Incoherent Agendas: Do EU‘s Migration Policies Threaten Regional Integration in West Africa?

Written by | Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

European Union policies towards Africa have in the past years experienced a shift away from forging relations based on trade and development, to cooperation based

on and measured by the successes of joint migration management. This shift has been producing often-controversial outcomes?for the EU, African countries and migrants themselves. Just under four years since the pivotal Valetta Summit on migration, the evidence base of these policies’ poor human rights record is growing, as is the evidence base on their localized adverse economic and societal impact.


The impact of EU policies on the regional integration processes in Africa – once a pillar of the EU’s Africa strategy – has, however, not yet been sufficiently documented. But the emerging evidence and policy analysis strongly suggest that the EU policies in West Africa have the power to create incentives and even localized policy outcomes that could in the medium term challenge ECOWAS commitments to freedom of movement, and in that way also likely slow down the processes of regional economic and political integration.


Paradoxically, the EU policies aimed at curbing migration may thus also end up slowing down the development processes in West Africa that the EU perceives as one of the key approaches to tackling the root causes of migration. It may also lead to a weakening of the existing economic coping mechanisms within these countries, and thereby potentially also to increased migratory pressures. The EU’s migration management agenda appears to trump more nuanced considerations of its localized or longer-term impacts, which could, in turn, lead to a weakening?of the overall regional integration project?– which seems to be losing priority in the EU’s eyes.


Therefore, a regional framework for human mobility in Africa is needed that would?allow for the development of sustainable European migration management policies across the region. Such policies would serve not just the EU’s but also the region’s needs and be attuned to its patterns of mobility and economic coping mechanisms. These policies should also be conflict-sensitive and based on a thorough understanding of their short/mid/long-term consequences on the full range of political and economic issues of importance to the region – from affecting livelihood patterns to human rights fallout to possible long-term macroeconomic consequences.


For this reason, it is important to also maintain and strengthen the existing monitoring mechanisms across West Africa and to encourage an informed policy debate, both in the EU and in ECOWAS, on issues of such pivotal importance to both regions. Some EUTF projects do try to retain a degree of coherence with more traditional development cooperation approaches. But the mere existence?of regional initiatives on migration does not mean that the free movement of people is safeguarded. Projects financed by the EUTF can have cross-border objectives, but for the most part, they are deeply rooted in the security-driven approach privileged by the current EU political debate.


In order to avoid distortions in policy incentives for African countries and, at the same time, preserve real policy coherence for development, the EU should integrate?its current drive towards the reduction?of migratory flows with transnational agreements already on the ground. One solution could be to provide decisive support for the ECOWAS Common Approach on Migration, adopted in 2008. Its declared objective is to establish a link between migration and development, ostensibly?the same purpose of EU’s policies, at least on paper.

What is also essential, is to ensure that mobility is addressed in the coming negotiations for the post-Cotonou Agreement framework in ways that serve both the EU and the ECOWAS countries, taking?into consideration the wider African push towards increasing freedom of movement across the continent.


In these future negotiations, it is good to bear in mind that economic development?and good governance are goods in their own right – with multiple beneficial consequences for the people in Africa and beyond that no one can easily predict. Migration management is a tactical EU policy goal?that – due to a series of unfortunate events?– has grown out to become a new paradigm replacing a decades-long development one. Therefore, the advice is not simply about returning to policy coherence, but also about revisiting the prioritization of these two policy goals, both strategically and situationally. Ideally, cooperation with ECOWAS should be based on a positive proposition of creating?a region characterized by good governance and free movement of people, goods and service – responding not just to the EU’s needs, but also to West Africa’s own tradition and understanding of intraregional mobility.


‚Incoherent Agendas: Do European Union Migration Policies Threaten Regional Integration in West Africa?‘ – Policy Brief by Ana Uzelac – Clingendael / The Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

(The Policy Brief can be downloaded here)


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