Development aid once had many great aspirations. It wanted to combat global poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease. It planned to distribute land fairly, ensure access to clean water and education, create infrastructure, help women and girls – and much more.

In Germany, the government-run Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammmenarbeit (known as GIZ) was primarily responsible for these goals, along with church-owned and private NGOs. GIZ is a large organization; with a €2.6 million budget in 2017, it employed over 19,000 people in about 120 countries.[1] However, anyone attending one recent GIZ showcase event may wonder whether development aid still has these high aspirations.

On 6 July 2016, GIZ’s Chair of the Management Board, Tanja Gönner, and the State Secretary at the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Friedrich Kitschelt, hosted the press in the wood-paneled room no. 1 of the Federal Press Conference building along Berlin’s Spree river. They presented the GIZ annual report and a promotional film to about 20 journalists. For nearly an hour, Gönner and Kitschelt spoke on just one topic: how GIZ was handling the refugee situation. Gönner spoke about nothing else. Climate change, sustainability, clean water, nutrition, land, education, health – the speakers mentioned none of the GIZ’s former core issues. That was no coincidence, because the so-called war on poverty, in the form of irregular migration, is the new paradigm of development aid.

For a while, policymakers have been selling migration control as part of a package labeled ‘development aid’. Between the start of the millennium and the 2015 Valletta Summit, European states and the EU paid or granted about €2 billion to African governments to combat irregular migration.[2] Since then, the EU has also financed the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (endowed with €4.1 billion as of January 2019) and sent up to €6 billion to Turkey since 2016. The External Investment Plan (EIP) gave Africa another €3.7 billion[3] for economic development through 2018. Here again, the purpose is to ‘tackle the root causes of irregular migration’. Finally, during a trip to Tunis in November 2017, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani demanded that the EU pump a staggering €40 billion into Africa between 2020 and 2026, among other things, ‘to counter migration.’[4]

The outcomes remain to be seen. What we do know is that in the past 15 years, the EU has granted at least €15 billion to keep refugees and irregular migrants where they are. The funded projects have one thing in common: they explicitly list ‘border control exercises’, ‘better migration/border management’ or ‘tackling the root causes of migration.’

€15 billion is a small sum overall: in 2017, official development assistance (ODA) payments rose slightly to $146.6 billion worldwide; about €30 billion flowed from Europe to Africa.[5] However, aid is increasingly channeled towards ‘tackling the causes of migration’. The goal is always the same: partner states should keep refugees and migrants in their countries or take them back.

Payment only for services rendered. ‘The Europeans have had this idea since negotiations for the Valletta Process began,’ says EU chief negotiator Pierre Vimont.[6] Many interior ministers tell him clearly that they will increase development aid to African countries only if more migrants return there and if their countries take them back. This mechanism is not yet mentioned in the Valletta Summit Action Plan. But the EU makes it an explicit condition for aid in its 2016 New Migration Partnership Framework: ‘A mix of positive and negative incentives will be integrated into the EU’s development and trade policies to reward those countries willing to cooperate effectively with the EU on migration management and ensure there are consequences for those who refuse.’ Then-President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz amplified: ‘The EU Commission proposes to reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us … When third countries refuse to cooperate on returns, we should be clear that this has consequences.’[7]

The EU thereby uses aid to put pressure on some of the world’s poorest states. More openly than ever, Europe is linking assistance to far-reaching conditions to meet its own political priorities. Countries who do not help to fend off undesirable migrants risk losing not just money, but market access as well. The EU Council’s conclusions from June[8] and October[9] 2016 state: ‘to create and apply the necessary leverage, by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade.’

In the past decade, states with external EU borders like Italy and Spain were the pioneers, for obvious reasons. They learned how to use traditional development aid projects to control migration. These projects might aim to modernize the administration, develop a port, expand education or healthcare infrastructure – goals completely unrelated to border protection. However, the donor countries found that they could tie their funding to the condition that the recipient countries would stop or take back refugees.

The major examples were the programs of the Spanish Plan África I & II. In the four years after their launch in 2004, Spain nearly quadrupled its aid to West Africa. Spanish ODA shot up by 529 percent in West Africa, a key region for transit migration.[10] ‘We believe that it makes sense to link the increase in development aid to the drafting of readmission agreements,’[11] former justice minister and current Socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar said in 2006: ‘Countries that receive European money have to recognize the challenges we are facing and assume joint responsibility for coping with migration flows,’[12] Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos stated earlier that year.

Between 2005 and 2010, for example, Madrid gave Morocco a total of €430.2 million in development aid. In this period Spain increased its annual grants to Senegal from €14 to €48 million, to Guinea-Bissau from €1.4 to about €15 million and to Mauritania from €9 to €30 million.[13] All countries first had to commit to intensifying their border protection efforts. Overall, Spain signed 12 anti-migration agreements with West African states between 2006 and 2008.

In January 2007, Juan Carlos, King of Spain, invited Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré to his palace for lunch. Until then, Spain had ignored this West African core state and did not even run an embassy there. But more and more Africans were crossing Mali to reach Canary Island beaches. After lunch, Touré signed two agreements with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.[14]

In the first agreement, Spain bestowed a fairy-tale sum upon Mali: In 2006, the poverty-ridden country had received only €7.3 million, which soared to €13 million in 2007 and €40 million in 2008. In the second agreement, Touré promised ‘effective cooperation’ on border controls – and to cause no problems if Spain deported Malians.

 ‘Reinforcements’ as development aid

Using this tactic, Spain bought half of West Africa, so in the years following, African refugees rarely reached the Canaries. Italy tried a similar approach with the Mediterranean states of Tunisia and Libya.

Generous development aid on the condition that recipient countries stop or readmit refugees – that was one strategy. However, there are two other ways in which the EU’s migration control tactics crept into the fight against poverty.

One was grants for expanding border infrastructure: a ‘grey zone of development cooperation’,[15] says Benjamin Schraven of the German Development Institute (GDI). In 2016, for example, the German Defense Ministry and the Foreign Office supplied about €100 million for ‘reinforcements’ in African states.[16] Tunisia got €20 million of this sum for electronic surveillance at the Libyan border and training the border police, among other things. Germany allocated further funds for 2017. Whether the ‘upgrade initiatives’ count as development aid is still open. In any case, the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development lists them as one ‘pillar’ of its ‘Marshall Plan with Africa’.[17] In April 2017, the German government announced that it would launch a similar initiative on the EU level, ‘Capacity Building for Security and Development,’ which would be classified as development cooperation.[18] The Trust Fund for Africa, which is largely paid for from the European Development Fund (EDF), also falls under this category.

The second overlap between development aid and migration control is the EU’s payments to non-member states for holding back migrants. The best-known example is the €6 billion deal with Turkey. This money came from the budget of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO). EU member states can record their contributions to this agency’s budget as development aid, along with parts of the cost for supporting refugees within their borders.

Phenomenal leverage

Border management is becoming increasingly important for the mostly state-run development agencies as well as for NGOs. ‘This does not mean that they shift all their activities to this area,’ says Schraven. More often, they just relabel existing projects. ‘“Rural development” is simply renamed to “tackling causes of migration.”’[19]

Researcher Schraven speaks of the ‘absurdity of the “causes of migration” rationale.’ A popular assumption expressed across a wide spectrum, from the far-right AfD party through the more moderate CDU, FDP and the European Commission, but also by many on the Left, is that Africa needs more aid so that people will stay there. This is a fallacy. ‘The narrative goes that poverty and lack of perspectives cause migration. The relationship is actually the reverse: Higher income and socioeconomic status make people more likely to come.’ Migrants are in fact coming not from the poorest countries, but from relatively better-off states such as Senegal, Ghana or Nigeria – the main partners of the new EU initiatives.

A study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy[20] supports this finding. ‘When aid primarily raises domestic incomes, migration can be expected to increase as more people can finance the costs of migration,’ write the researchers. ‘Only at much higher development levels do rising incomes provide an incentive to stay – when the potential income gains to be achieved abroad have become very low.’ The causal relationships between development aid and migration appear to be much less clear-cut than many policymakers would wish. The study suggests that only if development cooperation were to consistently expand infrastructure and improve public services, would this aid mitigate the causes of migration to a certain extent. ‘The primary objective of aid should be to foster development and reduce poverty in recipient countries – regardless of any indirect impact on migration,’ the researchers state. For income-generating projects like supplying better seed to small farmers, which make sense from a development perspective, it would be ‘problematic if such projects were not realized because a small fraction of beneficiaries might emigrate as a result’.[21]

However, the EU is strictly following the equation ‘more aid = less migration’. For example, the Trust Fund for Africa, which now holds €4.1 billion, contains mostly unspent reserves from the EDF. The same is true of the EU’s External Investment Plan (EIP), which is intended to boost the African economy in order to – what else? – ‘tackle root causes of migration.’[22] The EU will provide €4.5 billion from the European Fund for Sustainable Development for the EIP. The plan intends for European companies to invest the phenomenal sum of €44 billion in Africa by 2020.[23] The hope is that this will create jobs to finally keep young people in Africa.

‘That money didn’t fall from the sky, it came from development cooperation funds,’[24] criticizes Inge Brees of the NGO CARE in Brussels. When EU aid concentrates on countries along the migration routes, this funding goes missing elsewhere. This is exactly what happened in the EU-Turkey deal. The billions from the funds of emergency aid agency DG ECHO that the EU promised to Erdoğan ‘would otherwise have been available for other crises’.

The transit country Niger, one of the world’s poorest states, shows the power of these concentration effects. In 2015, Niger received $868 million in net development aid.[25] After the country caught the EU’s attention as a transit point through the Western Sahara,[26] Development Commissioner Mimica approved an additional €1 billion in aid by 2020 – significantly more than the country previously received per year from all donor countries put together.[27] Hence, in 2017 Niger received €1.206 billion – nearly 40 percent more than just two years earlier – and clearly a political reward for gatekeeper services in the Sahara.

‘There is a danger that development cooperation will focus on fewer states and that “less important” ones will get less,’ says Schraven of the GDI. The goal of aid-funded projects increasingly appeared to be ‘migration management, combating the causes of migration. And that usually means combating migration itself. This is becoming the raison d’être of development cooperation’. Schraven fears the shift will undermine standards achieved over the past 25 years in the development cooperation community: recipient needs, good governance and transparency.

Just when states located farther from Europe will feel these concentration effects remains to be seen. ‘The trend towards migration control as a core issue is still fairly recent. In two, three, four years we may see a shift towards the more cooperative countries,’ says Schraven.

‘It was clearly not about Africa as a whole, but about migration,’ says EU diplomat Vimont.[28] This was why the EU invited only the partner states from the Rabat and Khartoum Processes to the Valletta Summit on Migration. Other African states that asked for more involvement in the summit were rejected. Vimont says: ‘We told them: “Not yet.”’

‘When 20 of 55 African states are excluded, that is not a legitimate procedure,’ says the African Union’s (AU) Director of Social Affairs Maiyegun.[29] ‘Angola could say: “We’re not part of the process. The Europeans just picked out the states that seemed important to them.”’ He adds, ‘African states have no adequate participation in the Trust Fund for Africa. Decisions were made without African involvement.’ Maiyegun describes how the EU had given contracts to European institutions and NGOs that claimed to know Africa. These claims were often wrong, so failure was guaranteed, he warns. Further, Maiyegun criticizes that the AU was not included when the EU distributed money from the Trust Fund for Africa. ‘The AU Commission should sit on the Fund’s governing bodies,’ he argues. ‘We represent the interests of the entire continent. We should have a say.’

‘Whoever does not cooperate will be sanctioned’

Restricting aid to ‘useful’ African states is one approach. Another is targeted sanctions for unsatisfactory border protection and deportation efforts. The EU speaks of a ‘mix of positive and negative incentives.’ During his term as President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz wanted to show uncooperative countries that their behavior ‘has consequences.’ He is not alone. After the terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market by Tunisian national Anis Amri, the legal affairs speaker of the SPD’s parliamentary group, Burkhard Lischka, demanded to cut off EU funds to Tunisia if its government did not cooperate in deportations: ‘There are ways to raise the pressure, and not all of them involve development aid.’[30] German Minister of Justice Heiko Maas (SPD) threatened: ‘Whoever does not cooperate will be sanctioned.’[31] Similar expressions came from Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière and SPD parliamentary group chairman Thomas Oppermann.[32] His fellow party member, Hamburg’s First Mayor Olaf Scholz, wanted to immediately slash funding to all states who did not sign readmission agreements: ‘In negotiations with other countries, all issues are on the table.’[33] Of course this also applied to development aid, he said in January 2017. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel accused Development Minister Gerd Müller of ‘blocking’ the appropriate measures.[34]

Too few deportations equal less development aid – Schraven of the GDI calls this idea ‘not terribly smart’. Simply cutting off funding would hardly be feasible for the EU. He considers such statements to be ‘largely empty threats’ which could be applied selectively at best. ‘This will definitely not become a mass phenomenon.’[35]

Uncooperative states will lose EU aid money, cooperative ones will get more – regardless of their political integrity. Migration control helps pariah states like Sudan or Eritrea benefit from Western aid once more.[36] ‘Cooperating with some states, like those in East Africa, is questionable, to put it mildly, if you apply the usual criteria for development aid,’ Schraven criticizes. The EU Commission points out that money for Eritrea flows only to ‘NGOs’ and ‘civil society’ actors. Nicole Hirt, Eritrea specialist at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), calls this claim ‘absurd.’[37]

However, official aid is not the only way to finance development. In 2006, Africa received almost $50 billion in development aid.[38] In the same period, emigrants remitted about €63 billion to their source countries.[39]

This money goes directly to families and small businesses. If the EU is buying readmission agreements with tailor-made aid packages, ‘then the Europeans will not be able to avoid offering more options for regular migration to Europe,’ says Schraven.[40] This seems unlikely. The Valletta Summit Action Plan still mentioned ‘promoting regular channels for migration and mobility from and between European and African countries’.[41] But the latest progress report on the Partnership Framework for Migration dropped any mention.[42]

The EU has obviously chosen to make migration control the main condition for development aid. It also wants to officially subordinate aid for Africa and other poor regions to its foreign and security policy – and get rid of its separate budget for development aid.

On 1 March 2018, EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker and Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger (CDU) wrote a letter to the EU development ministers. It stated that the next EU budget for 2021-27 would require ‘some difficult decisions’ which they should represent externally with ‘a high level of discipline’.[43]

The commissioners urged the ministers to assert the ‘primacy of external policy’[44] and commit development aid to new and controversial goals. The Commission planned to combine 12 previously independent budget lines for development policy, democracy and human rights under a single new budget item.

This Foreign Policy Instrument’ (FPI) would not only concentrate more on immediate neighbors (i.e., Ukraine or Georgia) – to the detriment of traditional aid recipients in Africa or Asia – it would also have a ‘strong focus on migration’, states an annex.[45]

Any unused funds would flow primarily to the EU’s refugee policy – that is, reinforcing the EU’s external borders and so-called migration partnerships with African countries.

The FPI would ‘simplify and accelerate the misappropriation of EU development funds that has been observable for years’, criticized Greens MEP Barbara Lochbihler. ‘These plans are bad for our political credibility and for the transparency of our budget.’ Throwing established financial instruments into one big foreign policy pot would bring far more than the alleged budget simplification, argued Lochbihler. It would also permit the EU to divert funds intended for civil conflict prevention to finance military aims, such as equipment and training for armies in Africa.[46]

  1. Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit Unternehmensberichte |
  2. Migration Control Database, tageszeitung |
  3. European Commission (2019) External Investment Plan – Progress so far, 21 February |
  4. Ibid. and Finanzen (2017) ‘EU-Parlamentspräsident will 40 Milliarden Euro für Afrika’, Tunis, 31 October |
  5. European Commission (2019) Africa-EU continental cooperation, 20 February |
  6. European Commission (2016) ‘Commission announces New Migration Partnership Framework: reinforced cooperation with third countries to better manage migration’, European Commission press release, Strasbourg, 7 June | | and Personal interview, Brussels, 16 June 2017
  7. European Parliament (2016) President Martin Schulz, Speech at European Council session, 28 June |
  8. EU Council (2016) Conclusions, EU Council session, 28 June |
  9. EU Council (2016) Conclusions, EU Council session 20-21 October 2016 |
  10. Azkona, Nerea (2011) ‘Políticas de control migratorioy de cooperación al desarrollo entre España y África Occidental durantela ejecución del primer Plan África’, Alboan y Entreculturas, Madrid, 2011 |
  11. Migration Control Database, ‘Spain Country Report’, tageszeitung, 21 February 2019|
  12. Machado, Decio (2016) ‘Plan África: impedir las migraciones’, Diagonal, 16 October |
  13. Azkona, Nerea (2011) |
  14. Migration Policy Group (2007) ‘Migration News Sheet’, Brussels, February 2007, p. 10 |
  15. Telephone interview with Benjamin Schraven, July 2017
  16. German Federal Ministry for Defense, Fragen und Antworten zu Ertüchtigung |
  17. German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) (2017) ‘A Marshall Plan with Africa. Chapter 3, Pillar 2: Peace, Security and Stability’, January 2017 |
  18. Bundestags-Drucksache 18/11889 |
  19. Schraven (2017)
  20. Thiele, Rainer (2019) ‘Development aid alone will not reduce migration’, Media information, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Kiel, 15 January |
  21. Ibid.
  22. European Commission (2017) ‘EU External Investment Plan. Factsheet’, Brussels, 20 November |
  23. EU Parliament (2017) Report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) and establishing the EFSD Guarantee and the EFSD Guarantee Fund, EU Parliament, Brussels, 25 April |
  24. Personal interview with Inge Brees, 4 December 2016, Brussels
  25. Trading Economics (2019) ‘Niger – Net ODA received per capita’, Trading Economics 22 February |
  26. Maier, Anja (2016) ‘Kein Marshall-Plan für Afrika’, tageszeitung, 10 October |
  27. European Commission (2017) ‘EU will support Niger with assistance of €1 billion by 2020’, European Commission press release, 13 December |
  28. Personal interview, Brussels, 16 June 2017
  29. Personal interview, Malta, 8 February 2017
  30. Die Welt (2017) ‘SPD stellt Sicherheitshilfen für Tunesien infrage’, 12 January |
  31. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (2017) ‘Merkel kündigt “nationale Kraftanstrengung” bei Abschiebungen an’, 9 January |
  32. Frank­furter Allgemeine Zeitung (2017) ‘Oppermann fordert Sanktionen gegen Herkunftsländer’, 9 January |
  33. Die Zeit (2017) ‘Scholz fordert schnellere Abschiebungen’, 11 January |
  34. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (2017) ‘Gabriel: CSU blockiert Lösung bei Abschiebungen nach Nord­afrika’, 7 January |
  35. Schraven (2017)
  36. Titz, Christoph (2016) ‘Unser Partner, der Diktator’, Spiegel Online, 10 June |
  37. Sagener, Nicole (2016) ‘EU decried for seeking deal with “North Korea of Africa”’, Euractiv, 6 July |
  38. OECD Database (2019) Aid (ODA) disbursements to countries and regions [DAC2a], 18 March |
  39. ‘Record high remittances to low- and middle-income countries in 2017’, World Bank press release, Washington, 23 April 2018 |
  40. Schraven (2017)
  41. EU Council (2015) Valletta Summit Action Plan, 11-12. November 2015, 12 November |
  42. European Commission (2017) Partnership Framework on Migration: Commission reports on results and lessons learnt one year one, European Commission, Strasbourg, 13 June |
  43. Bonse, Eric (2018) ‘Abschottung geht vor Entwicklung’, tageszeitung, Brussels, 19 March |
  44. Ibid.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.


Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe Copyright © 2019 by Christoph Links Verlag GmbH. All Rights Reserved.

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