When the EU sponsors dictators: EU migration agreements a springboard for the European elections?

Le Club de Mediapart ©

In a process that raises numerous questions and criticisms, the European Union continues its strategy of outsourcing the management of migratory flows through agreements with third countries, a policy that sparks debate both on its effectiveness and its ethical implications. Recently, the EU signed a similar agreement with Egypt to the one concluded with Tunisia, thus indicating continuity in an approach that, according to some, amounts to a political endorsement that strengthens these regimes under the guise of migration regulation. Thus, while the official intention is to control immigration, these agreements can turn into tacit approval of administrations that limit civil liberties, posing an ethical dilemma between managing migratory flows and promoting democratic principles and human rights

This approach raises questions about the EU’s priorities, highlighting tensions between domestic policy objectives and the universal values ​​it seeks to promote internationally. Officially, the funds will help strengthen Egypt’s security forces and boost its economy, which has been hit by rampant inflation and crippling unemployment. Missile attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen on commercial ships have also disrupted trade via the Red Sea, further affecting trade in Egypt. The country also faces a huge migration crisis with the mass arrival of Sudanese, Syrian, and Palestinian refugees.

The agreement, described by some as an ad hoc migration arrangement disguised as a spectacle to impress the public, does not fail to illustrate a certain disregard for the fundamental principles of respect for human rights. Through this action, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, finds herself assigned the unenviable title of “sponsor of dictators,” in a move that appears to be a desperate tactic approaching the European elections on June 9. The question arises: will the squandering of European taxpayers’ funds at the expense of human rights truly favor her reelection to the head of the Commission?

Adopting a policy that seems to echo the discourse of the far right in hopes of winning over voters appears as a risky electoral strategy. Historically, the original always triumphs over the copy, and this attempt could well prove counterproductive. The agreement signed between the EU and Tunisia has been widely criticized, seen both as an absolute failure — ridiculed by the return of €60 million to the EU in exchange for a final commitment of €150 million — and a relative failure, especially when compared to the one concluded with Egypt. For a similar agreement, Egypt managed to obtain €7.4 billion, fifty times more than Tunisia, for a population nine times larger. This comparison not only highlights the failure of Tunisian diplomacy but also the significantly more generous treatment accorded to Egypt, where the signing of the agreement was celebrated with great pomp in the presence of six heads of state in Cairo. To top it off, it is from Cairo that Von der Leyen announces EU aid to Gaza, whereas Tunisia had made it its battleground. Thus, the post-July 25 Tunisian diplomacy fails across the board, highlighting the limits of a foreign policy focused on immediate financial gains at the expense of democratic principles and human rights.

On Sunday, March 17, the European Union presented the world with two contrasting images: one of a timid Europe, embodied by five heads of state, including Giorgia Meloni, the Italian Prime Minister, courting an Egyptian dictator under the guise of migration control; and the other of a bold Europe, represented by Schulz, Macron, and Tusk, forming a united front against Russian aggression. This dichotomy reflects internal tensions within the EU regarding the direction to take in the face of contemporary challenges, between realpolitik and fidelity to fundamental values ​​of democracy and respect for human rights.

The EU’s approach to migration management, favoring agreements with authoritarian regimes, raises questions about the sustainability of these solutions. Not only do they risk compromising the fundamental values on which the Union claims to be built, but they could also prove to be counterproductive in the long run. Indeed, without a more holistic approach that addresses the root causes of immigration — such as political stability, economic development, and respect for human rights — these agreements can only offer temporary solutions, squander European taxpayers’ money, while fueling criticism of the EU.

This short-term policy, desired by Meloni and funded by Von der Leyen, creates a vicious circle in which European funds strengthen dictators without creating favorable conditions for economic recovery, which, combined with a climate of repression, drives populations to flee their countries. After signing similar agreements with Turkey, Tunisia, Mauritania, and now Egypt, the EU is expected to soon sign another agreement with Morocco. The so-called EU outsourcing strategy for migration management faces criticism from all sides, including recently from the European Parliament, which asserts that the agreements lack guarantees on human rights, exposing migrants to brutal conditions in camps and putting money into the hands of autocrats.

As the European Union continues to navigate the murky waters of international migration policy, it becomes crucial to reassess its priorities and methods. As the European elections approach, these questions are not merely academic but are of crucial importance for the future of the EU and its place in the world.

Article written by Ghazi Ben Ahmed and translated from French by Le Club de Mediapart, on 6 March 2024

Ghazi Ben Ahmed

Founder and President

Ghazi Ben Ahmed

Founder and President

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