Tuesday

23rd May 2017

EU looking for ways to manage southern 'ring of fire'

  • The market in Marakesh, Morroco. A key aspect to stabilise the southern neighbourhood is to achieve economic progress and financial cooperation. (Photo: Carlos ZGZ)

How to manage the "ring of fire" on the EU's southern doorstep and the consequences of unrest and poverty?

The question, top of EU leaders' agenda for an age, was the subject of a conference this week in Valletta organised by the Delors Institute think-tank.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Europe "cannot escape history and geography", reminded Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, whose country currently holds the EU rotating presidency.

He admitted that European leaders were "looking for ideas" on how to address the challenges around the Mediterranean.

Opening the conference, alongside Muscat, former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta pointed out that economy, politics, foreign policy, development and human rights were "all linked, not exclusive" when it came to defining a neighbourhood and migration strategy.

He said that the EU needs a "delivery-based roadmap", not a "business as usual approach", as well as true "European leaders" to make decisions rather than "champions of scapegoats".

Discussion by experts during the conference - held under Chatham House rules, by which speakers cannot be quoted by name - showed that it will not be an easy task.

Lagging investment

While the assumption that the EU is a normative power has vanished, the bloc's priority is now neighbourhood stability, although the right balance between stability and democracy is yet to be found.

Reconcile both aims might be to do more to build local communities, grounds on which local governance can be improved and moderate opposition encouraged.

For the EU and its southern neighbours, the key aspect is to achieve economic progress and financial cooperation. Without it, one participant said, "you are jeopardising the future and make it more difficult to address migration".

Another speaker noted that Northern Africa is going through an industrialisation process and could become "Europe's Mexico", producing goods for Europe to be sold through trade agreements.

But the region is still lagging behind in terms of investment. Private sector investment remains below 15 percent - compared to around 30 percent in the EU Eastern neighbourhood.

Foreign direct investment is also down 50 percent, compared to 2008, due to the crisis and the consequences of the Arab spring.

The consequence of lower investment combined with a growing population is that even with economic growth, a gap is growing between available capital and the capital needed to grow the economy.

Long term benefits

One of the EU's main tools to foster economic activity and better relations with their neighbourhood has been the so-called deep and comprehensive free trade agreements. DCFTAs, such as those signed with Ukraine or Georgia, are under discussion with Morocco and Tunisia but have made little progress.

Participants pointed out that DCFTAs are relevant as a policy tool only if the EU's neighbours want to join world markets and do it through the EU.

So far, the EU has been waiting for potential partners on the Mediterranean's southern shores to set out their goals, the question now is whether there is a genuine demand for what the EU is offering.

In any case, trade agreements won't guarantee smooth economic development, stability or decrease migration flows to Europe.

Their benefits can only be measured in the medium and long term.

Trade agreements with the EU are a risk for local agriculture, as well as a potentially disruptive change for the public and private sectors.

Economic development with the EU help could also temporarily increase migration, fed by growing wealth and aspirations.

However, migrants coming to Europe are often unqualified and unprepared for the European labour market. Skilled African migrants tend to go to the US and Canada, rather than the EU.

To smooth the transition in the southern neighbourhood the EU should increase the skills of their citizens and develop projects to attract African students, giving them a possibility to live and work in the EU for several years before going home.

In the meantime, with an entire region destabilised by conflicts, fragile political transitions or lack of social and economic progress, Europe has to face the urgency of migration flows through the Mediterranean.

Conference participants noted, crossing from Libya to Europe is cheaper, easier and more dangerous than it was one or two years ago, as EU policies to reduce flows do not mean that smugglers networks have been stopped.

Transversial issue

Today, 90 percent of people landing in Italy arrive on NGO and EU rescue boats. Smugglers embark more people at lower prices, knowing that 12 or 15 miles off the coast migrants will be rescued.

But when migrants are not spotted by NGOs or EU navies, the risk of death is far higher as smugglers no longer even drive the boats.

As the conference made clear, migration is "a transversal issue": it starts long before migrants cross EU borders and it ends long after. It's a matter of foreign and integration policy, as well as an issue of controlling borders.

The challenges are difficult and wide-ranging. Faced with a worried or hostile public opinion, the EU would need to do more to teach about them, said Elvire Fabry, from the Delors Institute.

But EU leaders have little time to act.

"Our political system is about to crack because of the perception" that migration is changing Europe, warned former Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski at the end of the discussions.

Migration and how it is managed is "what will make or break the European Union," he added.

Focus

No opt-outs on migration, says Malta

For the Mediterranean country that just took the EU presidency, the migration crisis is still there and must be addressed internally and externally.

EU leaders to push migration issue outside of Europe

EU leaders endorsed an Italian deal with Libya to help the North African country stem the flow of people, and pledged €200 million to help its coastguard patrol the seas in an effort to curb migration.

Investigation

Fight club: Russian spies seek EU recruits

Russian intelligence services are using martial arts clubs to recruit potential troublemakers in Germany and other EU countries, security experts have warned.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  2. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  3. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  4. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  5. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  7. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  8. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  9. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  10. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  11. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Cost of Speaking Out: Human Rights Violations Committed in Belarus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCABanishing Bias? Audit, Objectivity and the Value of Professional Scepticism
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Oslo Climate Declaration Focuses on Rising Temperatures in the Arctic
  3. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceAbdominal Obesity: A Causal Risk Factor for Cardiometabolic Diseases
  4. EU Green Week 2017Discuss EU Environmental Policies With Industry Experts and Thought Leaders
  5. GEN Summit 2017Join the World's Leading Media Summit for Thought-Provoking Talks and Experiences
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsTogether for Human Rights: A Year in Review
  7. Malta EU 2017EU All Set for Free Roaming Starting 15 June
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersRefugee Unemployment Biggest Drain on Public Purse, Says New Nordic Studies
  9. Dialogue Platform17,000 Women, 515 Babies in Turkish Prisons, a Report Reveals
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  11. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  12. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change