Jump to navigation

Cuts in aid and trade on table as European leaders mull tougher action on migration

As right wing anti-immigrant parties gain ground in Europe, Brussels is trying to balance its internal tensions with a more coherent Africa policy

European Union leaders are to use a special summit on 9 February to find new ways to organise the return of unauthorised migrants from Africa and the Middle East. The tougher measures may include cuts in development aid and trade concessions imposed on governments deemed uncooperative according to a leaked discussion paper obtained by Africa Confidential.

EU officials concede that their region's bureaucracy on migration needs radical surgery. There is little burden-sharing between member states. 

Overstretched national immigration authorities are unable to prevent people from lodging asylum applications in one EU country and then repeating it in another. Fixing those problems appears to be harder than increasing repatriations.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says 330,000 irregular border crossings were registered in 2022 – an increase of 64% from the previous year and the highest since 2016. 

'The majority' of people who apply for asylum 'are not in need of protection,' she added. Yet only 70,000 people returned to their country of origin in 2022.

Von der Leyen said Brussels needs to support EU countries as well as 'partners in North Africa to support their search and rescue missions.' 

It is still trickier to persuade African states to repatriate thousands of would-be migrants. Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia have similar but less formal arrangements to the €4 billion (US$4.3bn)  'cash for migrants' accord between the EU and Turkey. 

The European Commission is not planning to offer cash inducements to other African states. Instead, it may offer legal pathways such as work, training and skills programmes that increase safe passage for would-be migrants.

The draft conclusions of February's EU leaders' summit, obtained by Africa Confidential, state that 'swift action is needed to ensure effective returns from the European Union to countries of origin using as leverage all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools. These would include including development, trade and visas as well as opportunities for legal migration, such as Talent Partnerships.'

That could leave open the option of suspending development aid to countries that refuse to take back migrants, though the Commission is reluctant to consider this, we hear.

There are special rules migrant returns in the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific community – which does not include the North African states – but they have largely been ignored.

Hungary's right wing government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is refusing to ratify the successor agreement to Cotonou arguing that the European Commission failed to push for tougher rules on migrant returns. Orbán's government is unlikely to agree to any EU programme that looks like it might offer economic migration (AC Vol 64 No 2, Grand ambitions, little money).

Related Articles

Grand ambitions, little money

After the summits in Brussels and Washington, their big promises will be tested on debt, trade and investment this year

For many of the delegates who travelled to Washington DC for the United States-African leaders' summit on 13-15 December, the first such gathering in eight years, it was a microcos...

Tax treaties 'made by the rich'

Poorer countries denounce the EU labelling some of them tax havens. Measures to curb taxation disputes are dismissed as 'prejudiced'

For some countries in Africa, being dubbed a 'tax haven' by Europeans is adding insult to injury. European Union finance ministers agreed a 'blacklist' and 'greylist' of tax havens...


The European Union has managed to persuade the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states to open negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), due to bring in free trad...