Sunday, July 21, 2024

Europe cannot ‘build a wall’ in Mediterranean to stop migration, says EU commissioner

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Europe cannot “build a wall” in the Mediterranean Sea to stop migrants and should do more to help Africa prosper to tackle the “root cause” of migration, according to the EU commissioner for international partnerships.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Jutta Urpilainen said Europe would be less secure in the future if the current focus on security policy was limited to increasing defence spending.

The Finnish politician said too often discussions about migration did not talk about addressing why people fled to Europe. Young people in Africa now had access to smartphones and the internet in a way previous generations did not, she said. “They know also what the world can offer for them. So if they don’t have opportunities in their own countries, their own society, they can very easily look for an opportunity somewhere else.”

In the coming decades, the population of Africa was projected to go from three to six times that of Europe. The EU “cannot build a wall” in the Mediterranean Sea to stop the flow of future asylum seekers and migrants, she said.

“The only way to really manage migration in a sustainable way is to address the root causes of migration, to provide opportunities for young people.” More development aid and investment was needed to improve things like education and health services, as well as transport and digital infrastructure in Africa, she said.

Urpilainen, a former deputy prime minister of Finland and previous leader of the Social Democratic Party of Finland, said China and Russia had pushed to exert more influence in Africa in recent years.

The EU was in “geopolitical competition” on the Continent with those other big powers. China had extended significant loans to African countries for infrastructure projects, with many now under pressure to repay. “I have noticed that more and more of our African partners have also realised how dependent they are on China, because of their debt levels,” she said.

“There are several African countries where over a majority of their revenues actually goes to debt servicing, and mostly to China,” she said. Russia had been “very active” in pushing propaganda in Africa, Latin America and Asia, she said.

African countries wanted to be “partners” of the EU, rather than the “subject of aid”, she said. “Our aim is not to create new dependencies, on the contrary, we want to strengthen the resilience of Africa, we want to help them be more self-reliant and independent,” she added.

The EU’s approach had been to set aside public funding for aid, but also guarantee loans European companies drew down to invest in developing countries, she said. “Our partners in Africa want private investment because they want to boost their economy, they want to have growth, they want to have more jobs for their young people,” said Urpilainen.

“In Europe, we discuss a lot at the moment security. I think there is very broad agreement and consensus that we need to invest more in our defence capabilities … That’s very understandable because there is war taking place [in Ukraine],” she said. “I think it is important to recall that there are different kinds of security threats that we are facing when it comes to climate change, which is maybe the biggest existential security threat.”

If boosting defence spending was the only focus, at the expense of things like development aid, Europe could end up with more military hardware but be weaker and more isolated from a geopolitical standpoint, she added.

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