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Valletta Summit: EU and Africa, so close but so far 1

Brussels – Malta is ready to host 90 delegations and 45 leaders for the EU-Africa summit on migration in La Valletta on the 11th and 12th November. Symbol of the tensions present between the parties, Morocco and Egypt, who are both respectively heads of the processes of Rabat and Khartoum, will send only foreign ministers. Meanwhile Afronline reveals the latest drafts of the Final Declaration and the Action Plan which will be discussed today during the last round of negotiations, to then be approved by the heads of state and government during the summit.

If you were expecting surprises or changes of direction in the negotiations that are leading up to the EU-African countries Summit on Migration, you will be disappointed. The latest drafts of the Final Declaration and the Action Plan dated November 6 that Afronline has obtained are not much different from the previous versions disclosed by us on October 30. But it isn’t certain that the negotiations between the Europeans and Africans won’t still surprise us. 90 delegations and 45 leaders are expected in Malta, but only 22 out of 28 European countries and 23 African countries out of the 35 present in Valletta will be represented by a head of state or government. The summit of Valletta was decided last April, at the emergency EU summit convened after yet another tragedy of migrant deaths off Lampedusa, with the aim of addressing, together with African partners, the root causes of immigration, in order to seek long-term solutions with the countries of origin and transit. But a symbol of the tensions present between the parties is that Morocco and Egypt, who are both respectively heads of the processes of Rabat and Khartoum, will send only foreign ministers.

Final round of negotiations on returns and readmissions

Meanwhile, on the eve of the summit, senior officials will meet for a final round of negotiations that will discuss the main subject of contention: the returns and readmission in countries of transit and origin of irregular migrants in the EU. Yesterday, a senior official of the European Council recognized that “the main obstacle relates to the will of the African partners to promote voluntary returns, while the EU Member States are very reticent. I doubt that anything will change in the coming hours”. Another UN source contacted by Afronline who closely follows the dossier shares this skepticism. “Anything can still happen. Certainly, on this issue it is the Africans who have the knife by the handle. “In fact, on readmissions “Brussels is pushing for African governments to sign bilateral agreements with the EU provided for in Article 13 of the Cotonou Agreement, but if European Member States do not show flexibility on voluntary returns, it is going to be difficult to subscribe these agreements with all of the 28 Member States”. In other words, the readmissions envisaged in the Action Plan would not be implemented. This issue is not to be underestimated.

Today there are a host of bilateral agreements between European Member States and African countries. Let’s hypothesise an example of France and Senegal negotiating the presence of 100 Senegalese people that currently find themselves illegally on French territory. In addition to the risk that these Senegalese migrants move clandestinely from one EU Member State to another, a very different thing would be the impact of an accord reached between Senegal and the 28 Member States: in that case, it would not be a situation of a hundred illegal migrants, but many more. And it is exactly this that interests the Member States: expelling the largest number of migrants who do not fall under the UN Convention of 1951. The problem though is that, to date, only one African country has signed a bilateral agreement with the EU on readmissions: Cape Verde.

The African agenda

On the opposing end, African governments are seeking clarification on the procedures to identify migrants to be returned and readmitted to their countries. After the Eritreans and Nigerians, the third African community that lands in the EU are those who tear up their passports and identity cards before they set foot on European soil. Before accepting a returnee, an African government wants to be sure that the expelled migrant is really a compatriot. Not only that, but “there needs to be a lot of transparency and clarity on what criteria your legal system is going to use to determine who is an economic migrant and who is a refugee or an asylum seeker”, the Permanent Representative of the African Union to the EU, Ajay Bramdeo, told Afronline. “At the AU we are saying to the EU: ‘regardless of the status of the people, if they have come across undocumented, in an irregular fashion, process them properly. Give them the same protection, until you have clearly determined what their status will be. After you have determined their status, you can follow the processes of international law’. But how many EU Member States have the capacity to process these people? Isn’t processing them all one by one going to clog up the judicial system? This is why the Member States are pushing on the EU laissez passer. They want to fast track the returns of people”.

In an attempt to “strengthen the capacity of authorities of countries of origin to respond in a timely manner to readmission applications”, Brussels had originally asked its African partners to recognise an EU laissez passer that would allow for the return of an irregular migrant, without giving the time to these African countries to carry out the necessary verification identification processes. Even worse, rumours are circulating that at one point the EU wanted to proceed with returns to bordering countries of the migrant’s country of origin, in case the readmission phase took too long. In the new draft, it is confirmed that the identification of migrants is a necessary condition for the organisation of returns.

Tensions still surround the Trust Fund for Africa

Another source of discord concerns the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. With a budget of € 1.8 billion to be shared by 28 African countries over the next five years, the aim of the Trust Fund is to improve stability and address the root causes of irregular migration flows in the regions of the Sahel, Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa, and the North of Africa.

First problem: the figure is less than the 3 billion euro proposed to Turkey to fight against irregular immigration in a single year. “This is an insult to Africa”, said Bramdeo. To strengthen the Trust Fund, the Commission asked Member States to make additional funding available. Apart from Italy, which has pledged €10 M, from September 23 to date, many Member States (including Germany, France and Spain) have so far put €3 M into the pot, which incidentally coincides with the minimum funding required to participate in the Board of the Trust Fund for Africa, where, for example, agreements with partner countries in Africa will be reached with regards to which projects to finance. For now the African governments themselves do not seem ready to get on board. “A pity”, said a UN source. “Three million euros are not that many for a country such as Kenya or Nigeria”.

Second problem: how the Trust Fund will really be used. Behind the scenes, many Member States want to place conditions on development aid, including the Trust Fund, that are directly related to the effort African governments will make to strengthen collaboration with the EU, on the topic of irregular African migrants’ returns from the EU into their countries of origin or transit. According to Ajay Bramdeo, “conditionality is not in the action plan, but it’s still on the table”.

Third problem: European and African civil society has expressed the risks of financial aid that is more aimed at security rather than development activities. A fear confirmed by the Permanent Representative of AU to EU, who recognizes that “there is a gap between what the European Union has put in the document, and what the African Union would like to see there. We are not far apart, but they cannot neglect the developmental agenda so completely in order to focus on security”.

Beyond the Action Plan

Beyond the Action Plan, it was enough to attend a conference organized by the European and African civil societies in Brussels last week to understand how, for some, the gap between the EU and Africa can be large. During this meeting, the audience witnessed an interesting duel between Bramdeo and Pierre Vimont. “When will human rights become a reality in the dialogue between EU and Africa on migration?”, asked the Permanent Representative of the African Union to the European Union. For its part, the personal envoy of the EU Council President for the Valletta Summit, reminded those who wanted to listen that “the African leaders have to understand EU internal on migration problems,” suggesting that, given the growth of European extremist and racist political parties, the EU cannot afford to talk only on migrants’ mobility or the voluntary returns, but must also remember that security is a very sensitive topic in European public opinion.

After all, one need only cite a figure that illustrates all the problems between the EU and Africa on the migration issue: the two billion people, mostly youth, who will populate the African continent in 2050. In La Valletta, they are overlooking a sea that in the next 35 years is likely to swallow thousands of African migrants.

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  1. […] soll, erhalten 23 afrikanische Staaten über 5 Jahre lediglich 1,8 Milliarden Euro. Diese Summe sei eine Beleidigung gegenüber Afrika, so der Repräsentant der Afrikanischen Union bei der EU. Es stellt sich die Frage wie mit dieser geringen Summe all die auf dem jüngsten Migrationsgipfel […]

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