S&D chief: ‘Political suicide’ for Europe to ignore Africa

Udo Bullmann: "Migration must be well managed, not stopped; we need to invest in people rather than walls." [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report A new EU-Africa partnership.

Europe has to tackle the root causes of migration and better manage population flows by investing in people rather than walls, Udo Bullmann told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Udo Bullmann is the leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament. He replied in written questions to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos ahead of the “Africa Week” on 5 – 8 November 2018 in the European Parliament.  

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Migration must be well managed, not stopped
  • New Africa-EU partnership is needed, ignoring Africa is ‘political suicide’
  • Economic and political investment can only stop the irregular migration
  • Nationalists are playing with fear and gut feelings of the citizens
  • EU should help Africa promote ecologically sustainable agriculture
  • Stricter legislation needed on “modern slavery”

What is the main objective of the third Africa Week?

We are proud to be the only political group that has invested so much in Africa since the very beginning of the mandate. This political commitment continues.

Unfortunately, the narrative of migration has taken a centre stage in the EU-Africa relations in recent times. We want to go beyond this, through our Africa Week initiative, we want to intensify political dialogue between the EU and Africa to bring a new Africa-EU partnership that can help to address the common global challenges we face including migration management.

A framework exists: the Sustainable Development Goals. Their achievements must be the compass of EU-Africa relations.

The Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament are pushing for a renewed Europe-Africa partnership. What precise measures should Europe take in order to control migration from Africa?

When factors such as poverty, social inequalities, lack of education and environmental degradation exist, migration becomes inevitable, as we have seen in recent times, migratory flows not only from Africa to Europe but also in the Americas. Therefore, we cannot just speak about controlling migration. We cannot accept the idea of building a fortress Europe.

The only way forward is to tackle the root causes that push people to risk their lives in the Sahel region and the Mediterranean Sea. Without a real economic and political investment that will foster growth and development, we will not be able to stop the irregular migration flows in the long term. I also believe we need to open legal channels for labour migration in order to fight back the business of illegal migration.

We have, however, to stop seeing the Africa-EU relationship from the sole prism of development aid, which remains crucial for the poorest people and countries. Africa needs a true and balanced partnership based on ownership and responsibility. This is what we expect from the new External Investment Plan for Africa and neighbourhood countries adopted by EU in 2016, which call to promote sustainable investments in Africa.

We should stop exploiting the African natural resources without investing in capacity building in areas such as education, skill development, infrastructures and democracy. Europe needs this just as much.

Do you believe an EU-Turkey style migration deal could also be helpful with African countries or should the discussion not be limited to that?

In the EU Council of June 2018, member states proposed to stem migrations in the EU also setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside EU territory, notably in Africa and neighborhood countries, in order to making it possible for vessels to quickly disembark people rescued at sea in a place of safety, in line with international law.

However, so far, except Niger, no African countries accepted this proposal, IOM and UNHCR said that any such country must first set up reception centres that provide adequate, safe and dignified reception conditions. Morocco, for instance, refused to host the disembarkation platform; in the meantime, Rabat is negotiating EU funds with Brussels to manage irregular migration flows, which have risen in 2018 in its territory after the limited access to Central Mediterranean Sea. But are the rights of sub-Saharan African migrants protected in Morocco? Not really.

In light of rising extreme right-wing populism in Europe, how could the composition of the new EU Parliament affect this renewed Europe-Africa partnership?

Populists and nationalists play with fear and gut feelings of the citizens. We have to counterbalance this rhetoric with concrete and shared actions that on the one hand can better manage the migration movements and on the other put Europe at the frontline as the main partner with Africa. Based on current trends, the African continent as a whole is projected to double in size by 2050, from 1 billion to more than 2 billion inhabitants, mostly young people.

Considering Africa’s demographic projections and all the root causes of irregular migration I mentioned above, it would be a political suicide to ignore the continent in the next future. However, it would also be a dramatic mistake to focus EU-Africa relations on stopping all migration. Migration must be well managed, not stopped; we need to invest in people rather than walls.

Is agriculture a field that Europe should focus on when it comes to Africa? If yes, then how could Europe help African farming?

Hunger and malnutrition in developing countries and especially in Africa are largely related to a lack of purchasing power and/or the inability of the rural poor to be self-sufficient. In this respect, through our policies, we are asking the EU to help to provide Africa with expertise and financial support to promote ecologically sustainable agriculture based on small-scale and family farming, targeting women and young people in particular.

This could go a long way to help some African countries to overcome impediments (such as poor infrastructure and poor logistics) to their own agricultural production. In addition, our policies need to respect the right of African countries to shape their agricultural and food policies without weakening their food production capacities and long-term food security.

In southern European countries, there is an increasing number of African people working in farms and critics emphasise the rise of a “modern slavery”. What are your proposals to tackle this phenomenon?

The rising debate about modern forms of slavery raises questions about our dedication to liberty and human equality. We condemn in strong terms any act that will subject an individual to any forms of slavery.

Better enforcement of existing legislation and enhanced due diligence processes is needed to tackle the new forms of slavery. Legislation could be strengthened, for example, through bringing public authority procurement into its scope.

I recalled in 2015, the UK passed the Modern Slavery Act, an unprecedented piece of legislation that bound companies with a turnover of £36 million to report on what steps they have taken to prevent instances of modern slavery in their supply chains. Other countries, such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands, have also passed, or are working to pass, similar pieces of legislation.

However, we know that despite its importance, the Modern Slavery Act is just the start. It does not compel businesses to tackle modern slavery in supply chains and corporate compliance is needed to end this act.

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