While the West is pointing at Russia as a source of imagined menace to its security, unimagined menaces endanger the Old Continent. Reality is making Europeans take urgent steps to meet security challenges.
Europe wants a fresh start with Africa – a “security belt” given its growing relevance to European interests. “Before it’s too late, we need a radical change that puts the African continent on top of the EU’s political agenda,” European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said before the 5th African Union-EU two-day summit, bringing together 55 African Union and 28 EU leaders, which started on November 29 in Abidjan. “Now it is out of necessity,” the diplomat emphasized. Indeed, Europe is being hit by migration from the continent and simply tackling the consequences won’t help. The EU needs to address the problem at its roots by addressing Africa’s woes.
Millions of people flee their countries to escape war and poverty. More than 1.5 million people from the Middle East and Africa have entered Europe in the last two years and EU officials fear new and even greater influxes in the future. Up to 30 million Africans may come to Europe within the next 10 years, posing new security challenges to the continent. By 2050, Africa is expected to be home to a population of 2.5 billion people, and those people should be given a chance to build futures in their own countries. That’s why the topic of the above-mentioned summit is not migration but “Investing in youth for a sustainable future.”
The UN efforts are evidently not enough. The organization’s latest calls for more money have coincided with a series of threats from the Trump administration to cut its contributions to multilateral activities by half or more. Europe faces a humanitarian catastrophe to its south at a time its major ally is distancing itself from some of the multilateral organizations that are meant to mitigate such problems.
It’s not migration only. Supporting Africa meets the EU’s economic and political interests. The continent opens up genuine opportunities for European business. In 2016, five African economies were among the top ten in the world in terms of growth, with rates of more than 7%. Africa has critical raw materials essential for European industries: 64% of the world’s cobalt, without which batteries for electric cars cannot be made, comes from Congo; tantalum, which is used in solar panels, comes from Rwanda; platinum, which is used to limit harmful emissions from cars, comes from South Africa. These raw materials are also of interest to China – the EU competitor.
The EU has already set up multi-billion euro funds to promote Africa’s economic development. The European Fund and African Investment Facility provide economic development assistance from the EU to Africa. In September, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), the centerpiece of the EU’s new External Investment Plan. On Nov.22, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, announced an investment plan for Africa that she said could raise at least €44 billion in private cash by 2020. The aim is to govern migratory movements rather than be governed by them.
French President Emmanuel Macron wants Africa to be a priority for French “economic diplomacy.” According to him, French companies will invest in Africa, including investments into professional training.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also made Africa a foreign policy priority. On Jan. 18, 2017, Germany put forth a so-called Marshall Plan with Africa. The proposal has become a major feature of Germany’s G20 presidency this year. In 2016, the EU launched similar schemes known as migration compacts with Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, and Ethiopia, as part of its new “migration partnership framework”.
European governments and institutions have ploughed funds into UN agencies, looking to cut deals with African governments to stem migratory flows across the Sahara. Yet serious violence persists from Nigeria to the Sudan, fueling a humanitarian crisis that threatens to create more instability on Europe’s borders. The EU is to increase its security related operations in the continent.
The EU is engaged in Partnership Framework Agreements with several African countries to stem the flow of migrants. It has set up the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (a €2 billion aid program aimed at securing the cooperation of African countries in tackling irregular migration), leading to the initial signing of bilateral agreements with Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia.
A majority of UN peacekeeping missions, in which many Europeans are involved, are in Africa. The EU institutions now have considerable experience in deploying Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. EU member-states also host a number of military bases on the continent. European Union missions are training Malian and Somali soldiers and Nigerien police officers, while EU-flagged ships patrol the Mediterranean and the coast around the Horn of Africa looking for human traffickers and pirates. France, Germany, Italy, and Spain all have boots on the ground in Djibouti. France’s presence there is now around 1,700 personnel. About 3,500 French troops operate in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, Gabon and Cote d’Ivoire. French and German forces operate together in Niger.
Germany has an air transport base at the Niamey international airport that supports its increasing troop contribution to the UN’s peacekeeping mission in neighboring Mali. The 10,000-strong UN force is made up of various contingents of troops from several Western countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Italy. British troops are serving with the United Nations in South Sudan.
China’s influence in Africa is immense. It’s an economic competitor which will make Europeans pay more attention to the effectiveness of the projects they’re offering. Competition is a good thing being the driver of efficiency. But their security interests all coincide. China has a problem with Islamic fundamentalists in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It has growing thirst for raw materials and so is interested in political stability in African countries.
This time the Europeans will have to convert words into deeds. The Marshall Plan with Africa will be a costly endeavor but it’s too important to shelve. The EU can hardly afford the Marshall Plan in Africa as well as the continuation of confrontation with Russia at the same time: it will have to choose. The threat coming from Africa is real and visible. The exacerbation of the problem in the near future is unavoidable. For Europeans it’s a matter of survival.
The confrontation with Moscow is rather artificial. Russia is not an imminent threat as depicted in the mainstream media. After all, the EU is a powerful international entity in its own right with 28 members accounting for more than 20% of global GDP. There are ways to solve the problems that would aggravate the relationship between EU members and Russia. Instead, the EU needs to tackle the migrant crisis. This is an issue of paramount importance for Europe, unlike the plans to deploy NATO battalions in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to challenge Russia and, thus, actually reduce European security.
The EU and Russia have conducted joint operations in Chad and the Central African Republic and coordinated efforts fighting Somalian pirates. Russia is facing the terrorist threat coming from the south. It also has economic interests in Africa and enjoys significant influence among African states, including military and security cooperation.
As Europeans, Russia and the EU have more common interests in the field of security, while the US has its own list of foreign policy priorities. Iran and North Korea are more important for the United States than stopping migrant flows to Europe. Around 4.5 million refugees have fled the Syrian civil war. The US has taken in only around 3,000.
The choice appears to be clear. It’s immigrants and terrorism, not Russia, that top the Europe’s security agenda. It would be logical to make the Marshall Plan an international effort to unite those who have an interest in bringing stability to Africa. Libya, a nation in distress, could and should be the first African country to be bailed out by a multinational effort. There is only one major gateway to Europe — and it’s through Libya. The clout that Moscow enjoys in that country makes it a major actor. Joining efforts to tackle the situation in Libya would be a logical step to take for common good.
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About the author
Peter Korzun is an expert on wars and conflicts