The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, has granted an exclusive interview to Afronline.org and partner African media outlets. After her recent visit to the Sahel, she explains how, in her view, terrorism, security, migration, investment and sustainable development are interconnected in the region. She talks about the latest initiatives to help the sub-region combat all forms of religious hatred and address migration and development challenges, under the Sahel G5-EU cooperation partnership, and offers an in-depth analysis of the situation in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and neighbouring countries. Excerpts;
Question: The European Commission, under your vice-presidency, has recently proposed a new Partnership Framework with third countries (including several in Africa). This framework places migration at the heart of EU foreign policy. In its statement about the proposal, the Commission said: “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”. You clearly want to work more closely with your African partners, so why impose even more conditions on them, especially when they have to deal with substantially more migrants than the EU? Would it not be fairer to make development assistance conditional on democracy and good governance alone?
Federica Mogherini: The key word of this new proposal is partnership, not conditionality. We want to develop win-win relationships with our partners. I have always argued that immigration is a good thing, even a necessity, but that it needs to be properly regulated. Migration is a complex phenomenon that we have to deal with both here in Europe and especially in Africa. Some 300,000 refugees and migrants have entered Niger, and there are 700,000 refugees in Ethiopia. These are both much poorer countries than ours, so it’s right that we should share the burden of managing this situation. It’s in the interests of the migrants themselves, and our stability. We need to help strengthen migration management capacities, provide economic opportunities, reintegrate returning migrants and open legal immigration channels. You cannot separate investment, development and security. Instead, you have to adopt a holistic approach that includes governments, civil society and human rights defenders. This is the principle that underpins Migration Partnerships. In our migration work with third countries, we need to leverage all the instruments available to us – not just development assistance, but also trade policy, security support and private investment. This partnership tackles a complex phenomenon that affects us all. The EU’s strategic starting point is to secure peace, stability, security and development throughout the world, and in our region in particular. This may, in turn, lead to a more effective approach to migration management. It’s in everyone’s interest that we get it right. It’s in Africa’s interest that we help countries regain control of their territories, so they can stop illegal arms, drugs and human trafficking and combat terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and ISIS in Libya. Africa also needs help to mitigate the impact of climate change on its populations, and it will benefit from further investment in infrastructure, energy and transport to support its development. Less conflict means more stability and security, more jobs, more education and less radicalisation. The same principle applies to migration. Everyone will benefit from proper, legal migration channels. Those who say we shouldn’t combat illegal human trafficking are misguided. If you want proof, talk to the young Nigerian women who have left their country for work, only to find themselves shackled, raped, locked away and sexually exploited. It is our inalienable duty to combat human trafficking, both here in Europe and in Africa.
Q: Development is a central component of the Sahel G5 strategy, but the relationship between the private sector, government and civil society is one of the key challenges to sustainable development. How do you intend to build more effective, transparent relationships at the local, national and regional levels?
Federica Mogherini: Civil society has an important role to play, both here in Europe and in Africa. Every time I go to Africa, I make a point of meeting with civil society representatives – the people we support and work with across a wide range of projects. Recently, I talked to a group of young people about the work we were doing to support their peers across the Sahel region. It’s essential that we work with these countries to give young people hope for the future. We also need to work with local authorities and recognise the role that the private sector plays in job creation, and engage this sector accordingly. Africa needs to create 18 million new jobs a year to ensure that its young people have the opportunities they deserve. This can only be achieved with private sector support. We intend to present a new investment plan for Africa this autumn, and we are currently ironing out the details with the European Investment Bank and other private sector stakeholders. One of the key principles underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September last year is that the targets will only be met if everyone from the public, private and civil society sectors works together.
Q: A fresh outbreak of Boko Haram activity in the Lake Chad Basin region shows that the terrorist group still poses a serious threat despite heavy losses over the last two years. According to the Presidents of Niger and Chad, the Sahel G5’s Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) is short of resources and is not yet in a position to combat the group. Where is the €50 million that the EU promised to set aside to support the MNJTF?
Federica Mogherini: Every time terrorists try to destabilise our countries and societies, be it in Europe or in Africa and elsewhere, we have to respond with more unity and determination. We fully support countries in the Sahel in their joint efforts to combat terrorism, which is a priority for the whole region. A year ago, we launched high-level cooperation between the European Union and the Sahel G5 (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad). We held our first meeting in Brussels in June 2015, and I then had the honour of attending a Sahel G5 Heads of State summit. I have also been to Niger, Nigeria and Chad this year. At our most recent meeting on 17 June, we consolidated our strategic partnership and held talks with the Sahel G5 and Libyan foreign affairs ministers about new cooperation around Libya’s southern border – a trafficking hotspot that is critical to stability in the region. Our work to support the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram is part of our broader efforts to foster closer cooperation in the region. The MNJTF comprises troops from five countries – Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, as part of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). I signaled our intent to set aside €50 million for the MNJTF at the Lake Chad Basin Regional Security Summit, and I have signed on 1 August an agreement to strengthen regional cooperation in our response, along with Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, and Smaїl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security. The EU is also working with individual countries on counter-terrorism and security matters. These efforts are reflected, for example, in our Common Foreign and Security Policy work with EUCAP Sahel Niger, and with EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUTM Mali.
Q: As part of its efforts to support counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, the EU is training Malian troops but is not helping with equipment…
Federica Mogherini: We have two missions in Mali – the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) and EUCAP Sahel. The purpose of these missions is to provide guidance and training and to help restructure and strengthen domestic security forces. Our partners asked us to extend these missions for a further two years, and EU Member States agreed. We are now looking to expand their work across the Sahel G5 region. In terms of assistance for potential equipment for the defence sector, we have already carried out a public consultation and I submitted a proposed legislation on 5 July to enable the EU to extend its assistance to the defence sector, including the military in very specific cases. We want our partners to take control of their own security, governance and stability. Without this form of empowerment, these countries will be unable to achieve growth, deliver investment and create jobs. Our assistance could cover missions that are not related to combat, such as civilian operations and crisis prevention and management activities. We also support infrastructure improvements such as for roads and bridges and mine-clearing operations, as well as providing basic equipment for security forces. However, we do not supply arms or lethal weapons of any sort.
Q: Sahel G5-EU cooperation is a laudable initiative from a counter-terrorism perspective, but there is a risk that this partnership will strengthen authoritarian regimes within the group. Will the EU continue to tolerate these regimes that undermine democracy in these countries?
Federica Mogherini: Human rights are central to our relationships with our partners. As well as tackling migration and counter-terrorism issues in these countries, we have also initiated other programmes that address the rule of law, civil society and, in some cases, democratic transition. Judicial system and police reform are core components of our activities in the Sahel, and we are already taking practical steps to give local citizens more equitable access to justice. For example, we were recently involved in setting up the National Legal and Judicial Assistance Agency in Niger. In Burkina Faso, meanwhile, we were the first donor to throw our weight behind the transitional government. We work with our partners on an equal footing, addressing important subjects such as security, governance, human rights and the economic fallout of security crises in an open, honest way.