EU’s migration cash for Africa falls short

European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the deal was signed in Valletta. [James Crisp]

The European Union’s efforts to stem the flow of refugees from Africa was undermined today (12 November) by member states who failed to match EU money for a €1.8 billion trust fund to the tune of €1.72 billion, raising just €78 million.

EU and African leaders were meeting in Valletta, Malta, for a two-day summit in response to the migration crisis. €1.8 billion from the EU budget and European Development Fund was stumped up for the emergency trust fund, which will pay for measures to tackle the reasons refugees flee.

“For the Africa Trust Fund and our response to be credible, I want to see more member states contributing and matching the €1.8 billion the EU has put forward,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said as EU leaders signed the deal.

But, at time of going to press, 25 of the 28 member states, and two non-EU donors Norway and Switzerland, had pledged a total of around €78.2 million matching funds, far short of what Juncker has called for.

The European Commission has said it expects further contributions in the future. A European Council meeting will be held to further discuss migration this afternoon, although the UK and Poland are not present.

President of Senegal Macky Sall said the €1.8 billion fund was simply not enough. He added that if multinational corporations paid their taxes in Africa, and if fair prices were paid for African goods, the continent would not need anywhere near as much development aid.

Action plan

Later, EU and African leaders signed a five point action plan. It aims to secure Africans’ help in returning illegal migrants to their home country and clamping down on people smugglers.

The plan offers Africans larger but limited legal channels of migration and cash to improve the economic and social situations in their countries. The fund will be the financing instrument used to implement the plan.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU was in a “race against time” to save the Schengen area of passport free travel. “We are determined to win that race,“ he said. “Without effective border controls, Schengen will not survive.”

As the migration crisis worsened, some member states reinstated border controls with other EU countries. Today, Sweden was the latest country to add itself to the list, which also includes Hungary, Germany and Slovenia.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that safeguarding borders and renewing migration laws was vital, but not in order to create a “Fortress Europe”.

Referring to the plan and fund, he said, “This is an important first step forward but no one is expecting this to be the be all and end all.”

>>Read: EU seeks deal with Africa to stem migrant flows

Development cash for checkpoints?

Civil society organisations have warned that, if they do pay into the trust fund, EU countries could divert development cash meant for schools and hospitals to checkpoints and barb wire.

Sara Tesorieri, Oxfam’s migration policy lead in Malta, said, “The EU Trust Fund for Africa must have a clear separation between development aid and security cooperation envelopes ? these have different objectives and do not belong in the same pot.”

EU officials told EURACTIV that the trust fund would not be conditional on issues such as returning migrants to Africa.

Campaigners also fears that member states could be tempted to use any future trust fund contribution to top up their Overseas Development Assistance (ODA).

In April, the European Commission said the EU would miss its 2015 ODA target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). Member states have now reconfirmed the 0.7% goal, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, but hope to hit it by 2030, fifteen years late. 

EU officials told EURACTIV that it would be up to national governments to decide how their contributions were defined.

Development aid experts told EURACTIV that any money classed as ODA would have to comply with reporting requirements.

But that did not mean countries would not try to use their contributions to increase the ODA percentage, raising the risk that development cash would be redirected to the migration crisis. Only the UK, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Denmark surpassed the 0.7% target last year. 

Norway largest recipient of Norwegian aid

Norway, which also beat its 0.7% target, was criticised this week for cuts in long-term development aid to pay for domestic refugee costs.

It has decided to use more than a fifth (21%) of the aid budget to cover its refugee costs ? making Norway by far the largest recipient of its own development aid.

The country will receive almost ten times more aid funds than the second largest aid recipient, which in 2014 was Afghanistan, said Save the Children Norway.

Meanwhile, officials from EU member states have been meeting in Brussels to discuss slashing the EU draft budget for 2016. Proposed cuts could reduce the EU’s chief fund for poverty eradication by nearly a quarter. 

“While European leaders have been shaking hands and promising greater development cooperation with their African counterparts, their representatives in Brussels have been working to cripple the EU’s ability to fund such cooperation,” said Oxfam’s Tesorieri.

Key points

  • EU to provide initial €1.8 billion to a new Emergency Trust Fund to support projects aimed at reducing migrant flows from Africa to Europe and displacement of people within Africa;
  • Future development cooperation to focus on projects which will reduce migratory pressures: includes fostering jobs and economic growth in areas migrants come from or transit through, a scheme to reduce the development impact of remittances by cutting transfer costs and joint research on the causes of migration;
  • Opportunities for legal migration to be “promoted”. Only concrete step agreed was an increase in the number of EU-funded scholarships for African students and academics;
  • New programmes to be set up by end-2016 to increase protection and economic opportunities of displaced people in the Horn of Africa and North Africa;
  • Increased cooperation on combatting illegal immigration and people trafficking, including creation of joint investigative team as a pilot project in key transit country Niger;
  • Repatriation of failed asylum seekers to be accelerated. At least ten African countries agreed to help European states identify illegal immigrants without official documents (making them difficult to deport).

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-communist members of the bloc, to share out 160,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.

The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

In the frontline of the refugee influx this year, Greece has been criticised for failing to implement EU law on registering new arrivals. Now, the EU plans to persuade refugees to wait in Greece for paid flights to other countries offering asylum, rather than risk dangerous winter treks through the Balkans.

During a mini-summit with Balkan states on 25 October, Athens committed to hosting 50,000 more refugees by the end of this year. Another 50,000 places should be made available in countries further north along the Balkan road. The EU has promised funds to Greece and the other countries to provide emergency help.

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