The European Union is on the verge of adopting proposals to reorient its development policy to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and contribute to “ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind”.
However, instead of sending a strong signal of its commitment to the 2030 Agenda, the new EU Consensus on Development appears to be yet another policy proposal that puts migration management and border control at the centre of development cooperation.
Last November, NGOs gave a guarded welcome to the European Commission’s proposals for a major overhaul of the EU’s development policy framework, which should guide the EU development efforts until 2030.
One of our key concerns was that – despite the rhetoric that Europe is serious about addressing poverty and inequality – a series of earlier EU policy proposals for cooperation with third countries had rather given priority to short-term domestic priorities, including migration objectives.
We are extremely worried that such policy objectives have now also been included in the new EU Consensus on Development.
Building on its 2016 Migration Partnership Framework with third countries, the EU will agree to use its development cooperation, policies, instruments and budgets to promote migration management and border control.
Development cooperation will also be made conditional on the cooperation of the partner countries in the areas of return, readmission and reintegration of their nationals, while the EU is willing to agree to “maximising the synergies and applying the necessary leverage by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade”.
This alarming shift in focus is also visible in the fresh proposals for a new Africa-EU Partnership, to be agreed at the November Abidjan Summit.
In the proposals, the European Commission emphasised: “the stepping up cooperation on border management, putting in place measures to manage incoming, outgoing, and transit migration flows, strengthening cooperation to facilitate the return and sustainable reintegration of irregular migrants”.
Last November, the European Commission also proposed strengthening the migration commitments of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, to be renewed in 2020.
It aimed to integrate the EU’s external migration policies and to develop operational cooperation, particularly on “enforcement mechanisms to improve return and readmission cooperation and operational implementation of international obligations to readmit own citizens with no legal right to stay in the EU”.
The very same approach is at the core of the European Commission’s proposal of a European Investment Plan for Africa.
This project was presented last August as the overall plan to contain migration from Africa to Europe by promoting economic growth, employment and private sector development.
The idea behind this is to use €3.35 billion of official development assistance (ODA), in order to foster up to €44 billion worth of private investment in Africa “as a key contribution to addressing the root causes of migration”.
Has containing migration become the primary objective of EU development cooperation? This would clearly be in breach of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which states: “Development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty.”
Sacrificing development aid to serve short-term migration interests comes at a time when the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda is urgently called for, especially in view of the 750 million poor and vulnerable people, half of whom live in Africa, including some 20 million people at risk of starvation.
In many parts of Africa, we witness forced migration and displacement caused by poverty and injustice, lack of governance and stability, or droughts and environmental hazards.
These are regions where children are dying of famine, doctors in rural areas have no means of curing diseases, and tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people are fleeing from deadly conflicts and persecution.
Over 65 million people are on the move today in search of a place to survive.
And there is little debate about the need to help them and to tackle the root causes of forced migration and displacement.
However, we have seen development aid resources, such as the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, not just being used for migration management to contain people where they are, but also diverted to “migrant-producing countries”.
This means, in practice, that development programmes in countries such as Namibia or Malawi are being closed down. These programmes have enabled children to attend school or see a doctor, and smallholder farmers to triple their harvests – thanks to access to seeds and microcredit.
Is this how Europe plans to implement the 2030 Agenda to end poverty, leaving no one behind?
While the overall majority of forced migrants are staying in neighbouring countries and regions, the arrival of relatively small numbers in Europe has led to a series of measures to stop migrants from entering the European territory, but also to welcome and host those who have managed to enter.
In several EU member states, the costs of receiving refugees have been paid from the budget for development cooperation – precisely the funds reserved for tackling poverty and inequality.
In the last few years, countries like the Netherlands and Italy have spent 25-30 percent of their development aid budgets on the first year of receiving asylum seekers.
Supporting refugees arriving in Europe is right and necessary. But when the donor country is at the same time the biggest recipient of development aid, are we not putting the carriage before the horse?
It is important to realise that enhanced border controls will not solve the root causes of forced migration and displacement.
Development cooperation and ODA should therefore not be used for realising migration objectives.
Instead, development aid has its own role to play in making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality by promoting sustainable, long-term transformations that will benefit everyone – notably the poorest communities and countries in the world.
First published on EUObserver.com
Read also the related interview "EU development strategy is in contradiction with the UN Agenda 2030”, published on Afronline.org