Will Senegal’s new president break from the EU?

Will Senegal’s new president break from the EU?
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 02 April 2024 18:05
Senegal will remain a “certain and trustworthy ally" but needs to “win more” from its relationship with Paris, Bassirou Diomaye Faye has said

Senegal’s new president Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a 44-year old former tax inspector, has promised to take the country out of the West African CFA franc, a currency pegged to the euro — and viewed by many as a relic of French colonialism.

At his formal swearing-in ceremony on Monday (2 April), Faye said his election pointed to "a profound desire for change".

Former president Macky Sall, who did not stand in the elections having served two terms, had been an ally of France.

But Sall’s decision to postpone presidential elections, which had been due in late February until December, prompted a wave of public protests, amid fears that Senegal could fall to autocracy.

Insiders say there is relief in Paris and other European capitals at Sall’s exit and the peaceful transfer of power.

And the head of the EU’s election observation mission in Senegal, Swedish left-wing MEP Malin Björk, praised the presidential polls as a "well-organised and open election that demonstrated the strength of Senegal’s democratic institutions".

"On the whole, the election was well organised. Voters were able to make their choice freely in a peaceful and orderly atmosphere," she said.

But the question remains whether Faye, who was swept to power with the overwhelming support of young voters on a platform of job creation, more state intervention in the economy, and renegotiating minerals contracts, will take a confrontational approach to France and the EU.

Senegal borders Mali, one of a handful of West African states to have seen a military coup in recent years.

France, and the wider EU, have been bruised by their loss of influence in the Sahel region as a result of the coups, and Russia is among other actors to have capitalised on anti-French sentiment, particularly among young francophone Africans.

The coups reflected "an explicit rejection of France ... and the EU has been perceived as supporting France," Gilles Olakounlé Yabi, executive director of the West Africa Citizen Think Tank (WATHI), told the European Parliament in January.

French newspaper Le Monde described Faye’s election as "a wake-up call to Western countries like France, which are now in competition with many other powers."

The French daily added that France and others "must learn from the consequences of the current African context, which has increasingly come to resemble a new phase in the long history of decolonisation."

French president Emmanuel Macron congratulated Faye on X, formerly known as Twitter, before he had officially been declared the winner, offering to "continue and intensify" links between their countries. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also quickly offered congratulations.

Faye, meanwhile, has said that Senegal will remain a "certain and trustworthy ally", but that it needed to "win more" from its relationship with Paris.

The EU has been in talks with Sall’s government for more than a year on a formal migration management programme, following a spike in the number of Senegalese and other Africans attempting to cross to Spain.

And experts say that it would be a mistake to consider Faye as as a radical threat to Senegal’s European relations.

Paul Melly, a consulting fellow with the Africa Programme at the British Chatham House think-tank, told EUobserver that "both sides will be pretty pragmatic".

"After the bruising experience [of the military coups] ... it’s in both countries’ interests to be close partners," Melly added, pointing out that Macron’s officials had been in contact with Ousmane Sonko, the leader of Faye’s Pastef party, last year.

"Paris will be aware of the importance that Faye is placing on ‘respect’ in Senegal’s future relations with international partners," Melly said.

Currency reform

When it comes to currency reform and talk of moving on from the CFA franc, Faye has said the ideal solution would be to take Senegal into the eco — the proposed all-West Africa single currency, which is intended to be launched in 2027 — but Faye himself admits that looks some way off.

Melly pointed to Macron’s speech in Ouagadougou in 2017, in which the French president said that if West African states wanted to reform their common currency, France would support it.

"That amounted to France saying it doesn’t have a vested interest in the currency link ... despite what young Senegalese might say," Melly told EUobserver.

Reform of the CFA franc began in earnest following Macron’s speech, piloted by Ivory Coast’s president Alassane Ouattara, and has made significant progress.

Two of Ouattara’s proposals have already come into fruition. France has withdrawn its members from the boards of West African Economic and Monetary Union institutions and scrapped the requirement that member states deposit half their foreign exchange reserves in Paris to underpin the guaranteed peg to the euro.

Ouattara wants to maintain the fixed parity link for now, and has mooted a move to a currency basket also including the dollar and perhaps other international currencies as an interim step.

Renaming the currency as the eco — as part of a long-term move to a common currency shared by the Economic Community of West African States — has not yet happened.

Discussions on a common central bank and common monetary policy rules are at an early stage.

Countries leaving or calling for the scrapping of the CFA franc would not have any implications for eurozone members.