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EU seeks African cooperation on migration issues by offering aid

The EU is seeking to win African cooperation on migration issues by offering billions in aid money. The goal is to keep migrants at home by offering support and deterrence. Barbara Wesel reports from Valletta.

"Our plan is to fight illegal immigration," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) at the opening of talks in Malta. At the same time, Merkel continued by saying that the path to legal work admissions in Europe should be more open. Further, there was an appeal to African states to deal with their citizens in such a way that young people there would have a real chance to build a life, and would thus want to stay in their home countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in Valletta

Chancellor Angela Merkel in Malta

The chancellor emphasized that the EU seeks to put a stop to human trafficking networks and called for a "companionable relationship" with Africa. The promise of more aid, however, is bound with demands. Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn (LSAP) added that Europe would be overburdened, "If we wanted to offer a home to everyone who comes."

Aid in exchange for cooperation

European Parliament President Martin Schulz (SPD) expressed himself similarly. "We must recognize the root causes of migration more quickly and fight them more effectively, as well as making developmental cooperation contingent upon more partnership," said Schulz. Shortly before that, he warned that one could not financially support dictators that oppress their own people and drove their citizens to flee. With that, the president placed a fundamental political conflict of the Malta summit front and center.

Besides EU member states, representatives from 35 African countries are attending the summit, among them, participants in existing agreements stemming from the so-called Rabat and Khartoum Processes.

Now the EU is taking another shot at cooperation with African states to stop the flow of migration towards Europe where it starts. What is supposed to be adopted in Malta, would be the fifth such action plan between the continents. It differs from previous plans in that it stipulates more short-term and concrete measures. The European Commission in Brussels has pledged to pay 1.8 billion euro ($1.95 billion) into a new "Trust Fund for Africa," and it has asked EU member states to match that amount. So far, however, less than 50 million euro ($54 million) has been promised.

Prevent migration to Europe

The basic principle is: "More for more." The more African countries along refugee routes, but also in countries of origin, do to disrupt the work of human traffickers, secure their borders and keep their citizens from migrating, the more the EU will pay for development projects, designed among other things, to create jobs.

Border security and deportation

The EU intends to set up a number of training centers for border security and police officers in African countries by the end of next year. One of the Europeans' main goals is the establishment of repatriation agreements, in order to deport economic migrants and those whose asylum applications have been denied, back to their countries of origin. The EU is looking for practical cooperation in creating travel documents and quicker processing of readmission requests by those countries of origin. Here too, the EU wants to offer incentives, by giving reintegration aid for returning migrants.

That brings up another fundamental conflict evident at the talks: The African side wants more possibilities for legal migration to Europe. There is little willingness from the Europeans on that front. Above all, the EU wants more cooperation from African countries on the issue of returning migrants. It remains an open question as to how a compromise on this conflict might look.

Criticism from NGOs

Aid organizations such as Oxfam point to the dilemma that results when working with dictators: In the case of Eritrea for instance, the government strictly opposes food aid. But if aid came only in the form of money, there would be no way of controlling how it was allocated. As a rule, it would not reach the people that it was intended to help. The general tenor is that the EU would be putting its human rights reputation on the line if it were willing to pay any price to enter into purpose driven deals designed to protect itself against migration.