Reducing irregular migration from Africa to Europe is one important objective of the new European Commission in its relations with many African countries. The Commission and EU member states need to acknowledge that effective migration management depends on the full and active cooperation of countries of origin and transit. Therefore, agreements on international mobility need to truly reflect both sides’ interests, concerns, and political limitations. More legal opportunities for labor migration from Africa to Europe will need to be a key element of effective joint migration management.
“It is in the EU’s own interest to use its power wisely and to ensure that agreements to manage international migration adequately reflect the policy space as well as the constraints of both sides” explains Matthias Lücke, Senior Researcher and MEDAM project coordinator at the Kiel Institute. “The key task is to negotiate ‘self-enforcing’ agreements—agreements that both parties will abide by because, at any moment, the benefits to each party outweigh the cost of having to implement unpopular provisions.”
The EU and its member states have many migration agreements with low-and-middle-income countries, but find it difficult to return rejected asylum seekers and others who have no permission to stay in the EU due to lack of cooperation from countries of origin. To remedy this situation, the EU is increasingly attaching conditions related to return and readmission to other policies like development assistance. Many partner country governments are poorly placed to refuse such conditionality formally, but would face strong resistance from their citizens if they sought to implement such provisions.
To move beyond this impasse, the EU needs to negotiate on a truly equal footing with countries of origin and transit, particularly in Africa, for comprehensive agreements on mobility. In the new 2020 MEDAM Assessment Report ‘European and African perspectives on asylum and migration policy: Seeking common ground’, MEDAM researchers analyze the effectiveness of EU approaches to strengthening readmission cooperation and explore African countries’ interests and perspectives on migration.
“More legal opportunities for labor migration to Europe should complement any measures to restrict irregular migration“, says Lücke. “The EU and its member states need to accept that citizens and governments in countries of origin are concerned about losing financial remittances if irregular migrants are forced to return home. Therefore, partner countries will only work actively with the EU to reduce irregular migration if the EU offers alternatives that compensate for any losses to households and to the macroeconomy.” Legal migration opportunities would benefit African workers and their families, sustain financial remittances to African economies, and thereby render restrictions on irregular migration politically feasible.
The Mercator Dialogue on Migration and Asylum (MEDAM) is a research and policy advisory project funded by Stiftung Mercator. It aims to identify and close the gaps in existing research and to develop specific recommendations for policy makers from an independent European perspective. Research partners are the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence and the European Policy Centre (EPC), a think tank in Brussels.