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Opinion

Opinion: Malta summit builds no bridges to Europe

In negotiations with Africa, the EU is hoping that little strokes fell big oaks. The Europeans are offering aid, and for it, they want efforts to curb migration. They will need a lot of stamina, says Barbara Wesel.

The words 'action plan' sound so wonderfully determined, like strong, certain success. But when it refers to this, the fifth such agreement between the EU and Africa, it is a foil for a notably dogged process. Leaders meet, problems are cited, leaders agree to relatively vague formulations and in the end, one has inched just a tiny bit closer to a solution. When it comes to the relationship between Europe and Africa, progress moves like a snail on sedatives.

Europe has put a deal on the table

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU wants to build a bridge to Africa. If one drops the pathos, the plan could more aptly be described as the EU seeking to make the existing bridge more difficult to cross. In principle there is a simple deal on the table: The Europeans are offering cash for education, infrastructure and other projects, in exchange for promises by the Africans to hinder the northward flow of migrants and refugees.

For the governments of the poorest countries in Africa, the result is a simple cost-benefit analysis: Is it more lucrative to let citizens migrate to wealthy Europe, where they can work and send home money? Or will it be more beneficial to latch on to EU-financed educational and development programs, in exchange for fighting human trafficking gangs and taking back returning asylum seekers?

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*

DW's Barbara Wesel

That was one of the most important aspects of the negotiations for the Europeans: Can we finally send back all of the economic migrants that we are so eager to be rid of? At least on that point, the Europeans were able to get the Africans to commit to a letter of general intent. Of course that doesn't mean that there will be fleets of fully laden migrant planes headed back to Ghana, Chad or Nigeria anytime soon. Nonetheless, the Europeans are hoping for a slow but steady increase in the pace of such returns. As a reward, the negotiating partners want to offer more legal possibilities for Africans in the European labor market. The prospects thereof have elicited zero enthusiasm from EU member states: No one really wants to open their labor markets to Africans; a few stipends for students and access for scientists are the standard concessions, but nothing more.

Investment in a common future

Principally, Europe wants Africa to solve its own problems at home, and quickly, because the future's prospects make many tremble: Within the next few years explosive population growth, the impact of climate change, shockingly poor governance, sustained poverty and unsolved ethnic as well as political conflicts could set millions of Africans on a trek north to Europe.

The window of opportunity in which Europeans can actually do something to stop such developments will only be open for a short while. At least leaders finally seem to have understood that much.

The Europeans have to continue to deal intensively and resolutely with African countries that have been rocked by war, abused by dictators and exploited by their own elites. Even if that means that they have to meet for a summit every six months.

In that sense, the concept of offering benefits for cooperation is not a bad one. It may look a bit like extortion, but perhaps it is a reasonable approach to teamwork: Europe commits itself to helping individual countries and demands concrete accomplishments from its partners in return.

For the Europeans, this is the last chance to forge partnerships to shape a common future with so many African countries. And that is indeed a better action plan than waiting idly for the impending catastrophe.

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