The European Commission Tuesday launched a new attempt to bolster its response to the migration crisis with proposals to spend billions of euros in Africa to keep refugees from leaving home.
Promising a “results-oriented” approach, the Commission’s new measures follow a model established earlier this year by the EU’s deal with Turkey: an offer of money to other countries in exchange for promises to control migration flows. This time, the focus is mainly on Africa, where the Commission hopes a public-private “Migration Partnership Framework” will be able to reduce the numbers of people trying to make the dangerous crossing to Europe.
The Commission said it would put as much as €8 billion toward the effort over the next five years. In the longer term it also wants to create an investment fund with contributions from EU countries that could eventually reach more than €60 billion. But officials were quick to say there were strings attached to the money.
“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,” said Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s first vice president, in a speech in the European Parliament.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief and one of the architects of the plan, said the goal was “to give a strategic vision to our actions” in response to migration. She told MEPs in Strasbourg that the proposal represents “a shift in paradigm and attitude. 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.”
The new package offers incentives to countries of origin and transit for migrants, especially in Africa, to improve collaboration on returning migrants and border controls.
Timmermans and other officials said that countries reluctant to help Europe on migration could face a reduction of EU funding or cooperation. In the short term the first countries involved in these new partnerships (called “compacts”) will be Jordan, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Libya.
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Leaders of the Parliament’s main political groups welcomed the proposal but expressed doubts about whether EU member countries would chip in much financially to the effort.
Manfred Weber of the center-right European People’s Party noted that national promises to donate to a €1.8 billion Africa Trust Fund, agreed at a summit in Valletta last November, have yet to materialize, with countries contributing just €82 million so far. “On the African Trust Fund, the member states are failing,” Weber said.
Gianni Pittella, leader of the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, also said the plan included some wishful thinking. “We can’t make beautiful speeches and then not put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “The member states have to do that, too. Now you’ve got the leverage effect and here we’re going to have to look very carefully at what’s done.”
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said Europe should not try to replicate the Turkey deal with African countries with a message that says “Okay, we give you the money, now you keep the refugees.”
Over the longer term, the Commission will propose an External Investment Plan, which it said in a statement “could unlock €31 billion in investments, with potential to reach €62 billion in public and private investments in the real economy, if member states and other partners join in, and match the EU budget contribution.”
For this purpose the Commission will make available a total of €3.1 billion until 2020, also from existing funds. The Commission is hoping this amount will trigger additional public and private investments of up to €31 billion that, if matched by member states, could reach the €62 billion figure.
EU diplomats said the new investment fund is likely to be run by Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen — who also oversees a similar fund aimed at boosting infrastructure projects in Europe — rather than by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner. But a Commission official said a decision on that had not yet been made.
The Commission on Tuesday 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.
One of the measures proposed would allow EU countries to adjust salary levels for migrants by creating a flexible range “within which member states can adjust the threshold to their labor market contexts, and foresees more appropriate conditions for recent third-country national graduates and workers in areas with a labor shortage.”
According to the Commission, the new Blue Card plan would create an estimated positive annual economic impact of between €1.4 billion and €6.2 billion from additional skilled workers coming to the EU.