Building bridges with Africa

“Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of others” – European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. Photo: Reuters

“Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of others” – European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. Photo: Reuters

The migration crisis is again troubling EU politicians as important political elections approach in Italy and Germany. The response from the European Commission and the European Parliament is at best disappointing.

The usual post-summit rhetoric has prevailed. Meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, EU leaders have once again committed themselves to help Libya, which is now almost a failed state, to prevent more illegal immigrants mainly from the sub-Sahara region from crossing over.

Rather than building bridges with Africa, Europe resorts to short-term measures by pushing its border controls further south to North Africa. The fortress Europe mindset prevails.

When just 30 MEPs turned up in the European Parliament to discuss the growing concerns of Italy about thousands of migrants that are landing and settling in their country, little further proof is needed that at best the European Parliament has almost become a talking shop.

The only sensible comment came from the European Parliament president Antonio Tajani when he said: “Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people but we need to have a strategy for millions of others.”

Italy is taking the brunt of illegal migration from Africa.

Since the beginning of this year they have taken a further 85,000 migrants with practically no other member state willing to take on some of these refugees. President Macron says that France will only consider taking political refugees.

Austria is threatening to close its borders with Italy and introduce stricter controls to stop migrants from crossing the border.

Elections in Italy are round the corner. The populist Lega Nord and Movimento Cinque Stelle are making good inroads in the electorate who fear that the country can no longer carry the burden of migration from Africa on its own.

At best the European Parliament has almost become a talking shop

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy met to discuss emergency measures to counter the threat of illegal migration. Little substance resulted from this meeting.

If the EU wants to be considered as a super state just like the US, then what we are experiencing at the moment is a failure of the super state of Europe.

Rather than looking at long-term solutions to ensure that life in Africa become stable enough for migrants to remain in their countries, our politicians adopt short-term tactics like patrolling the Libyan coast to stop illegal migration and helping the Libyan dysfunctional government to police their borders more effectively.

These tactics have been tried in the past and they have failed. They will fail again this time round.

Europe needs to engage with African states to help them build their physical, legal, economic, education and health infrastructure. This is a colossal task but the only one that can lead to the migration problem being tackled at its roots. Only one in five African migrants try to cross over to Europe.

The great majority roam in other African countries trying to find better living conditions.

The African continent is facing tremendous challenges: state corruption, political persecution, poor physical and social infrastructure, and the increasing threat of global warming and desertification.

The philosophical debate about whether political migrants should be given preferential treatment over economic migrants is unproductive. It just shows to what length EU political leaders are prepared to go to avoid taking the important decision of building bridges with African nations.

Once the institutional and social infrastructure of African countries starts to improve, trade between Africa and Europe will pick up.

Hopefully, Europe will not impose unfair trade restrictions on African countries by making it next to impossible for African exporters to meet the high phytosanitary standards that are often higher than those established by the World Trade Organisation.

There are still too many artificial regulatory barriers that discourage trade between the two neighbouring continents.

Europe also needs to provide training facilities to African students who can then return to their countries to help in promoting economic and social growth.

It is an undeniable reality that EU countries also need African migrants to mitigate the effects of Europe’s ageing population that needs more medical and care workers.

EU leaders continue to kick the can on migration hoping that the problem will disappear and the European electorate will overcome their fears. But thousands of African, Middle East and Easter European migrants will continue daily to cross the EU borders.

In the next few years Europe risks facing migration pressures of biblical proportions. Migration is an eternal phenomenon. No well-fortified borders will ever stop it.

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