Ideals of European dominance, undergirded by notions of white supremacy, were embedded within European institutions and agreements. Empire is a mindset that must be actively unlearned (255).


Perhaps most revealing are the dreams that were given up. Returning to a Europe that crossed the Mediterranean, Brown invites us to “imagine a world where communities of color and Muslim people living across Europe are not treated as racialized outsiders” (255). In stark contrast to contemporary debates about boundaries and belonging, her work reminds us that it was only over the course of the 1960s and early 70s that the southern border of the EEC was fixed to the exclusion of northern Africa, inventing a bounded Europe that later came “to be viewed as natural and evident” (177). In building that Europe, the Six (and subsequent members) rejected Algerian claims to belonging and especially to partnership on equal footing; they feared non-Western models of international federalism; and they ultimately proved that, for their purposes, the rhetoric of imperial belonging had been a convenient lie all along.


Melissa K. Byrnes is Associate Professor of History at Southwestern University. She has written on migrant housing in the French suburbs, Islam in the French empire, the imperial dimensions of Cold War diplomacy, and Franco-Portuguese student activism against the Salazar regime. Her book, Making Space: Neighbors, Officials, and North African Migrants in the Suburbs of Paris and Lyon on local French motivations for supporting North African migrants’ rights and welfare will soon be published by University of Nebraska Press.

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