The ‘migration problem’ could be the motor for new relations with Africa

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.


Current proposals put forward by the EU won’t solve the “migration problem”, particularly with predictions of Africa’s population doubling by 2050. Africa and Europe would both benefit from resetting their relations, writes Karl Aiginger.

Karl Aiginger is the director of the Policy Crossover Center: Vienna-Europe, and a professor at the Vienna University of Economics.

Europe needs inward migration, but it is also currently neither willing or able to take in refugees who are arriving. The Member States, and in particular their leaders, are being intimidated by an electorate so that they do not share the burden or distribute refugees to regions that desperately need them.

This need arises, for example, from a decline in the active population in Eastern Europe, as well as in some regions in Germany and Austria, of about one third. Since Africa´s population is expected to double by 2050, fences and Frontex cannot be the solution. Africa needs to grow fast enough to provide jobs, and it has to do this with resource-saving technologies.

Europe should build partnerships on a level playing field, as well as invest. This could result in a reset of Africa-European relations (Islam 2018), which is overdue and would benefit both Africa and the European Unification project.

Principles of a new partnership on a level playing field

Cooperation requires trust: Trust is not a given between Europe and its neighbours due to experiences in history. Distrust is reinforced through asymmetrical trade and investment agreements or development aid, which is often targeted at the opening of a market to support the aid-giver’s economy.

New partnership agreements should connect trade and investment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Large European subsidies for agricultural surplus production should be cancelled thus supporting agricultural production in Africa. European subsidies for fossil energy should phase out promoting decarbonisation and providing resources for investment in the neighborhood. Europe’s implicit help in transferring illegal capital from corrupt African leaders into safe tax havens should be stopped as well as dumping waste and cheap, second-hand products in neighbouring counties.

Negotiated conditionality

The conditions of European financial investment should not be imposed by the “donor” in a top-down way that is reminiscent of dependency and imperialist attitudes.

However, assistance requires conditions and control. The best approach would be for the neighbouring countries to develop an own strategy and then negotiate with the EU or individual member countries, international organisations and civil bodies about how the strategy can be supported. International organisations with dominant “ownership” of the neighbouring countries must then monitor progress to signal failure and propose additions or changes.

Preventing path dependency and scale effects

The doubling of the population and quadrupling of production should be designed by limiting negative scale effects ex ante. The dominance of the status quo should be broken, with new products, precautionary principles and healthy habits learned, so as to increase well-being without the negative side effects linked to income growth in industrialised countries. Renewable energy should be produced in an innovative and decentralised way. Thus, the neighbourhood could become a lab for new, cleaner technologies.

Redirecting technological progress

Productivity increases should not primarily arise by saving on labour, but rather by saving energy, water and resources through taxes on emissions and a reduction of subsidies for fossil energy. Technology policy enforcing innovations and start-ups in clean technologies and an education system supporting sustainability and the limits of the planet from kindergarten to universities could be designed jointly by Europe and its partners.

Smart diversification

The import of technology is important to a quick catching-up phase, but technologies can and have to be adapted or improved in low-income countries. Using state-of-the-art technologies while adapting these to own priorities and new goals will enforce competitiveness better than imitating known technologies under different conditions.

Sunset protection

Some transitory protection will be needed to develop technologies as long as production costs have not yet reached their minimum. Special zones, such as those created in China or the Silicon Savannahs in Nairobi, may serve as good examples. Protection and special rules should, however, be phased out automatically and observed by an international watchdog with neighbouring countries at the driver seat and the OECD, the World Bank or the IMF as a controller.

Following these principles, Europe and Africa can become partners. Europe has not to spend as large sums as China, which invests in physical infrastructure and seeks to gain access to cheap resources.

Europe, instead, should focus on supporting practical skills, education for the poor, education for women, problem solving skills and good governance. And Africa can define the strategy how it will become a high-growth area, but also a more sustainable one using technologies adapted to its own needs. Europe will get a partner, and there will be circular migration and mutual learning.

This can mitigate the “migration challenge” for Europe– this will be a side-effect of the new partnership, but a very important one.

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