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Migration. Mario Giro: “The EU must take Africa seriously” 0

Brussels – Usually calm and collected, the Italian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs with responsibility for international cooperation, Mario Giro, is not in a good mood. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union is obviously extremely worrying, but there is also another issue which risks creating further disagreement within the EU – the New Migration Partnership Framework or “Migration Compact”, submitted by the European Commission on 7 June, which puts the management of migration at the heart of European foreign policy.

Through this proposal, “the EU seeks tailor-made partnerships with key third countries of origin and transit using all policies and instruments at the EU’s disposal to achieve concrete results. Building on the European Agenda on Migration, the priorities are saving lives at sea, increasing returns, enabling migrants and refugees to stay closer to home and, in the long term, helping third countries’ development in order to address root causes of irregular migration”. Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia are the first African priority countries of this new partnership that the EU heads of state and government will discuss during the EU summit scheduled for 28 and 29 June in Brussels with the goal of agreeing a new strategy on the EU’s external migration policy. “Unfortunately, the Commission’s proposal does not entirely meet our expectations”, stresses Mario Giro, adding that “the strategy put forward by the Commission is a pale imitation of that drafted by the Renzi government and submitted to President Juncker in May”.

On the eve of the EU Summit, which will be dominated by Brexit, the Italian Deputy Minister gave an interview, published by Afronline and an African media pool, revealing his doubts about the EU’s willingness to launch an ambitious partnership with Africa capable of responding to the challenges generated by migration flows which leave thousands dead  across the Sahel or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Although the European summit will be almost entirely dominated by Brexit, there will also be discussions between the heads of state and government on the European Commission proposal on the Migration Compact. What hopes do you harbour in this regard?

Obviously Brexit has changed many things. However, we have done everything we can to redirect the Commission’s text.

In which direction?

In the direction indicated in the first proposal drawn up by the Italian government. We understand that certain Member States are not fond of Eurobonds and we can accept that. But creating deadlock on an issue which should lie at the heart of relations between the EU and Africa? That is not acceptable.

The European Commission has talked of €62 billion. Isn’t that enough?

The figure of €62 billion refers to the hope of ensuring a long-term leverage effect. There are currently only €2.3 billion provided to 23 African countries within the framework of the Trust Fund for Africa, compared with €3 billion offered to Turkey to manage the same problem, with one huge difference – migration flows are endemic on the African continent, while in Turkey the crisis is cyclical, although acute. With the Africans, the EU spent months before allocating the funds announced at the Valletta Summit in November, whereas with Ankara it took just a week. How do you think the Africans have taken that?

You were also annoyed by the principle of conditionality of aid advocated by the Juncker Commission.

That is another wrong message to send to Africa. Also because making aid conditional on the capacity of an African government to stop migration flows does not work. Especially when the money provided by the EU does not reflect its ambitions in any way. Work out how much each African country will take from now until 2020 with current Trust Fund for Africa funds.

€20 million per year…

Exactly. I will never stop stressing that a major Europe-Africa agreement is required, focused on major policies of investment in infrastructure, energy and agribusiness. This is the message which Prime Minister Renzi set out during the Italy-Africa ministerial conference on 18 May in Rome, and the African foreign ministers have clearly stated that Italy’s strategy was a step in the right direction.

Deputy Minister, the European Commission proposal was submitted in Strasbourg by the Vice-President, Federica Mogherini. Was there any conflict with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy?

No, also because the text involved commissioners such as Katainen, Avramopoulos and Timmermans. I am disappointed with the European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker, not with individuals. Unfortunately, this text seems to have been negotiated upstream, whereas the European Commission must be ambitious and then go and negotiate with the Member States and the European Parliament to reach a compromise. Sadly, this Migration Compact is very different from the Italian version, offering old solutions which do not work.

You mentioned a text negotiated upstream. There has been no denial at the highest levels of the European Commission that the principle of conditionality would be inserted into the proposal following pressure from certain Member States.

I don’t want to go into the details of these disputes. I prefer to discuss what was written in the proposal. One thing is certain, the European Commission has said several times that Italy must not be abandoned. Unfortunately, certain Member States want to dump the management of the EU’s external borders onto our country, and we will never accept that. We need a common migration policy, also because this is an issue we will have to continue to deal with over the coming decades. Leaving Italy all alone will result in the worst possible damage to the European Union and also Africa, which also has responsibilities with regard to the management of flows, but with whom the EU should be initiating a major partnership. There are no possible alternatives. There are more and more people drowning in the sea and fewer and fewer listening to Europe.

How does the Migration Compact proposed by Italy address the concerns of Africans?

African countries are interested in development and participating in globalisation. Just as Asia is playing its part with manufacturing and industry, Africa can do the same with agriculture and agro-industry. However, we need to overcome a series of obstacles, such as lack of infrastructure and energy, including renewables, or the weakness of the agro-industrial system. So we need investments to provide employment to millions of young people who – and it is no coincidence – represent the majority of the African migrants heading for Europe.

In the current context, Africa need us just as we need Africa. We need a grand plan, one which includes security, since many African states have objective problems in controlling their borders and because migratory routes overlap with those of drugs or arms, partly controlled by terrorists. Africa is seeking security, stability and development; Europe needs development, management of migration and security. Today we are united on two points and need only address the third: the issue of migration, which the two continents must manage jointly.

What is the right way to build a relationship with Africa that also helps with managing immigration?

The Migration Compact is a political plan which seeks to overturn the paradigm: if you want African states to feel involved in the management of migration flows, you will need serious and sizeable investment on the other side of the scales. So you need to take them seriously and make them genuine political partners. That is what Renzi said to the African ministers on 18 May in Rome. This is the Euro/African agreement. However, the Commission’s document follows the same old path, at least in part. We are asking them to stop refugees with minimal new funds (all dedicated to security matters and centres), and then we will see. It they succeed, we will move forward. But hang on a minute, can we really ask Africans to do what we Europeans are not? I would like to remind you that only 1% of the refugees who must be relocated among the 28 Member States actually have been! So who are we to lecture anyone?

By Joshua Massarenti –

© Le Pays (Burkina Faso), Les Echos (Mali), Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Mutations (Camerun), L’Autre Quotidien (Benin), Le Confident (CAR), Le Nouveau Républicain (Niger), Le Calame (Mauritania) and Afronline/Vita (Italy).

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