Diverting EU aid to stop migration: The EU Trust Fund for Africa

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Leaders from Germany, Spain, Italy and the EU meet with their counterparts from Niger, Chad and Libya to discuss how to stem economic migration. Paris, 28 August. [Thibault Camus/EPA]

Migrants have become the focus of the EU’s aid strategy. As priority is given to stemming migrant flows in the short-term, long-term development goals are forgone, tarnishing the EU’s image as a global development actor, writes Fanny Voitzwinkler.

Fanny Voitzwinkler heads the Brussels Office of Global Health Advocates France, a non-governmental group working to increase political and financial support for development and the fight against poverty.

The year 2015 saw a stark rise in the number of migrants attempting to reach Europe via its southern border, prompted by multiple conflicts and instability in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. This led to an EU-wide political crisis about migration management and a hardening European public opinion on migration.

Since then, close to €3 billion worth of development funds have been pooled together through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to strengthen border control, improve migration management, foster resilience and create new job opportunities in 26 African countries.

Development aid is meant to fund long-term programs that are aimed at the eradication of poverty in partner countries and are in line with a country’s own development priorities. As both a development and an emergency instrument, the EU Trust Fund does exactly the opposite. It prioritises quick fixes driven by Europe’s short-term domestic priorities, with little involvement of local governments – let alone of civil society actors.

The EU Trust Fund was born as a political instrument designed to respond to a political emergency in Europe. EU development agencies, which are the principal recipients of funding from the EU Trust Fund in Senegal and Niger, point to the fact that it is first and foremost a political communication tool, meant to show citizens that the EU is responding quickly to the so-called “migration crisis”.

Backtracking on development effectiveness

Investigating the early implementation of EU Trust Fund projects in Niger and Senegal, the NGO Global Health Advocates found that development aid has not been programmed effectively and is diverted to serve EU’s domestic agenda in the field of migration.

Projects with short term visibility were favored over projects with long-term impact. One project in Senegal was not approved by the EU, on the ground that results would only be yielded four years later. Because of a lack of time, development agencies repackaged existing projects.

This also resulted in opaque programming processes: no public calls for proposals, no consultation of local actors and no eligibility guidelines. And while projects were selected and communicated rapidly, the disbursement of funds took at least one year.

In Niger, the EU Delegation reported working on a retroactive strategy to direct future EU Trust Fund spending, at a time when 80% of the available money had already been allocated. A very worrying trend, given that the development community has spent decades discussing what is now an internationally-agreed set of development effectiveness principles.

Taking a closer look at Trust Fund’s projects show that migration patterns, rather than the structural causes of poverty now determine funding allocation. Migrants become the focus of aid and priority is given to areas where migrants transit through or originate from. Actions which might impact migration dynamics are privileged over long term development goals.

Doing more harm than good?

The European Commission often congratulates itself for the rapidity and flexibility with which it selected projects during what the migration “emergency” (such as it is perceived in Europe, but certainly not in Senegal and Niger). But at which costs?

There is certainly little point in being fast at the expense of good results. Both in Niger and Senegal, altering migration dynamics can increase vulnerability, by preventing people from migrating to neighbouring countries for seasonal work and impacting the financial transfers that many communities heavily rely on.

Repressive measures to curb migration are depriving communities of economic opportunities in the Agadez region of Niger, without providing alternatives in already unstable environments. The EU’s eagerness to rapidly stem migration flows has taken precedence over seeking sustainable solutions for the local population.

Aid as a bargaining chip

The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa came as the expedient and expeditious solution through which Europe would try to seal itself off from the rise of illegal migration from Africa.

The EU is now outsourcing the control of migration to countries such as Libya, Chad and Niger, to ensure migrants are no longer able to leave the northern shores of the African continent. Using development aid as a bargaining chip to leverage African countries cooperation on migration tarnishes the image of the EU as a global development actor.

There is a serious risk that development ceases to be regarded primarily as a tool for poverty eradication and that EU will keep using aid as a bargaining chip to have Africa’s cooperation on stemming migration. This may create an incentive for partner countries to cooperate, provided they receive additional funding, as is currently the case with Libya.

We urge the EU to delink its political dialogue on migration from its development agenda and acknowledge that migration is a positive driver of development. Unless the EU Trust Fund is realigned to reflect a genuine partnership between EU and African countries, promoting policies that can foster a positive development impact of mobility, the EU should stop replenishing the Fund. Development is too important to be rushed.