01/2008: Louis Michel


Louis Michel
European Commissioner for
Development and Humanitarian Aid


‘Recent and unfolding developments on the EU-Africa
dialogue and partnership on migration’


Ü Eurasylum: Since the mid-2000s, and in particular since adoption of the EU Strategy for Africa, the Rabat Plan of Action, the Joint Africa-EU Declaration on Migration and Development and the EC Communication on the Global Approach to Migration, EU and African states have been increasingly committed to a formal partnership involving countries of origin, transit and destination and aimed at better managing migration in a comprehensive, holistic and balanced manner, and in a spirit of shared responsibility. This partnership covers, in particular, issues of Migration and Development including the role of remittances; Migration and Peace, Security and Stability; Migration and Human Rights; Migration and Human Resources (particularly issues of brain drain); and the Fight against illegal migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings. Could you guide us through the main tenets, challenges and recent achievements of the EU-Africa dialogue and partnership on migration?

Ü Louis Michel: I agree, we have come a long way in developing the external dimension of our migration policy. For too long the migration and development policies of the Commission were two different worlds, with different objectives and a different rationale. My aim, since I took office, has been to try and reconcile these two worlds and interests, by making , both for developing countries and the EU itself. Europe has legitimate requirements for migration. As the number of working adults shrinks and the over-65 population continues to increase, many migrants will be needed to keep our economy up to speed. Africa too can benefit from labour migration. African migrants bring back skills, experiences and capital, sending home about  5 billion a year through formal channels. The political challenge for Europe and Africa has been to harness this twofold potential, while addressing at the same time the downsides of migration. The Global Approach to Migration, adopted by the European Council in 2005 as the cornerstone of Europe’s migration policy, refocused Europe’s policy around this double potential.

The starting point for the definition and implementation of our migration policy is dialogue. Europe cannot define its policy in isolation, it must conduct a dialogue with our African partners at a bilateral, regional and continental levels. In this respect, the European Union  African Union Tripoli conference on migration and development in November 2006 marked a real turning point. It was the first time ever that the EU and Africa met to make a joint commitment about working together on migration and development. We have agreed on who will do what in implementing the Tripoli conclusions in the coming months and years. In December this year this discussion from continent-to-continent was taken to an even higher political level at the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon and the following concrete actions have been identified with the African Union:

One example is the setting up of a network of regional observatories in Africa and the ACP countries. These observatories will promote the collection, processing and dissemination of information on migration movements in Africa and between Africa and other continents, so as to develop evidence-based migration policies in and by Africa. We expect the first observatories to be operational by mid-next year.

Similarly, we have adopted actions to reduce the negative effects of migration on developing countries. The most striking negative effect is brain drain. The Commission has been very active in the area of human resources for health in Africa and we are currently developing an appropriate Programme for Action. I hope that the EU will adopt as from next year a voluntary Code of Conduct to put an end to “unethical recruitment”.

Other important new actions relate to the promotion of remittances from members of the Diaspora. Of course, remittances are strictly private financial resources, but there is much that can and should be done to facilitate transfers and investments by migrant communities back in their countries of origin, including through reforms in the banking and financial sector, and to promote innovative solutions for transferring money (eg. through mobile phones).

In parallel to this work we need to provide real alternatives to illegal migration by facilitating legal opportunities for nationals of developing countries to study and work in the EU.

As from January 2008, the European Union will start negotiating so-called mobility partnerships with some African countries. Cape Verde will be the first pilot country in Africa. These will entail a commitment from these developing countries to work actively to manage migration flows better, and in particular to fight illegal migration. In “exchange” they will benefit from enhanced possibilities of mobility between their countries and the EU for their citizens, in terms of legal migration opportunities and short-term movements (eg. short stay visas). These are what I call ” new generation partnerships “, based on mutual trust, shared responsibility and joint management of migration flows.

In this context, I should of course mention the draft Directive on the entry and residence of Highly Skilled Workers presented by the Commission last October. I am aware of the criticisms this draft Directive has raised amongst several of our partner countries, who fear that it may accelerate brain drain from critical sectors. I cannot but admit that I share some of the hesitations. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that all Member States already have legislation in place to attract highly skilled workers. This Directive will not lead to a new sudden massive outflow of skills from Africa. Rather, it will harmonise practices among Member States while adding a development dimension to the phenomenon. For example, this draft Directive gives the migrant the possibility of a long “time-out” (12 consecutive months, up to a total of 16 months) and therefore the possibility to return to his/her country of origin or any other country. This “circulation” of skills is an essential guarantee for the return of knowledge and competences. Moreover, the draft Directive includes precautionary measures to protect those sectors suffering from lack of human resources.

Ü Eurasylum: In its Communication of 27 June 2007, From Cairo to Lisbon The EU-Africa Strategic Partnership, the European Commission states that EU and African states are working together to lay the foundation for a long-term strategic partnership, going beyond development cooperation, beyond Africa, beyond fragmentation and beyond institutions. In the field of migration, the Communication reviews a wide spectrum of areas, ranging from promoting the links between migration and development and facilitating legal migration, to jointly addressing illegal migration, including through cooperation on return and readmission. The Communication further refers to the need to strengthen the evidence base of migration policies of African governments, and to establish a network of Africa-based migration observatories that will collect, analyse and disseminate information on migration flows within Africa and between Africa and the EU. It also stresses the need to minimise the negative impact of the recruitment of skilled African labour, which is now recognised as a major barrier to progress towards the MDGs. Can you comment, briefly, on the main policy tenets of this Communication and describe any current or planned mechanisms to improve the management of mobility and labour migration within Africa and between Africa and the EU?

Ü Louis Michel: Looking back to that proposal, I can only be satisfied. The proposals made have been, almost word by word, endorsed by the Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership adopted at the Lisbon Summit of December 2007. In many ways, this Partnership is the logical consequence of the change in migration policy introduced since the mid-2000s. The Lisbon Summit has pushed even further the change of focus and discourse on migration management.

The first message of this Partnership is simple: jobs, jobs, jobs. 10% of Africans of working age have no job or income. Another 45% of the population are so-called “working poor”, earning and living on less than a dollar a day. It is those poor but healthy young people that often set out for better luck on the other side of the Mediterranean.

Europe will increase its aid to Africa with an additional  11 to 12 billion until 2010, to create more and better jobs. We will do so by supporting African efforts to improve the investment climate, by building infrastructure and improving economic governance and combating corruption. Europe will also watch closely that its trade, agriculture and fisheries policies do not hamper, but contribute to Africa’s development. This is what we call Policy Coherence for Development.

Another key to increase Africa’s competitiveness will be its capacity to train, but perhaps even more to retain, its brightest brains. One out of every 16 Sub-Saharan students is studying abroad. Many of them do not return home after completing their studies. This, in effect, means that African states, which can hardly afford to do so, every year subsidise European economies with educated bright young people who could have made valuable contributions to the development of their home countries. With exchange schemes such as the Erasmus Mundus and the Nyerere programme Europe provides African students with the opportunity to study one year or more in Europe and then return home to reinvest their new skills and knowledge in their home countries. But that is not enough – Europe has its own contradictions. European hospitals, institutions and companies must refrain from actively recruiting those professionals who are indispensable for their countries.

The second message is a more complex one. The challenge is to make sure that the potential African migrant is aware of the legal opportunities to live and work in both Europe and in his/her own African region. Once aware, he/she must receive the training needed to carry out the job. This is the core idea behind the establishment of the Migration Information Centres, the first of which will open officially in Mali next year. The Centre is not a job centre. It will provide concrete information to potential migrants on legal migration opportunities, but also on the risks of illegal migration. Other countries in the region have shown interest in hosting such centres.

The third and maybe most important message we gave in Lisbon derives from the first two and that is that migration cannot be managed unilaterally. One year ago, we launched a political EU-Africa dialogue on migration issues at the Tripoli Conference on Migration and Development. This year, in Lisbon, we decided to discuss openly how best we could integrate Europe’s and Africa’s interests. How can 4.6 million Africans residing legally in Europe help Africa prosper? How can we protect refugees and internally displaced persons? How can we fight illegal migration jointly? A true political dialogue is emerging – we finally recognise the need to look outwards, not inwards.

Ü Eurasylum: At the recent EU-Africa Summit held in Lisbon on 8-9 December 2007, a new Joint Strategy and an Action Plan were adopted, which provide a political vision and key guidelines for the future of the EU-Africa strategic partnership. Could you sum up the main conclusions and initiatives adopted at the Lisbon Summit in the field of migration?

Ü Louis Michel: In many ways, this Summit represented the culmination in a process which aimed to review, revise and revitalise the long-standing EU-Africa partnership. The Lisbon summit ushered in a new era in EU-Africa relations: one based on equal rights and equal responsibilities. This new partnership aims to take account of new realities, new challenges and new opportunities that began a few years ago with the creation of the African Union (AU) and the launch of NEPAD in 2002, and the adoption in 2005 of the EU Strategy for Africa.

This new long-term strategic partnership  enshrined in the Lisbon Declaration, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy and the Action Plan  marks a fundamental break in the way we deal with Africa, the way Africa looks at Europe and the way in which we work together on global issues in a global arena. In the coming years, we will take the EU-Africa dialogue and cooperation beyond development,beyond Africa and beyond institutions.

In Lisbon, many European leaders rightly stressed the positive changes in Africa in recent years  rapid economic growth, improved governance in many countries, the new geo-strategic importance of the African continent and the rapidly increasing engagement of the so-called emerging donors. These changes have made it possible, and necessary, for Europe and Africa to put their relationship on a more equal and more political footing.

This change is also reflected in the broadening of the EU-Africa partnership. As was made clear by the interventions at the Summit, Europe’s leaders realise today that Africa is much more than a poor continent in need of aid. Solidarity and development cooperation will continue and even increase  from approximately 20 billion in 2005 to 33 billion in 2010. But, as importantly, Africa can and should be a key ally in responding to the new political challenges, including on energy, climate change and migration. Moreover, the EU and Africa can also be each other’s closest allies on global governance and multilateral issues, starting from the negotiations on global climate change which took place earlier this month in Bali.

The Lisbon Summit also intended to mark a break with regard to delivery. Many leaders rightly underlined that this should be a partnership of results and that mistakes made after the Cairo Summit in 2000 could not be repeated. There is a need to capitalise on the enthusiasm and momentum generated by the Summit to rapidly start delivering on the promises and commitments set out in the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. The Action Plan, which reviews clear and measurable priorities for 2008-2010, will serve as a common roadmap for action. It provides both an operational framework and concrete objectives for the eight partnership priorities, namely: 1. Africa-EU Partnership on Peace and Security 2. Africa-UE Partnership on Democratic governance and Human Rights 3. Africa-EU Partnership on trade and Regional Integration 4. Africa-EU Partnership on Millennium Development Goals 5. Africa-EU Partnership on Energy 6. Africa-EU Partnership on Climate Change 7. Africa-EU Partnership on Migration, Mobility and employment 8. Africa-EU Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space The Lisbon Declaration, the Joint Strategy and its Action Plan set out a remarkable new vision and solid framework for action. Or, as Prime Minister Socrates stated, there will be a “before” and an “after-Lisbon” in the EU-Africa relations.