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Bob van Dillen (Caritas Europa): “EU development strategy is in contradiction with the UN Agenda 2030” 0

Brussels – Tomorrow the European Foreign Affairs Council will officially adopt the new EU Consensus for development, a key document that should align the EU’s policy with the UN 2030 Agenda. But behind the scene, other interests prevail. According to Bob van Dillen, Caritas Europa‘s policy and advocacy officer, “it now seems that stopping migration and returning migrants to their countries of origin has become the primary objective of EU development cooperation, which is in contradiction with the UN 2030 Agenda which rather sees migration as a force for development”.

Tomorrow the Foreign Affairs Council will officially adopt the new European Consensus for development in order to align the EU’s policy with the UN 2030 Agenda. The European Development ministers will also discuss in Brussels the implementation of the 2030 Agenda with Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary General in charge of the 2030 Agenda. If you had the opportunity to exchange your views with Mohamed just before her meeting, what would you tell her about the new Consensus proposed by the EU Commission?

I would encourage her not to hide her disappointment about the political decision of the European Union to integrate migration objectives into the overall EU development policy framework. I would remind her that the EU’s decision to sacrifice development aid to serve short-term migration interests comes at a time when the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda is urgently called far, especially in view of the 750 million poor and vulnerable people, half of whom live in Africa, including some 20 million people at risk of starvation. She is painfully aware that in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, we witness forced migration and displacement caused by war and violence, poverty and injustice, lack of governance and stability, or droughts and environmental hazards. As a consequence, children are dying of famine, doctors in rural areas have no means to cure the ill, and tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people are fleeing from deadly conflicts and persecution.

Globally over 65 million people are on the move today in search of a place to survive. There should be little debate about the need to help them and to tackle the root causes of forced migration and displacement. What is needed now is making migration safe and legal, protecting the human rights of all migrants on the move. Instead, it now seems that stopping migration and returning migrants to their countries of origin has become the primary objective of EU development cooperation, which is in contradiction with the UN 2030 Agenda which rather sees migration as a force for development. It is also in breach with the Lisbon Treaty which states that poverty eradication is the prime objective of EU development cooperation.

It is important to realise that enhanced border controls will not solve the root causes of forced migration and displacement. Development cooperation and Official development assistance should therefore not be used for realising migration objectives. Instead, development aid has its own role to play to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality by promoting sustainable, long-term transformation that will benefit everyone, notably the poorest communities and countries in the world.

We have seen over the past few years external migration policies been mixed with development cooperation efforts, in particular when in Valetta in 2015 African states and the EU agreed on an Emergency Trust Fund for Africa using ODA for a package of measures that included migration control initiatives. We now see that migration objectives have moved to the centre of the EU’s development policy. We also see that development resources are being redirected towards “migrant producing countries”. And we witness increasing levels of conditionality forcing recipient countries to collaborate on the EU migration agenda, threatening to use aid as a positive or negative condition, by “maximising the synergies and applying the necessary leverage by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade”. That is extremely worrying and in breach with the development effectiveness principles that the EU and its member states have signed on to.

Moreover, the past few years we have seen that in several European member states, the costs for refugee reception have been paid from the budget of development cooperation – precisely the funds reserved for tackling poverty and inequality. Countries like the Netherlands and Italy have in the last few years spent 25-30% of their development aid budgets for the first year of reception of asylum seekers. Supporting refugees arriving in Europe is right and necessary. But when the donor country is at the same time the biggest recipient of development aid, are we not putting the carriage before the horse?

How much the will of many Member States to stop migration flows from Africa to Europe is influencing the new EU development cooperation approach?

Actually, most of the migrants arriving in Europe over the past few years have come from Syria and Afghanistan, but I consider this has been a huge factor, in my view the determining factor along with some arbitrary predictions of the population growth in Africa resulting in 4 billion people in the year 2050 and the flawed conclusions that some policy makes have drawn from these projections that in future some 20-30 million Africans will be coming to Europe as they won’t have the means to build a sustainable livelihoods where they live.

We know that several meetings took place between EU Commission and EU civil society organizations. Have you seen any impact of these discussions on the new Consensus document? 

The Maltese EU presidency has facilitated interaction early February the CODEV* representatives of all member states and a delegation of Concord Europe, the confederation of EU development NGOs. I was part of that delegation and spoke about our concerns on migration and on the lack of policy coherence. In the run up to that meeting, we were told that a broader debate about the EU agenda on migration was not desirable, and that our input was solicited on the “positive agenda of migration in developing countries”, linked to addressing the root causes of migration. We have immediately argued that there’s no need for talking about the root causes of migration, as this is not a problem but rather a solution to development. We consistently suggested that the EU should change its narrative to tackle forced migration and displacement, and use development aid to address all social, economic, political and environmental factors that force people to move somewhere else. Most of these factors are in fact important part of the UN 2030 Agenda, so by fully implementing this agenda, those underlying factors will be removed and migration becomes again a safe and voluntary thing.

Within Concord we have also commented on drafts of the new Consensus in April, and written to the member states in Brussels and in capitals.  Efforts to discuss the broader migration agenda with the Council was “not possible due to already busy agenda’s”.

How much African civil society is involved in the EU CSOs/NGOs advocacy activities and campaigns regarding the new EU migration and development policies? 

This involvement is very low. In many policy areas, for example in agriculture and food security, we have for many years worked alongside African NGOs and farmer cooperatives in engaging with policy makers on EU, AU or international policies, including at UN level. This has led to important improvements in global and national policies that have benefitted small scale and family agriculture. In the area of migration and development, the stakes seem so high that the African states seem much less willing to allow for their CSOs to play any “critical” role.

The lack of policy space for CSOs, already under pressure in most of Africa, seems smaller in migration issues than in other areas. This gets translated in the EU-Africa dialogues, where CSOs were largely absent. The 2015 Valetta Summit for example allowed, at the very last moment, for only two CSOs reps to participate. A year later, the number had doubled to four. The process of how these representatives were selected is rather opaque. Now for the upcoming Africa-EU Summit in Abidjan, this November, a CSO Forum is being organised in Tunis, this July, with 80 participants representing civil society from both continents. It seems that the 40 African representatives are being selected by the African Union. This does not bode well for genuine and meaningful participation nor for the necessary joint critical reflections on the policy orientations currently happening.

* The Working Party on Development Cooperation handles general aspects of development cooperation policy, contributing to the objective of poverty eradication with rights-based approaches to effective development cooperation and policy coherence for development.

By Joshua Massarenti (

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi