Migration in the Mediterranean: Why the EU needs partners in the Region

EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

Members of the NGO 'SOS Mediterranee' from the 'Aquarius' vessel during an operation to rescue more than 250 migrants on a wooden boat, about 50 kilometers off the Libyan coast, in the Mediterranean Sea, April 21, 2018. 

Migration in the Mediterranean: Why the EU needs partners in the Region


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Migration in the Mediterranean represents one of the most difficult challenges the European Union is facing. This happens not only for objective difficulties in managing the substantial waves of refugees and economic migrants in such unstable times, but also for reasons of internal politics. Right-wing parties have made consistent electoral gains out of the migration issue – on the one hand demanding more from Europe, while on the other refusing to grant the EU concrete powers of management and redistribution of the migration flows. The left, on its part, largely pretends not to see the problems of integration, security and social coexistence irregular migration brings about.

It is quite evident that Europe is facing an internal impasse, further demonstrated by the externalization of the measures taken to control the phenomenon. The deal between Turkey and the EU is the most visible, but not sole, instance: other accords are in force with African coastal states to control the borders and stop departures. In fact, at the moment the Central and Western Mediterranean route are the most exploited, thus making agreements with Maghreb states more necessary than ever.

As a mark of this, next 10-11 December Morocco will host the Intergovernmental Conference for the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – an ambitious universal framework negotiated at the United Nations to define all migration-related aspects in a comprehensive manner.

Indeed, the cooperation between the EU and Morocco in this field is one example of relation from which both parties could get mutual advantages. It happens within the framework of a 2013 Mobility Partnership setting the terms of the fight against irregular migration and the promotion of development.

While some open issues have slowed down the process and prevented the full attainment of the objectives, the cooperation is bearing its fruits. According to the Moroccan government, the Kingdom thwarted 65,000 attempts of illegal crossing to Europe in 2017 and 54,000 in 2018, also dismantling 74 smuggling networks. On its part, the EU has recently pledged €55 million to Morocco and Tunisia to save lives at sea, manage the borders and fight smugglers, while a package of €259 million has been  allocated to foster competiveness and social protection in Morocco.

Further cooperation could extend to political dialogue. Morocco being one of the most stable states in the region, it could represent a credible interlocutor for the EU, both in bilateral and multilateral relations with the wider Neighbourhood. On the other hand, the EU could provide Morocco with valuable assistance to internally advance democracy and individual freedoms.

However, when it comes strictly to migration, EU’s ambitions are quite narrower – the main concern so far being countering irregular migration by preventing people from getting to Europe. To this priority is also devoted the largest part of the envelope on migration of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

This aim, understandable within certain limits, represents however too low of a political standard, and risks jeopardizing the very legal and moral foundations of the EU.

First of all, human rights must be taken seriously in this picture. Any solution which does not take in due consideration migrants’ life, freedom and well-being, whether adrift in the sea or in centres where horrific abuses are perpetrated (as happens in Libya), should be firmly rejected by the EU and its member states.

Furthermore, it would be dangerously delusional to believe that migration policies begin and end at the borders’ threshold. As a recently released publication of the European Foundation for Democracy shows, integration of newcomers within the liberal democratic values our societies is no less important and challenging.

It is obvious that neither the North nor the South of the Mediterranean can afford to cope with this epochal phenomenon alone. The EU needs serious partners in the region, as much as the region needs the EU. Both sides have the duty to protect their citizens and migrants alike by ensuring controlled migration flows and a proper integration in the social fabric of the country of final destination.

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