Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

EU and Africa to clash on readmissions

  • Valletta to host more than 50 EU and African leaders (Photo: Ronny Siegel)

European and African leaders want different things from next week’s migration summit in Malta, as the EU lowers its humanitarian ambitions.

The African states will be pushing for more legal migration channels to the EU.

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But EU negotiators, led by Pierre Vimont, the former head of the EU diplomatic service, are more interested in implementation of existing readmission agreements to help send people back.

“There is no secret that the Africans are looking for opportunity for legal migration, work permits and these kinds of things, while the Europeans are focusing more on returns and readmission”, one EU official told this website.

A series of four draft summit conclusions, leaked over the past few weeks, show progressive watering down of EU proposals on legal intakes.

The Valletta priority areas are: development, legal migration and mobility; international protection and asylum; fight against irregular migration, smuggling, and trafficking of human beings; and returns and readmissions.

The latest draft text, dated Monday (26 October), calls for doubling, by 2017, the number of scholarships for African students and academic staff under the EU’s Erasmus programme.

But it focuses on how to keep people out.

Readmissions aside, it proposes enhancing “operational police cooperation and exchange of information between countries of origin, transit, and destination of migration with immediate effect”.

It also calls for improving intelligence gathering and sharing among African states, plus supporting “national capabilities to control land, sea and air borders, as well as maritime surveillance capabilities.”

A previous draft spoke of creating “centres [in Africa] for potential asylum seekers where, after pre-screening, they could benefit from safe and legal ways to the EU.”

But the 26 October text speaks, more vaguely, of plans to “explore the concept of enhanced capacities in priority  regions along the main migratory routes, with a view to  developing possible pilot projects.”

Guest list

Most of the 28 EU leaders will meet in Malta’s capital, Valletta, with some 35 African heads of state for a two-day event.

On the EU side, all except Poland and Portugal, given their recent elections, have confirmed attendance.

The heads of Cyprus and Latvia had initially decided to skip it, but are now likely to attend after EU Council chief Donald Tusk announced an informal EU summit immediately after the EU-Africa meeting.

On the African side, Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, who is facing war crimes charges, is sending his foreign minister.

Eritrea’s pariah president, Isaias Afwerki, is doing the same.

The African Union delegation, which is also taking part, will be chaired by South African politician Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, an anti-apartheid activist, instead of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's geriatric dictator, who currently chairs the Union itself.

Leverage

As leverage, the EU will try to use a €3.6 billion Africa Trust Fund to persuade African states to sign up to the accord.

The fund was proposed by the European Commission.

Half of it, or €1.8 billion, is to be taken from existing EU money slated for development under the European Development Fund (EDF). That means spending must comply with international standards on development aid.

The other half is to come from member states' contributions and can be spent on security measures, such as border control or crackdowns on human smuggling.

A minimum €3 million is required for a member state to sit on the board of the fund.

But EU states have shown reluctance in taking part: As of Wednesday, states had pledged just €31.8 million in total, with Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain each forking over the minimum €3 million.

Italy offered €10 million.

Empty words

A second EU official said the Valletta conclusions have been peppered with references to human rights to make Europe seem friendlier.

But for her part, Sara Tesorieri, Oxfam's EU migration policy expert in Brussels, told this website the EU should beware of making big statements on EU values at Valletta, if they aren’t matched by deeds.

"Fundamental values can't be sacrificed for a 'pragmatic' approach to gaining cooperation for outsourcing Europe's border control", she told EUobserver.

She said development aid should be used to lift people out of poverty, not to restrict "their mobility or [to] prioritise state security over human security.”

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