EU Presents New Plan to Curb Migrants' Flows from Africa
Alex GORKA | 12.06.2016 | WORLD / Europe, Middle East

EU Presents New Plan to Curb Migrants' Flows from Africa

A controversial deal signed between the Brussels and Ankara has reduced the flow of refugees and migrants to Greece from Turkey. Now the European Commission turns to Africa. Some 100,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean from the African continent to Italy this year alone. The EU wants to coax as well as pressure African governments to help curb migration to Europe.

On June 7, the European Commission set out new plans to prevent refugees from leaving their home countries.

The public-private «Migration Partnership Framework» is expected to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers going to Europe.

The new package offers incentives to countries of origin and transit to improve collaboration on returning migrants and border controls. Jordan, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Libya are the first to be involved. Leaders of the Parliament’s main political groups welcomed the proposal.

The financial support is to link the main African and Middle Eastern transit countries to two conditions: firstly, these countries seek to discourage migrants from seeking travel to Europe, and, secondly, they must take back illegal migrants from Europe.

The EU Commission’s plans envisage allocating €8 billion toward the effort over the next five years. Aid could be focused on easing conflicts or economic difficulties that prompt people to emigrate as well as on border security, EU officials said, while other incentives may include preferential trade terms and easier visa access to the EU.

In the longer term, it wants the bloc’s members to chip in and create an investment fund reaching €62 billion in public and private investments in the real economy.

«We propose to use a mix of positive and negative incentives to reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us and to ensure that there are consequences for those who do not», Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Commission, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. «We must do the same that we have done on the route through the Aegean also in the southern Mediterranean to find solutions, sustainable solutions», the former Dutch Foreign Minister added.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief and one of the architects of the plan, told MEPs in Strasburg that the goal was «to give a strategic vision to our actions in response to migration». «We need to move from the narrative we’ve had so far, that the refugee and migration crisis is a European crisis, to the recognition that this is not only an issue for Europe… It is a global phenomenon», she stated.

The Commission also announced a reform of rules regarding legal migration, with a review of the so-called «EU Blue Card scheme« that is expected to make it easier and more attractive for highly skilled third-country nationals to work legally in Europe.

Indeed, the EU has to take urgent measures. Due to the migrant’s problem, Euroscepticism is on the rise in Europe. According to a new poll, an average of 47% of respondents across 10 countries report unfavorable views of the European Union.

The ten states account for 80% of the bloc’s population and 82% of its GDP.

Ahead of the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, Pew Research Center found the bloc has suffered a sharp drop in support over the past year. There has been a dip in support in its largest member states: the favorability of the institution has seen a 17-point drop in France, a 16-point drop in Spain, an 8-point drop in Germany and a 7-point drop in the UK. According to Pew, «overwhelming majorities» in every country polled disapproved with how the EU has been handling the migrant crisis. This includes 94% in Greece, 88% in Sweden and 77% in Italy. In the 10 countries surveyed, the UK, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden, there is little enthusiasm for transferring more power to the EU’s headquarters in Brussels. A quarter or more in the majority of countries would prefer to keep the current status quo.

An interim solution for the current crisis needs to involve three geographic areas: Libya, the countries sharing land borders with Libya, and the Mediterranean Sea itself.

Libya, which sits 280 miles from the southernmost point of mainland Italy, is the primary launching point for those seeking to cross from Africa to Europe. In the long run, Libya and Europe need to seek a comprehensive solution to this migration crisis. But the high season for smuggling and trafficking across the Mediterranean makes an interim solution critical. Up until recently, European officials appeared to be discussing plans to strike a deal with Libya. But such a deal, for the time being at least, is hardly a likely prospect. Even if a national unity government in Libya is in place and an agreement is reached, Libyan authorities will not exercise any meaningful control over the coastline. The country is a security nightmare. The Islamic State (IS) militants control over 150 miles of the coast around the city of Sirte, while dozens of militias vie for supremacy in low-intensity conflicts throughout the country. The increasing military involvement of both the United States and its European allies in Libya is testimony to the concern elicited by the IS presence.

An interim solution is impossible without bringing about change in the Mediterranean Sea and along Europe’s southern coast. As a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks, the EU launched a military operation known as European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), also known as Operation Sophia, with the aim of neutralizing established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. The aim of the operation is to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers. The effort is a fundamental contribution to fighting instability in the region. It is currently limited to operating in international waters, but EU leaders hope that a newly-appointed unity government in Libya will give permission for Operation Sophia to approach the coast.

The migrant’s crisis is a problem too big for the EU to tackle it alone. It needs a broader international effort based on the UN resolutions. The truce in Syria has been achieved as a result of UN-sponsored negotiation process. The situation in Libya needs to be tackled internationally. For instance, EU or NATO naval operations could have been much more efficient if conducted according to UN resolutions. If the legitimate Libyan government asked for a military involvement of other countries to fight the Islamic State, a UN resolution would make the operation much more efficient making possible a much broader international participation.

As in Syria, the effort requires coordination of activities between the West and the Russian Federation. As the recent events show, cooperation with Russia is the best way to avoid unwanted escalation and further refugee flows to Europe. Russia holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC). On May 16, the five permanent members of the UNSC, along with some 15 other countries and international organizations, agreed to supply Libya’s internationally recognized government with arms to fight the Islamic State group and other armed factions in the war-torn country.

They will approve exemptions to the UN arms embargo on Libya to supply weapons to the government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-backed «Government of National Accord» (GNA). The Vienna meeting also agreed to train presidential guard, drawn from police and army units from around the country, to protect government installations and vital infrastructure. This is going to be a joint effort to include Russia and the West. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier predicted that Russia’s «involvement» might be necessary to stabilize Libya. «I venture to predict, in the efforts to stabilize Libya, we will also need Russia’s involvement», he stated.

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The EU large-scale effort to find solution to the migrant’s flows coming from Africa needs support of major actors involved, including Russia. Finding a solution to the problem is a problem of vital importance for Europe. It brings up the topic of anti-Russian sanctions – an issue standing in the way of effective cooperation at the time the European security is in jeopardy. This issue is especially acute before the EU summit to take place on June 28-29.