Mimica: Emergency Trust Fund for Africa ‘might not be a game-changer’

Neven Mimica, photographed at the Radisson Blu hotel. Dakar, Senegal, 28 April. [Matt Tempest/Flickr]

In a wide-ranging interview, Commissioner Neven Mimica tells euractiv.com’s Matthew Tempest about the executive’s master plan for legal migration, as well as the limits of development aid to African states in the rough.

Neven Mimica, a former deputy prime minister of Croatia, is the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO).

Mimica spoke with Tempest – along with journalists from Die Welt and El Pais – in Dakar, Senegal, on the eve of the EU-Africa, Pacific, Caribbean ministerial summit.

With regards to the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (aimed at stemming irregular migration from Africa to Europe), can I put a simple proposition to you? That no matter how much you put in (currently 1.8 billion), these are some of the poorest countries on the planet, and it is not going to reduce the ‘pull factor’ of Europe.

Yes, they are the poorest. 1.8 billion might not be the game-changer. But again, let us take it together with our overall development actions. 20 billion in Africa, mostly for the least developed countries in the world.

20 billion, plus 1.8 billion for the most vulnerable, fragile, countries in the world. What we have to do is change the mindset and approach to our projects in two aspects – making them as focussed to the route causes of migration as possible, and also making them as fast, as operational, as possible. Our own development programmes – under National Indicative Programmes, under Regional Indicative Programmes – the lifespan of these projects are far too long, five to six years. With the Trust Fund, these two projects were approved only two months after Valleta [the November 2015 summit].Five months later, we are at the operational stage of the project.

A lifespan could be one year, two years, not longer than that, for the Trust Fund, so if we could bring this sense of urgency into the 20 billion [euros] regular EU member states operations in Africa, then we could really have a better impact on the overall state of development affairs in the most fragile and vulnerable parts of the world. So (we) have to take this forward and be more focussed on the results, not any longer on the inputs, on the quantity of money we put in, but focussed on the output, the results.

Are you optimistic about the support of governments in general in Africa? Obviously, Senegal might be a role-model, but if you look at Niger, for instance, the country profits from remittances from people who are living in Europe. Whole cities are dependent on refugee streams – they are making a living out of the crisis, in a way. How can you convince governments like that to really tackle the root causes of migration?

Actually in all my discussions, contacts, talks with African leaders, and visiting countries here or in Brussels, is now more than ever focussed on this migration interaction and interdependence. It is to be seen, from all these contacts, they recognise it’s a very politically sensitive to discuss, let alone to agree, on a return and readmission policy to be fully and completely implemented.

Senegal aid projects appeal for EU funding ahead of Dakar summit

Projects in Senegal helping disabled schoolchildren and rescuing street kids have appealed for a continuation of their EU funding, as Brussels officials fly in for a summit in the capital, Dakar, with leaders of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations on Thursday (28 April).

But we agree with all of them. We are not aiming at stopping migration or turning (around) people who are working in Europe, who are there for years and decades, who are part of the history of European-African relations. So what we are aiming at is this recent influx of irregular migrants to Europe, because it’s about smuggling, about endangering the life of the migrants. It’s about allowing a legal framework for the migrants that does not allow for free international protection or asylum-based access when it comes to economic migrants.

But here we try to look together into these new flows that come to Europe and assess to what extent and how we can make them as legal as possible. As strongly connected to the legal migration framework that we have to develop in the European Union – and we are about to do it. In the next month or two, you will witness the European Commission’s proposal for this legal migration agenda in Europe.

Therefore they understand, our partners in Africa, that we have to work together in order to stop the irregular smuggling coming to Europe for illegal, not refugee, reasons.

Wrap-up: EU leaders reach deal with Turkey

The EU summit last week (7 March) failed to reach a deal with Turkey to stem the unprecedented migrant crisis. Today and tomorrow (17-18 March), EU leaders were expected to talk about the economy and the climate but these have been pushed to the margins, as the meeting will be dominated by the refugee crisis.

I see that we discuss it in a way that return and readmission is only one part of the whole migration agenda puzzle that we would like to fit together with them, because it’s really about tackling the root causes of migration. It’s about better management, and it’s about better border management, it’s about better security in the region and in the countries. So therefore I don’t feel there is complete resistance to discuss it as this whole common migration agenda.

Return and readmission should not be politicised, it’s more about administrative cooperation and improving the coordination between the European Union member states and the African partners. Not to search and send back all those who are already there in Europe under the previous ways they came, but to look at this new wave of migrants and to agree that there must be this kind of legal framework. This could be the basis for the new migrants to be accepted in the European Union member states.

In terms of electricity projects, you mentioned renewable energy.

We have, unlike some other energy initiatives or some other electricity initiatives in Africa, 25 bilateral or multilateral energy initiatives in Africa alone. We would like to make them much less fragmented. And, unlike others, we would like to make them our energy facility in Africa under one condition – it must be renewable.

No other sources of energy generation will be supported by co-finance or supported by blending operations. Renewables only. This is what we would like to see. And the other condition or approach that we would like to see…renewables need some other inputs, and therefore we would like to do it with companies, with private sector investment, where they don’t go alone.

We have to develop the mechanisms to complete this way of doing it with the European Investment Bank and other development banks. We have to develop the real measures and conditions that wouldn’t bring in Africa energy infrastructure investment that would come anyway without additional support from these blending operations.

After the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan, we hear voices, people saying that similar operations will need to be replicated to other countries, especially Africa, in order to prevent irregular migrant flows, from the Italian Prime Minister [Matteo Renzi]. While the Trust Fund is to deal with the causes of migration, do you think there would need to be more effort, and even more creative ways of the EU supporting African countries before another migration crisis?

Yes, again in preventing or limiting the impact of migratory irregular flows, we need to tackle this migration crisis we need all sorts of partnerships. The one with Turkey might be the fast-track one, or faster than what we do or would like to do with our African partners. But it doesn’t mean that we would give up the idea of bringing migration and development together in African countries. This is here in Africa, where we see migratory flows are growing.

Juncker to announce African trust fund

Speaking to a small number of journalists today (7 September) Development Commissioner Neven Mimica said that Commission President will announce on Wednesday (9 September) a special “trust fund” for Africa, aimed at dealing with the root causes of the refugee crisis.

But you must always have in mind that out of 60 million people on the move, more than 80% of them are here in the developing countries, most of the in Africa.

Some African countries do host right now more migrants than those going to Europe – see Ethiopia, Kenya, even here in Senegal. Senegal is a country of origin, a country of transit, a country of destination for migrants.

So we have to build this common migration agenda with African countries, and this is what we are doing right now.

Maybe it will take bit longer time than the arrangement with Turkey, but not too long.

Therefore I spoke of accelerating our, let us call it irregular development programmes and turning it towards tackling the root causes of irregular migration.

That I can see being more engaged in turning irregular migration towards regular migration. That is the way we see that this partnership could work. Partnership that includes the our partner country in Africa actions, as well as our support to these development and migration related actions – that includes private sector engagement as well, more blending operations as well.

This might look like a long-term project. But it will work, and it will work faster than long-term projects will.

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