28th Feb 2024

Belgian EU presidency eyes more Africa-based migrant deals

Listen to article

The new Belgian EU presidency wants to expand migration-busting relations with countries in Africa — following the bloc's controversial agreement with Tunisia last summer.

Their plans are part of a wider array of priorities, including efforts "to continue to develop a mutually beneficial partnership" between the European Union and African states. It says any such plans will adhere to international law in full.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

This comes despite the Belgian government itself ignoring thousands of domestic court rulings favouring asylum seekers at home.

Nicole de Moor, Belgium's migration minister, late last year provided insights into the next six months as the country steers the EU presidency.

"The EU should, in my opinion, dare to look wider and work for integrated partnerships with various third countries covering more than just migration," she had said at an event in September hosted by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank.

De Moor had framed the EU's deal with Tunisia as one that goes beyond migration, covering such issues as labour, the green transition and education.

"What the deal is really about is to help Tunisia, a country with major problems, to build a full-fledged state with economic opportunities for its own people and for migrants," she said.

But the agreement also came on the back of thousands of people fleeing by boats from Tunisia towards Italy, sparking the Italian far-right government into securing an EU-endorsed plan to curtail embarkations.

Ahead of the agreement, Italy had declared a six-month state of emergency, given the maritime arrivals from Tunisia and Libya.

More than 155,000 people arrived to Italy by sea last year — an increase from the around 100,000 in 2022.

In a broader context, the 155,000 figure represents 0.26 percent of the Italian population and 0.03 percent of the EU population.

But the push to secure more so-called partnerships under the Belgian presidency is also part of an EU calculation to help stem irregular migration towards Italy and other EU states.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has already pledged to use the EU-Tunisia deal as a blueprint for future agreements.

First Tunisia, now Egypt

This now appears to also include cash-strapped Egypt, which devalued its currency three times last year as it grapples with inflation.

In January, the Brussels-executive aims to adopt a statement with Cairo "on a strategic and comprehensive partnership".

The statement is an upgraded bilateral partnership that will likely include political and economic support for a regime rife with abuse.

Human Rights Watch, an NGO, says such support puts the EU at further risk of complicity in abuses.

It also says any deal is expected to include hundreds of millions of euros of direct support and pave the way for €9bn in loans from the European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Migration is also a factor in light of earlier warnings by the UN's Palestine relief agency UNRWA that Israel's assault in Gaza could force up to a million refugees over the border into Egypt.

The EU has in 2022 and 2023 already allocated €110m for border management for Egypt, with aims to shore up sea patrols and land surveillance on the western border with Libya.

And a top-up of €5m of a border project was set to be contracted last month, with a remaining €82m in the first quarter of this year.

The EU is also dispatching a migration agent as part of its delegation in February, and plans a so-called security and law enforcement dialogue with Egypt sometime later this year.

As for Tunisia and its July deal, the European Commission is praising the country's coast guard for having intercepted over 73,000 people at sea last year.

It now plans on signing additional contracts on legal migration in Tunisia, estimated to be worth around €7.5m, as well as multi-million euro socio-economic integration programmes.

This pales in comparison to upcoming Tunisia contracts on anti-smuggling (€18m) and border management (€30m).

EU seeks migrant deal with Egypt in January

The European Commission is hoping to reach a new agreement with Egypt in January as it steps up efforts to curtail irregular migration towards Europe.


How the EU can help Tunisia avoid a total economic crash

Tunisia possesses both the necessary ingredients and the capacity to invigorate its economy to become a 'Mediterranean tiger'. Yet, this potential has remained largely untapped since the dawn of its 2011 uprising.


New Belgian presidency, Red Sea tensions This WEEK

Returning from the Christmas holidays, the Belgian EU Council presidency will host its first informal council and the European Parliament's committees will resume their work in Brussels.

Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns

Germany is expanding agreements to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin as part of a wider shift in Europe to curtail migration. Berlin has reached deals with Georgia and Morocco since December.


Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Latest News

  1. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  2. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  3. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  4. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash
  5. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  6. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  7. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  8. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us