Leaders of the European Union (EU) formally launched an emergency trust fund for Africa, Thursday, with an initial $2 billion to combat the poverty and conflicts driving migration to Europe.
The fund, unveiled at a summit with African leaders in Malta, currently consists largely of $1.93 billion put up by the European Commission, the EU executive, from the bloc’s central budget. The Commission wants member states to match that, but few have pledged much so far.
The new money, which adds to some 20 billion euros annually donated to Africa by the EU and its 28 states, will finance projects ranging from training and small-business grants and combating food shortages to schemes directly aimed at cutting emigration and tackling radicalization and other violence.
With Europeans’ attention now gripped by over half a million Syrians and others whose arrival has plunged the EU into crisis, memories have faded of the drowned Africans whose deaths in April prompted the Malta summit. However, EU officials say that African migration presents the greater long-term concern.
Among the biggest concerns in both Europe and Africa is the extent to which climate change, turning vast areas around the Sahara into desert, may set large sections of Africa’s fast-growing billion-plus population on the move, both within the continent and north across the Mediterranean.
The new EU fund will focus on areas affected by migration and drought in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and North Africa.
Initial direct pledges from the member states, who also fund the EU budget, amount to just 78 million euros, but EU officials expect further money soon. African leaders at the summit in Valletta stressed that its effect would be limited.
On Wednesday, EU leaders offered African countries aid and better access to Europe in return for help curbing chaotic migration and promises to take back more of those whom Europe expels.
A 17-page Action Plan sets out dozens of initiatives. Many build on decades of stuttering cooperation between the world’s poorest continent and wealthy-but-ageing Europe.
Some are newer, including a European pledge to reduce costs for sending money home from Europe to Africa — a nod to African governments’ concerns that curbing migration could crimp remittances from expatriate citizens.
These are estimated to bring twice as much to Africa’s economy as foreign aid donations, showing the limits of Europe’s bargaining power in pressing African leaders to hold back emigrants.
EU officials also highlighted renewed offers to ease visas and other access for business travellers and students from countries that agree to take back citizens whom EU states want to expel as illegal aliens. African leaders and many experts question the feasibility of such “returns” programmes.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said the summit had agreed “a long list of very concrete actions to be implemented by the end of 2016”.
“We are under no illusions that we can improve the situation overnight but we are committed to giving people alternatives to risking their lives,” he said.
The European trust fund is supposed to “foster stability… and to contribute to better migration management,” according to a European Union statement.
It is also aimed at “promoting economic… opportunities, security and development” in the countries named, along with Senegal, include Nigeria, Eritrea and Libya.
The money will be spent on: Economic programmes to create jobs; Supporting services like health and education; Improving migration management “including containing and preventing irregular migration”; as well as supporting conflict prevention.
The $1.9bn fund is in addition to the $20bn the EU already spends on development assistance in Africa every year, Mr Tusk said.
Meanwhile, some African presidents have described the fund as insufficient.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall said the $1.9bn European fund set-up to tackle irregular migration as “not enough”.
President Sall, who also currently heads the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) told journalists on the sidelines of the summit that the money pledged was “not enough for the whole of Africa”, even though at the closing press conference, he had described the fund as “a very good beginning”.
Also responding, Niger Republic President, Mahamadou Issoufou, said: “The trust fund is not enough. 1.8 billion euros is far from enough.” Niger is facing serious problems of migration and drought.
“What we want is not just official development assistance in this form but reform of global governance. World trade must be fair. There must be more investment in Africa. Official development assistance is good but it’s not sufficient,” he added.