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21st Jan 2019

EU wants actions, deadlines from Valletta summit

  • Vimont (c) is leading talks on behalf of the EU (Photo: European External Action Service)

The EU’s lead negotiator at next week’s Africa summit on migration, Pierre Vimont, wants actions backed by deadlines and oversight.

Speaking in Brussels at a conference on Thursday (5 November), the former top official of the EU diplomatic service, said Valletta needs to mark a departure from previous dialogues.

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“For us, Valletta is not about repeating what has been done, it is not about reinventing what already exists,” he said.

The focus, he noted, will be on setting up short, medium, and long-term goals with clear deadlines monitored to ensure implementation.

Next week’s meeting between EU and African heads of state in Malta’s capital Valletta aims to slow the exodus of people fleeing the continent to Europe.

Divergent views on the possibility of setting up reception centres in Africa, forced returns and readmissions, legal migration, and other security-related issues are likely to underpin the talks.

Valletta was announced in April by member states when the focus on the migratory flow to Europe was the Mediterranean Sea.

That flow has since shifted to the Western Balkans. But Vimont said the conference in Valletta remains essential, given the “extraordinarily complex challenges” facing Africa.

He pointed to increasing instability, due in part, to extremist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Some young people in Africa, he said, think they have no future and are either lured to joining extremist groups or end up leaving home to seek better lives elsewhere.

He said growth in Africa does not create jobs, but, instead, increases inequalities and feeds an urbanisation which spurs social problems, crime, and instability.

“I think we have to understand that we are facing a totally different reality today. We are facing a different reality, if only because smugglers and traffickers’ networks are moving very fast,” he added.

He said Europe’s “strong, security-heavy response” to migration is a result of political realities, due in part, to the rise in populist and far-right movements.

“How do we respond to that? We can’t respond with the old messages of 20 years ago. We have to respond with new messages adapted to the reality,” the French-origin diplomat said.

Vimont dispelled notions the EU would try to impose its will on African states, noting that everything “must be done in full partnership and with the consent of everyone invited.”

He said any plans to build refugee camps in Africa, where people could apply for EU asylum instead of having first to reach the shores of Greece or Italy, would not be on the table and not in the final summit action plan.

“What we are talking about is for the EU members to think a little bit more about what they want to do with such a concept,” he explained.

The African skeptic

For his part, the African Union’s ambassador to the EU, Ajay Bramdeo, was also critical of the reception centre concept.

He said they risk being “morally regressive step.”

“If there is no clarity on how these reception centres are going to be constructed, managed, operated, who has oversight over them, how sustainable will they be, we are going to end up with open sky prisons, where human rights of those interred will be violated,” he warned.

Bramdeo noted that some root causes of migration are linked to Europe’s exploitative legacy in Africa.

He said EU member states, either individually or as a bloc, have had a negative influence on politics, societies, and economies in developing countries.

“I think we all know that in diplomacy you’ve got the side that is very transparent and open and there is also a darker side to it. Let’s not be naive about that,” he said.

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