Migration and mobility in the Africa-EU partnership: A breakthrough or more of the same?

What's on this page
    % Complete

      For the migration and mobility partnership between Africa and the EU to lead to real results, cooperation needs to include genuine plans for mobility and overcome a focus on the ‘root’ cause argument to fight irregular migration. Three challenges need to be overcome to make the partnership an actual breakthrough.

      If we concentrate on improving the skills of our people, investing in them, they will not have to come through Lampedusa, they will come through airports and ports and they will be welcome” this aspiration was articulated by African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the 4th Africa-EU Summit, which adopted a specific declaration on Migration and Mobility. But is European Council President van Rompuy correct in claiming this ‘a real breakthrough’, or do old problems still stand in the way?

      Overshadowed by the tragic events at Lampedusa and the failure of effective migration governance between both continents (including 23,000 migrants dead since 2000 and the recent deportations at the border of Spain) discussions at the Summit emphasised the response to irregular migration, fighting human trafficking, migrants rights and international protection.

      The impetus for a new strategic policy document on Migration and Mobility emerged out of a review process of the 2nd Action Plan (2011-2013) of the Migration, Mobility, Employment and Higher Education Partnership (MME) under the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) as well as a Senior Officials Meeting in November 2013.

      Initiatives under the 2nd Action Plan so far concentrated on remittances, diaspora, human trafficking and research. Mobility, migrants rights, international protection and irregular migration were part of the dialogue component of the partnership but received limited attention overall. The new strategic document certainly changes the emphasis - but will it resolve the underlying challenges?

      New Course, Better Tools?

      Key areas for the new Action Plan (2014-2017) include:

      • combating human trafficking
      • fighting irregular migration
      • addressing the migration and development nexus (diaspora and remittances)
      • advancing legal migration and mobility
      • strengthening international protection

      Important tools for the fight against irregular migration between Africa and Europe remain the strengthening of borders and surveillance systems (through for example Frontex and Eurosur) and the facilitation of return and readmission on the one hand, and addressing the ‘root causes’ of irregular migration on the other.

      The ‘root causes’ argument neatly links to the rationale for support to further regional economic integration, the creation of jobs and alternative opportunities for young Africans at the regional level. This seems to serve both sides’ interests with a reduction of migration pressures for the EU and support for the economic development agenda of African countries. Yet the evidence shows it is development that drives migration - both within and across continents. Aid and trade diplomacy will not reduce the migration pressure but will foster mobility and policies seeking to deter migration pressures will fail in many cases.

      Whether better regional mobility, integration and employment opportunities will alleviate migration pressures on Europe will have to be seen. It may also be a long while until then. While most regional economic communities have free movement agreements and are moving ahead with formulating migration strategies, the political will and momentum to actually implement them is weak. Decisions makers still need to put their weight behind strengthened opportunities for mobility within Africa.

      Discussions on mobility between Africa and the EU in the preparatory Senior Officials Meeting remained limited to the mobility of students and business people - hardly Dlamini-Zuma’s breakthrough vision of “welcoming channels through ‘airports and ports”.

      Towards a Breakthrough

      The content of the declaration is not revolutionary – much of it has been emphasised before in strategic documents without triggering action. Despite the grand statements of ‘strong and unambiguous political will’ at the summit, these alone do not offer solutions. Three challenges need to be overcome to make the partnership an actual ‘breakthrough’:

      The first is getting member states involved. Part of the problem is that the JAES partnership is viewed as ‘an issue for Brussels’ by EU member states. Their participation in the MME political dialogue has been weak. In activities of the dialogue component only 29% of participants have been from EU member states vs. 51% from African member states and often involved candidates without the relevant expertise, as the evaluation of the support project of the MME concludes.

      Neither side seems to have used or understood the MME partnership to address migration, challenges and opportunities despite many areas falling under the competencies of African and European Member States. Better clarification of the relevance of the partnership for member states, better focal point systems, intergovernmental coordination and sufficient financial resources is needed on both sides. It may help to also organise Ministerial Conferences to secure national buy-in across all levels.  

      Second, both the capacity and coordination within and between the African Union Commission and the European Commission needs to be improved. The EC noted a ‘lack of time and people to get engaged’ in driving the partnership. Similar things have been said with regards to capacity in the AUC. This has been complicated by a lack of coherence between the various EU actors - including DG DEVCO, DG HOME and the EEAS. The basic means for cooperation need to be in place before expanding the dialogue and integrating the RECs, civil society and private sector in the dialogue.

      Third, the partnership needs to move beyond dialogue – the few concrete results of the previous Action Plans emerged from initiatives outside the dialogue component. There is a need to better systematise intended effects of the dialogue, establish follow-up mechanisms and track progress. This is true not only for the migration dialogue under the Joint Africa-EU Strategy but also for other dialogue processes both parties engage in, such as the Rabat process. Agreeing on mechanisms (roadmaps, targeted recommendations, action plans from the dialogue component etc) that ensure that the dialogue does contribute to change would be a start.

      For the migration and mobility partnership to lead to results, cooperation needs to include genuine plans for mobility and overcome a mere focus on the ‘root’ cause argument to fight irregular migration. Both parties need to take the partnership seriously, and actively work on tackling its constraints as outlined above – otherwise for the next EU-Africa Summit in 3 years time there will be very little of any worthwhile substance to show. 

      The views expressed here are those of the authors, and may not necessarily represent those of ECDPM.

      Loading Conversation