Migrant crisis: No EU-Africa grand bargain

Migrants arrive on a boat to Greece's island of Lesbos. Photo: 13 November 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption About three million migrants are expected to arrive in the EU by 2017

Surely some of the first rules of wooing are: if you're going to do it, do it properly.

Don't insult the object of your desire with promises you both know you can't keep.

If you lack the cash for that magnificent bunch of fragrant roses, resist the temptation to brandish a fraying fake bouquet instead.

There has to be a better alternative, and you're unlikely to get a positive response.

And as for trying to bully or force someone into partnership with you - a little tip: it's unlikely to go down well.

In this respect, the EU makes a lousy suitor.

After reeling in panic and reacting in slow motion to the - to an extent predicted - dramatic surge this year in refugees and other migrants arriving, the EU is now trying a more comprehensive, strategic approach.

It includes an attempt to persuade (woo/push) the migrants' countries of origin, or the transit countries, to:

  • stop them leaving in the first place
  • take them back, if they are deemed to be an economic migrant or failed asylum seeker.

Migration to Europe explained in graphics

Spanish method

The EU also plans to send cash and other aid "over there", in the hope of dissuading more refugees and others from wanting to reach Europe, risking their lives.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Somali PM Omar Sharmarke was distinctly unimpressed with the summit proposals

A rather similar formula worked for Spain several years ago when it was the main EU arrival point for people smugglers' boats.

Bilateral deals with Morocco and Mauritania significantly reduced the arrival of "pateras", as Spaniards nicknamed those boats.

But Spain came under fire from aid organisations (NGOs) at the time for trying to make African countries the "gatekeepers of Europe".

The NGOs also raised concerns about possible human rights abuses against would-be migrants blocked at the border.

They complained that the bilateral agreements, sorely lacking in transparency, smacked more of backroom deals.

Similar concerns are now being directed at the EU as a whole.

African scepticism

This week, the EU hosted a summit in Malta with African nations, in the hope of coming to an "understanding" on slowing the flow of migrants to Europe.

But, in addition to NGO concerns (such as the risk of groups linked to human rights abuses, like the Eritrean security forces, siphoning off money allocated to stop migrants), African leaders widely dismissed EU offers of cash and other aid, as far too little to tackle the root causes of migration.

As flowers go, the extra aid package doesn't even make the gaudy plastic category.

The EU offered €3.6bn ($3.9bn; £2.5bn) to improve life in a number of African countries.

This in addition to the €20bn it already gives in aid to Africa.

Somalia's distinctly unimpressed Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke put it to the BBC that Africa needed investment, not charity, to improve its economies. The same as the US, the EU or anywhere else in the world, he said.

Persuasion fails

In fact, EU countries couldn't even muster the pledged extra cash. It's a promise they seem unable or unwilling to keep.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption European Council President Donald Tusk (right) said the EU's Schengen deal on free movement risked collapse

The European Commission says it will put in €1.8bn and wants the rest of the new fund made up by individual European nations.

So far they've coughed up less than €80m.

The EU was also unable to persuade/charm - some say bully - African countries into automatically receiving deported migrants back.

Instead, in the written summit conclusions, the EU was forced to emphasise "voluntary repatriations". That prompted obvious questions about the bloc's declared aim of "speeding up the return" of economic migrants and other failed asylum seekers - a key part of its plan to tackle the migrant crisis.

In short: the summit was not a resounding success.

And a number of European newspapers were critical of the EU even trying to make a deal.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says the EU's offer of money to reduce the refugee numbers from Africa could open the EU to accusations of "showing its real values by co-operating with unjust regimes".

Turkey's strong hand

Similar objections are raised when it comes to EU attempts to strike a deal with Turkey - now the main departure point for refugees and other migrants crossing to Europe.

EU leaders are planning a Turkey summit before the end of the year, but - as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pointed out - "Ankara holds the cards".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Central Europe has many migrant pressure points - including Slovenia's border with Hungary

And diplomats worry that Ankara will demand an extravagant bouquet in terms of money and political concessions - such as lifting visa restrictions, and accelerating Turkey's EU membership bid - in exchange for help on migration.

And again, critics challenge the EU for courting Turkey at all - a country with an imperious president and dismal human rights record.

Border fences

There are also those who say the EU's focus is far too fixed on creating "Fortress Europe", on keeping people out and not on introducing legal ways for them to come to over.

Because come they will.

The European Commission expects about three million refugees and other migrants to arrive in Europe by 2017.

Clearly, whatever the EU does during this crisis, it will come under fire from some quarter or another.

All too often, it comes up against itself - a behemoth of 28 nations, struggling to work together.

Even the quota system - accepted (reluctantly) by most EU countries - to share out more equally the asylum seekers in Europe is an unmitigated flop so far.

Agreed number of people to be relocated: 160,000.

People moved to date: 147.

Cross-border co-operation is disintegrating as barbed wire goes up and borders slam shut across Europe: in Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Norway…

Even Germany is toughening border regulations.

In stark contrast to the warm welcome given to hundreds or thousands earlier this autumn, Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany's hugely popular finance minister, has begun to mutter darkly about a migrant "avalanche" engulfing his country.

There's little evidence of the EU - more of each country for itself.

That prompted the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to warn that Schengen, the EU agreement allowing passport-free travel across much of Europe, risks collapse. Yet it is one of the EU's proudest achievements.

You could argue Schengen has already wilted and died.

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