8 December 2016


In March 2016, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi appealed for a EU investment plan to address the root causes of migration especially in the sub-Saharan Africa states. On 15 April, the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry published online the short non-paper Migration Compact[1]. The non-paper set forth a financial plan to change the economic conditions of the Africa countries since they are the countries of origin of the largest number of the irregular migrants that arrive to Italy. In the meeting of May 11, the EU Foreign Affairs Council stated the very similar objective of breaking the nexus of forced displacement and no development. The Ministers acknowledged that refugees and displaced persons are the effect of conflict, violence, and human rights violations, and also of conditions at the world level like climate change, natural and man-made disasters and lack of development potentials[2]. The Conclusions of the Council meeting engaged the EU and the Member States (MSs) to consequent actions. It confirmed also the current EU migration policy, which aims at avoiding immigration by coordinating the MSs border control, restricting third country nationals entry requisites, and outsourcing the handling of displaced persons to third countries in full harmony with the policy of external migration that was launched in 2011 by the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (COM(2011) 743 Final).

In early June 2016, spurred by the governments, the Commission released to the other EU institutions the Communication on establishing a new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration (COM(2016) 385 Final).

To address specific migratory challenges and the long-term drivers of migration, the Commission wants to engage the EU to deliver financial assistance to the countries of origin and transit and ‘create a better future at home for those who might otherwise have been ready to risk their lives on the dangerous journey to Europe’ (page 2). To be more precise, the Partnership is depicted as ‘a coherent and tailored engagement where the Union and its Member States act in a coordinated manner putting together instruments, tools and leverage to reach comprehensive partnerships (compacts) with third countries to better manage migration in full respect of our humanitarian and human rights obligations’ (page 6).

In the first of the three Communication sections, the Commission sets forth the main lessons learned from the past. These lessons point out to the need for increasing high-level dialogues on migrations, extending and innovating the financial instruments, and intensifying the operational steps of fighting against migrant smuggling. Pathways for people to come to the EU legally receive the scant attention of the Commission that shortly appeals for putting in place such a policy measure.

The Commission believes that the migration pressure on the EU and the member states, which she depicts as new normal, should be faced with actions targeted to achieve short-term and long-term objectives. The Communication is detailed and extensive in dealing with immediately feasible actions for the short-term objectives to curb the burden of migration as soon as possible. These essentially immigration-avoidance objectives are stated as saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea, increasing the rate of returns to countries of origin and transit, and enabling migrants and refugees to stay close to home and avoid taking dangerous journeys. The Communication avows that ‘the rates of returns will be multiplied if, in addition, legal routes to the EU are created’ (page 7). In other terms, the Commission candidly admits that, at the present time, legal pathways to the EU countries are not available to migrants.

The financial resources for implementing the EU immigration-avoidance policy are a number of funding instruments of existing cooperation projects in third countries that have been established under various EU policy fields, such as development cooperation, home affairs, neighbourhood, enlargement, and common foreign and security policy. These programmes address the migration problem indirectly. Other programmes have been relabelled after the migration crisis like the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, and the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis. By reshaping existing financial resources, the Commission aims at fast curbing irregular migration and strengthening security conditions. Issues like human rights and humanitarian needs, the migration-development nexus, and the legal aspects of labour migration are also taken into account. As remarked by analysts[3], the management of the funding programmes is complicated by the interactions of the Commission DGs, services and agencies with external actors like international organisations, NGOs, and the third country governments that participate in the programmes and have their own priorities and interests. Additionally, ‘despite a lack of contributions from member states, they obtained privileged access to funding for implementing projects under the Trust Fund for Africa[4]. The same applies to the Partnership Framework as the Communication states that ‘(t)he special relationships that Member States may have with third countries, reflecting political, historic and cultural ties fostered through decades of contacts, should also be exploited to the full for the benefit of the EU. … The Member States with the most developed bilateral relationships with a particular partner country should be fully involved in the EU’s discussions with it’ (page 8).

In the short section of the Partnership Framework Communication that deals with the long-term objectives, the Commission echoes the Italian Migration Compact Non-paper. It puts forth an ‘ambitious’ External Investment Plan that should mobilise European private and public resources for investment in third countries of origin to avoid that ‘irregular migrants risk their lives trying to reach European labour markets’ (page 11).

In the last section of the Partnership Framework Communication, the Commission set forth the priority countries of origin and transit that will be the EU partners. Jordan and Lebanon are on top the list. Tunisia, Western Africa states, and Horn of Africa countries follow. Last, Libya is mentioned as a special case of particular attention and strategic engagement.

In the Conclusions, the Communication reiterates that the aim of the Partnership for migration is to ‘deliver coherent EU engagement, in which the Union and its Member States act in a coordinated manner. The EU and its Member States should combine their respective instruments and tools to agree compacts with third countries in order to better manage migration’ (page 17). It also restates the conditionality principle under a different name. Each partner country will be the object ‘of a mix of positive and negative incentives’. More precisely, the partnership relations with each country will depend on ‘the ability and willingness of the country to cooperate on migration management’ (page 17).

In October 2016, the Commission released to the Council and the Parliament, that approved it, the First Progress Report on the Partnership Framework (COM(2016) 700 Final). This document defines the Compacts in very general and inclusive terms as ‘a political framework for continued and operational cooperation, pulling together the different work strands in order to develop a comprehensive partnership with third countries, combining the instruments, tools and leverages available to the EU and Member States to deliver clear targets and joint commitments’ (page 3). The Conclusions specify two important features of the Partnership and Compacts as the major instruments of the EU external migration policy in the coming years. First, the compact approach is not a one-fits-all approach. The Commission prefers tailor-made compacts. The elements of each compact will be progressively identified according to the specific situation of each partner country and the interests and priorities of both the EU and the partner country. One cannot but subscribe such policy choice in consideration of the different economic and political circumstances that exist in each country of origin and transit at the time of the compact negotiation and at the time of the implementation. Second, the Commission acknowledges that the success of the compacts hangs on the engagement of the Member States ‘both in terms of political commitment – to underline the priority of this action – and practical backing – notably on readmission and return, but also in areas like legal migration’ (page 3, First Progress Report on the Partnership Framework). The Commission is well aware of the problems the EU management of the migration crisis encountered in the last years. The relocation and resettlement plans and the contributions of each member state to the costs of the hotspots and migrant camps are the good examples of such problems. One cannot but wish that all the member governments will not frustrate the expectations of the Commission about the goals and management of the compacts as they did with the engagement on relocation.

Briefly, the Partnership and Compacts approach puts emphasis on avoiding immigration in Europe by reducing the arrivals of migrants and facilitating the returns of the migrants that reached the EU countries. In other terms, the EU makes even more difficult reaching Europe to the displaced people and forced migrants that are in need of protection while reiterates her commitment to humanitarian and human rights obligations, not to say about concealing job opportunities for third country nationals that exist in labour intensive sectors of the European economies like in agriculture and construction. At least, the Partnership should complement the financial offer to the countries of origin and transit with the opening of legal pathways for migration and with the revamping of the relocation programmes to fill the task of protecting displaced and vulnerable people.

In November 2016, the Council has approved the first Compact by accepting the Partnership priorities that had been agreed by the EU-Lebanon Association Council. This document includes a Compact that sets out the commitments of both parties to fulfil the decisions of the February 2016 London conference on supporting Syria and the region. With the Compact, the EU allocates a minimum of € 400 million in 2016-2017 to programmes implemented with partners such as state authorities, unions of municipalities, municipalities, EU Member States’ agencies, nongovernmental organisations and international organisations. The declared objectives of the Lebanon Compact consist in providing an appropriate and safe environment to refugees and displaced persons from Syria, during their temporary stay in Lebanon, and a beneficial environment for both the Lebanese host communities and the vulnerable groups. In harmony with the EU’s external migration policy, the declared priorities of the Compact are

  • Promoting and facilitating well-managed legal migration and mobility
  • Strengthening the capacity of the relevant Lebanese authorities to manage borders and prevent irregular migration
  • Strengthening the nexus between migration and development
  • Enhancing dialogue and cooperation on matters related to refugees, allowing for thorough discussion of concerns.

The government of Lebanon will facilitate the Syrian refugees’ residency status and access to the job market in sectors that are not in direct competition with Lebanese, such as agriculture, construction and other labour intensive sectors. One cannot but notice that many EU countries are in need of workforce in such sectors while the Lebanon economy is well equipped with local workers in those sectors.

In conclusion, the Commission and the Council have been fast in building the migration compact. The Italian government deserves credit for setting forth the objective of fighting the root causes of the current migration flows by inviting the EU to devise an important, long-term, and comprehensive strategy. The Commission has gone down the road by shaping the compact in accordance with the external migration policy that she has been developing during more than a decade now, and consistently with the experience of the last years, namely the low compliance with the common choices the European Council has made to manage the migration crisis. On knowledge of the resistance of the member governments to sharing the management of the migration crisis, since migration is the competence of both the Union and the states, the Commission has devised a programme that merely accept the choice of the member governments of restricting immigration and outsourcing humanitarian tasks to third countries. In the current circumstances, devising a policy that convincingly addresses the initially advocated goal of the migration compact, i.e. tackling the root causes, does not look being within the reach of the EU.


[1] See “Italian non-paper. Migration compact, Contribution to an EU strategy for external action on migration”, http://www.governo.it/sites/governo.it/files/immigrazione_0.pdf (access 19 November 2016)

[2]Forced displacement is a political, human rights, security, developmental and economic challenge, compounded by smuggling, trafficking and exploitation. It should be addressed from a needs-based perspective, underpinned by a rights-based approach encompassing all human rights, through long-term development support involving as a rule development actors, including local ones, from the early stages, whenever possible, and throughout a crisis, thus complementing the humanitarian approach in a coordinated and coherent manner, supported by political dialogue. The goal should be to work towards sustainable global and local solutions for displaced persons, by addressing root causes and combatting the protracted nature of forced displacement, to improve their lives and move from aid dependence to self-reliance. On the other hand, host countries and communities should receive adequate and sustained support, while maximising the benefits that displaced persons can bring”. Council conclusions on the EU approach to forced displacement and development (12/05/2016 17:20 Press release 240/16 Foreign affairs & international relations).

[3] See especially, den Hertog Leonhard (2016), Money talks. Mapping the funding for EU external migration policy, CEPS Papers in Liberty and Security in Europe, no. 15/2016.

[4] Ibidem, page 2.

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