With Africa, the EU must be a player, not just a payer

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

A farmer prepares his field for the planting season near Nathenje on the outskirts of Lilongwe. Malawi, November 2009. [Department of Foreign Affairs/Flickr]

The biggest challenge in the effort to deal with the migrant crisis at its root is to transform the donor-beneficiary relationship into a win-win relationship, writes Mariya Gabriel.

Mariya Gabriel (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) is an MEP from Bulgaria and Vice President of the EPP group.

When we think of migration, we think of Africa. When we think of Africa, we think of development. We think that the European Union is the biggest donor. But is our Union the biggest player?

Following the migration crisis, Europeans now know that peace in Africa also means peace for Europe. Development and security issues are interdependent. Investing in development aid means investing in the stabilisation of countries which also means investing in our own security. The more we are involved, the better we can prevent and normalise migration flows. We have to tackle problems at their roots in Africa before they become real European problems. We are now conscious of the fact that it costs less, both in terms of human lives and financially, to have impact before conflicts arise. Prevention of radicalisation, anti-terrorism, the fight against irregular migration, conflict prevention and peace-building/keeping are areas where we absolutely need to cooperate with Africa.

Last year, at the Valetta Summit where EU and African leaders met, an important step forward was made in acknowledging that migration is a global issue. We must work together to tackle it. I welcome the Action Plan agreed in Valetta but I cannot stress enough that without proper political will, there will be no concrete results. More money does not automatically mean more results, and this is where we should be very cautious. Our aid can only be effective if there are real commitments on behalf of the receiving countries to reform for their own benefit and in the interest of their people. In this way, we will create favourable conditions for people to remain in their countries.

On the other hand, we also have to change something on our side. So far, the European Development Fund (EDF) continues to depend entirely on member states and is not flexible enough to react to rapidly-changing realities. We must dare talk about the integration of the EDF into the EU budget. If the EDF is part of the EU budget, we will have a stronger political message of a common policy and the European Parliament can play its role for more transparency in the allocation of funds and the implementation of projects. If the EDF could become more flexible, we would have a genuine impact because when we define priorities for the next six years, and then after three years we face a new crisis, could we wait another three years to react? It would be too late.

This is why it is necessary to have more flexibility in our instruments to be able to respond more effectively to citizens’ expectations. If there is disappointment among African partners, it is because very often expectations are very high and the results are not seen immediately on the ground. When you invest in many different priorities, it takes a long time to see the results. We must change this. Reducing the number of our priorities for the better funding of targeted areas where results have already been proven will have an important impact.

It also implies differentiation from our side. From my longstanding commitment and my experience on the ground in Africa, I have learnt that African countries have a lot in common but they strongly differ vis-à-vis development due to either the efforts of their authorities, the EU’s aid approach to focus on only a reduced number of areas, or when the aid goes local. The EU is often criticised because a large part of the aid goes through budget support to governments. But when funding goes through small projects and small and local NGOs can access funding, we see rapid and visible results at local level in education and health for example.

We can also capitalise on the fact that people in Africa know the genuine added value of the partnership with the European Union. This added value is peace, democracy, promotion of human rights and the rule of law. No other power in the world comes with such guarantees to respect these principles. Besides, the EU has been giving more and more importance to the role of women, and that can be a decisive investment. Enabling women to take full part in development and political and economic decision-making is the key to successful and sustainable results. In most parts of the world, women represent an untapped potential. For example, it has been shown that if African countries had reduced inequalities between girls and boys in access to education as quickly as East Asia did, this would have enabled the income growth per capita on the continent to almost double. We must continue to bring results in this area as well.

Finally, we, the EU must speak with one voice on Africa, conscious of our shared responsibility, with openness and truthfulness. All this takes time. The European Union’s responsibility is to have a common policy. On the other side, African countries must understand that we are not there just to distribute money no matter what the results are. The biggest challenge is to transform the donor-beneficiary relationship into a win-win relationship. We cannot tell our partners that we will mobilise our resources without being firm about what is expected. And in this sense, we must do more to support those who actually make these efforts to work towards the development of their own country.

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