The Mediterranean and the Sahel regions have become open-air cemeteries for African migrants. For the European Union, where does responsibility for saving human lives and managing flows of migrants begin and where does it end? And for African countries?
It’s a responsibility we share. Saving lives is the European Union’s first priority. Our Frontex mission has saved more than a hundred thousand lives in 2015. At the end of July we launched a European naval operation in the Mediterranean to fight the smugglers of human beings and since then, the operation’s vessels rescued more than five thousand people, while also seizing tens of human traffickers’ assets in international waters. But this is only one part of our current efforts. Since I took office as the European Union’s High Representative I always made clear that we cannot look at the last few miles before Europe’s borders and forget about the rest of the migrants’ route. Last June I began to work with the foreign ministers of Sahel, to fight international criminal networks, to better control their borders and to foster development in the whole region. These objectives must go together, hand in hand. This is our common interest. It’s a shared responsibility and it calls for a renewed partnership between Africa and Europe.
The Valletta Summit appears threatened by strong opposition from the two sides on certain issues. In particular, some European Member States are pressing for development aid to be conditional on the ability of African governments to hold back these flows of migrants and agree to readmissions of their citizens. There is also the fact that the EU is talking at, rather than to, African partners about migration, or that Africa wants to discuss mobility, whereas EU member states, as highlighted by NGOs, are much more concerned about security issues. So currently, what are the main stumbling blocks between the two parties? Is there a real risk that this summit will end without any real progress?
This Summit is being prepared together with our African partners, because we all know we share this common challenge and we must partner on it. A key objective is to reaffirm our partnership with Africa on migration. Both sides expect the Summit to take concrete and operational decisions, building on existing activities and support. We won’t reinvent the wheel, but the summit should provide a new boost to our common work on migration.
Indeed, our partnership with Africa stretches back decades. With more than €20 billion allocated to aid every year, the EU and its Member States are by far the biggest donor to the continent on development cooperation. In addition to that, we have decided to create a Trust Fund for Africa, as a tool to work together in tackling the root causes of poverty and irregular migration: it will allow to leverage more money but also to be more flexible and focused. The European Commission is putting 1,8 billion euros in it, and Member States will top up that figure. This is real money flowing into Africa’s real economy. It will finance job opportunities, especially for young people and women. It will address the most urgent food crises on the continent, with a specific focus on Africa’s huge population of internally displaced people. It will support projects for good governance. This is what we call working together on the root causes.
But Valletta will also have a focus on the short term. The current refugee crisis has sparked strong emotions – good ones and bad ones, compassion as well as fear. Our duty as politicians is to act rationally, even when emotions are strong. We must imagine and build a mechanism for human mobility fit for the 21stcentury. This calls for better asylum procedures, stronger legal channels for workers’ mobility, as well as effective readmission systems and a relentless fight against criminal networks and human smugglers. Mobility can benefit both Europe and Africa – but it should happen legally and safely, not by turning the Mediterranean and the Sahara into mass graves.
In each and every occasion, it has been a real dialogue, not a monologue for sure.
In this regard, I have recently launched high level political dialogues with both Niger and Ethiopia on migration, we have organised with the UNHCR an extremely successful Conference on Somalian refugees in Kenya. I have been invited to attend the G5 Sahel Summit next week, to build on our cooperation. And I have spoken at length with the Chair of the African Union Commission, Dr. Zuma. In each and every occasion, it has been a real dialogue, not a monologue for sure. For me, it’s clear that strong dialogue with our African partners is what we need to make not only the Valletta Summit but mainly our common work a success. And the responses I got from President Issoufou, from PM Dessalegn and from Dr. Zuma are extremely positive.
And last but not least, when it comes to security I’ve heard from the African interlocutors whom I met recently the same concerns that we hear in the European Union. So, I think we really have a common agenda. We need to strengthen our common instruments to work effectively together on these common priorities.
Among your various speeches on the Rabat Process and the more recent Khartoum Process, you have stated ‘the need to work with the African countries to find solutions to all aspects of the migration crises’. But how can Europeans call for greater efforts and solidarity from African countries, countries subject to intra-regional flows of migrants far greater than the flow of migrants from African to Europe, when EU member states have revealed that they disagree strongly on issue of relocating a few hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees? And how can Europe be held up as an example for Africa for the protection of migrants’ rights when migrants and refugees in Eastern Europe are faced with barbed wire at the borders and police crackdowns?
Since the very beginning of this crisis, this is something I have repeated constantly: Europe’s external credibility depends on our capacity to uphold our values inside our Union. We must focus on building opportunities for all, not on building walls. We must also recognize that a number of African countries are showing solidarity by currently hosting a big number of refugees and migrants. Ethiopia, which I visited just last month, is a key example as the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, accommodating over 700.000 refugees. This is something Europeans tend to forget – and it is my responsibility to remind to all my fellow Europeans that the movement of people is not only a phenomenon that concerns Europe, but indeed a global one.
At the same time, we shouldn’t underestimate the huge change in mentality and in the EU political approach that has taken place over the past few months. Just one year ago many believed that migration and the refugee crisis would only affect a few costal states, or a few islands in the Mediterranean. Today, we all understand that this phenomenon concerns Europe as a whole, and that we need to manage it as Europeans, together, developing common European instruments that have not been developed in the past. We have all accepted that we need solidarity, and we share responsibilities. It is an important change, and it has happened quickly. Many of our Member States had never experienced immigration before. The relocation mechanism we are creating might be too small, but it is the first of its kind – ever. This is a test, for us as much as for the Africans. We need to focus on how to govern these new circumstances, and we can only do it together.
The flows of migrants are prompted by a number of crises in Africa, with terrorism at the top of the list. Terrorism has increased in West Africa and Central Africa, due in part to the chaos in Libya caused by NATO forces. In your opinion, what conditions are needed for peace and stability to return in these regions and, with regards to the desire to combat illegal immigration, what is the common line in Europe (member states and EU institutions) on the expected effects of setting up an EU trust fund for the Sahel and migration?
There is one concept I think we should always keep in mind: resilience. When state institutions are solid, when the rule of law is respected, when human rights are guaranteed, when the economy flourishes, when young people can find a place in their communities – then it is much harder for instability to spread, or for terrorists to gain ground. Of course we are working hard to solve the current crises, from Libya – where we are ready to support the installation of a national unity government – to the Great Lakes’ region. But we cannot simply react to crises, and resilience means making the next conflict less likely to happen. Resilience has been at the core of the European development cooperation with Africa over the last years – think about our programmes with the Horn of Africa and Sahel during the food crises in 2012 and 2013 – and will be one of the objectives of the Trust Fund, through projects addressing food security, health, the fight to climate change, and of course education. Investing in our youth is the best way to contrast radicalisation and recruitment by criminal organisations of all kinds. When I visited Agadez, on the main route for migrants and refugees heading towards Libya, the local authorities reminded me how the region used to be a touristic hub, not so long ago. With radicalisation and terrorism, the insecurity made tourism impossible and traffickers flourished. As the Niger FM Aichatou told me, while we cooperate together to fight the traffickers, we need to create alternatives to the illegal economy. This is our plan for the Trust Fund.
From Burundi to the Ivory Coast, along with the Central African Republic, the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Burkina Faso, Africa will shortly be holding elections that will be crucial for the future of the continent as a whole. The situation in Burundi is evidence that the EU is aiming to play a lesser role in African electoral and political crises, leaving the leading role to the AU and regional organisations within Africa. Is this a sign of the EU withdrawing from this kind of crisis?
I was in Addis Ababa recently and had the honor to address the African Union. I said that in Europe we should not ask what we can do for Africa, rather we should ask what can we do with Africa. This is not about disengagement with Africa, on the contrary. It is about doing things differently, together: changing the mind-set, a mentality that still pursues a donor-recipient relationship. What we both need, Europe and Africa, is a strengthened partnership to face common challenges, from security to migration, to investment and climate change.
And together we can promote democratic values, human rights and the rule of law. Be that in Burundi or in other countries in Africa or elsewhere in the world. At the same time, just like the European Union has a responsibility to deal with the major challenges affecting its citizens, the same is true for the African Union and regional organisations in Africa.
Ultimately, Africa’s future is an African responsibility. What we can… what we must do is to support Africa. When I visited Ethiopia I met so many young African men and women willing to work for the wellbeing of their communities. To take responsibility for their own life and their own country. In particular, those who have seen the worst face of irregular migration are now using the new opportunities to build their future back home. The future of Africa is in their hands, in partnership with Europe.
What we both need, Europe and Africa, is a strengthened partnership to face common challenges, from security to migration, to investment and climate change.
What priority would you like Africa to have in the new EU strategy being developed, in terms of foreign policy and security?
Writing the new Global Strategy is an open process, it is not just up to me or to a few experts in Brussels. But I think the gist of our discussion on Africa is that we should move from a donor-recipient mentality to a win-win partnership. I believe Africa has an immense human and economic potential. And we want this potential to finally bear fruit. This calls for a new approach on both sides. On our side, we should stop thinking that helping Africa is charity work – and I think this is now recognized by all – or a way to cleanse our conscience. Africa is an increasingly attractive place to do business and to invest. It is in our interest to bolster its economy and its institutions, to cooperate on peace and security, to manage mobility together. It’s an investment in our own security and stability. On our partners’ side, African leaders should take on their responsibilities – reforming their economies, strengthening democratic institutions, preserving the freedom of civil society. Only if we work together, can we unlock Africa’s potential. Like I said earlier, it’s building opportunities, not walls, what will get you there.
© Le Calame (Mauritania), Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Les Echos du Mali, L’Autre Quotidien (Benin), Addis Fortune (Ethiopia), Mutations (Cameroon), Le Confident (Central African Republic), Infos Grands Lacs (DRC, Rwanda and Burundi), Afronline.org,Vita and Vita International (Italy)
Cover Photo: @ European Commission