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Migration woes to colour key Africa-EU summit

28 November 2010, 22:52 CET
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(BRUSSELS) - Leaders of Europe and Africa jet in to Libya next week, seeking to rise above bitter colonial history but risking fresh rows over who pays for millions of migrants flooding into a Tripoli bottleneck.

Reeling from the aftershocks of the financial crisis, the European Union has set jobs, investment and growth as its priority at the November 29-30 summit, gathering 53 leaders from the world's poorest continent for a potentially tough face-to-face with the 27-nation bloc.

"Stronger and more intense cooperation will greatly benefit Africa's development," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Africa's leading aid donor, the EU remains its top trading partner, but risks being shoved aside as Brazil, India and other emerging giants join China in chasing the spoils of a resource-rich continent recording the globe's top growth rate.

That, along with the absence of Europe's "big three" -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron -- makes it all the harder to imagine a breakthrough on Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's demand for five billion euros annually from the EU to deal with the ticking migration bomb.

At any given moment, the desert nation's population of some five million swells by an additional two million job-hungry migrant wannabes, straining for a promised land that's in too big a mess itself to pay for the problem.

The bodies washing back on Libya's shores will make it difficult for the 80 nations present to ignore the desperation and squalor that drives migrants to take to the sea in fragile skiffs.

Kadhafi argues that stemming the flow across the Mediterranean is the responsibility of both Europe and African states, but last month won only a fraction of his plea for help from the EU -- 50 million euros over two years to help protect economic refugees and monitor borders.

After refusing to be "Europe's coast-guard," Libya recently decided to penalise illegal immigration and last month put millions into radars to monitor its 2,000-kilometre (1,250-mile) coast.

"It would be no surprise if Khadafi asked for more money at the summit, Libya has a problem," acknowledged an EU diplomat.

At their last summit three years ago in Lisbon, the two continents penned a landmark pledge to address future concerns on an equal footing, shedding both the bitter legacy of the colonial past and the stigma of donor-recipient ties.

But analysts say those fine intentions have failed to yield groundbreaking decisions able to impact on tough issues such as immigration or trade.

"What's needed is a special summit on immigration, but it's still early days," said Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform.

The 27-nation EU lacks a "serious" single policy on immigration while the entire gamut of 53 divergent African Union nations would all need to sign on.

"The fate of the EU and Africa are joined together over the next 20 years," Brady added. "If you don't put in place a legitimate system to deal with immigration there'll be problems, aggravated by climate change decreasing farming land in Africa."

While Europe's far-right parties clock up gains playing on visceral anti-immigrant fears, the to-do list if the tide of destitute job-seekers is to be stemmed is enormous, encompassing human trafficking, Africa's brain drain, protecting refugees, helping student mobility and creating jobs.

Concrete projects include a just-launched EU-funded observatory on migration flows and a new remittances institute aimed at helping to funnel migrant workers' incomes into development and growth in Africa.

But many say these are only "baby-steps.".

"Progress cannot be delivered by projects," said Andrew Sherif of the European Centre for Development Policy Management.

Instead, leaders of the two continents needed to implement their 2007 Lisbon promises and take political dialogue to the highest level.

"Competence on immigration is dealt with mostly by member states and there isn't a common position," Sherif said. "You need to take political dialogue to a new level, get the justice and interior ministers, the real decision-makers, in the room."

Aside from migration, a joint statement on climate change is expected as the Cancun Conference kicks off in Mexico. Leaders will also look at peace and security issues, renewable energy, food and farming, and human rights during the two-day summit.

3rd Africa-EU Summit, 29 – 30 November 2010 in Libya


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