Migration control must be at heart of next EU-Africa pact, says EU

The EU wants migration and security to be at the heart of its next economic agreement with African countries. [EPA/F.G. GUERRERO]

The EU will put migration and security at the heart of its agenda in talks on a successor to the Cotonou Agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific nations (ACP), a leading EU official said on Monday (26 March).

“The EU’s new partnership with Africa must do more with migration [policy]. We must partner with Africa to fight trafficking and migrant smuggling,” said Koen Vervaeke, managing director for Africa at the European External Action Service (EEAS) at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

“However, we also want to improve mechanisms for the legal migration of Africans to come to Europe.”

Talks between the EU and ACP community  will begin later this year on a successor to the Cotonou agreement, the EU’s 20-year Partnership Agreement with the 78 nations, which was signed in Cotonou, Benin, in 2000.

The new agreement will also address growing inward migration to African countries.

Vervaeke said that the “EU recognises the burden of the refugee population in African countries. Over €3 billion to date has been invested by the EU in economic and security opportunities in Africa.”

Tighter enforcement of Cotonou Agreement

The current agreement includes provisions requiring African countries to take back illegal migrants. However, the only functioning migrant return agreement that the EU has is with Cape Verde.

The EU’s preoccupation with migration is a source of concern to many civil society groups.

“Development was originally the main pillar in Cotonou. Now it is just one of the pillars,” one civil society leader told EURACTIV. “To the EU the main priority is migration, security, followed by economic growth, and then development.”

The Commission also signaled its intent to increase levels of conditionality and sanctions. No funds would be allocated to states violating human rights, with the repayment of funds to be demanded if severe violations of human rights are established.

“Enforcement [of Cotonou] has always been weak. The EU will want it to be much tighter,” an EU official told EURACTIV.

EU governments will agree on their final mandate for Cotonou 2.0 in May. The ACP are expected to finalise theirs in the summer, weeks before negotiations are due to start in August.

Separate pact

The European Commission is hoping to broker a separate continental pact with African countries alongside an umbrella agreement with the ACP countries.

“Africa will be seen as a single player, which gives greater means to the EU to promote economic investment,” said Vervaeke.

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As part of the Cotonou pact, EU governments are encouraged to focus their development policies on building infrastructure and expanding the private sector.

“The EU will not just work to create jobs as a mechanism of development but the partnership will have a greater emphasis on investment in the private sector,” Vervaeke said.

For their part, the ACP bloc is likely to call for the controversial Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between regional blocs and Brussels to be re-opened.

After a decade of negotiation, the agreements with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC) remain unenforced following complaints by a number of African countries that they were forced to give up too much access for EU firms to their markets and are unable to build up their own domestic industries.


EU programmes in Africa and, potentially, the Cotonou talks will also be affected by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

“The UK has been a key actor in developing EU-African policy and when we look towards a post-Cotonou agreement without the UK it will not be the same,” said Vervaeke. The EU’s view is to try to ensure UK-Africa policy remains as closely aligned with that of the EU’s as possible so we can continue to work together based on our common economic interests.”

London is one of the main financers of the European Development Fund, which is funded via the EU budget, and which is likely to provide finance to the ACP countries. Unless other EU countries are prepared to plug the gap or strike a deal with the UK allowing it to remain a party to the EDF, the instrument could suffer substantial cuts.


Vervaeke remained optimistic that the EU and UK would continue to collaborate on African policy post-Brexit, saying that “the bottom line is that the EU is committed to close relations and continued work with the UK in Africa.”

“The EU is currently looking at the budget of their development fund and there may be a new option for third parties to contribute to the European development effort. This could be a way for UK to continue working with EU,” he said.

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