Photographer: Denizhan Guzel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

EU Plans Refugee-Control Deals With Mideast, Africa Nations

  • Europe dangles 8 billion euros of aid to lure poorer partners
  • Accord with Turkey in March inspires idea of more agreements

The European Union laid out plans for migration-control agreements with countries ranging from Lebanon to Nigeria in a bid to prevent waves of arrivals that would risk destabilizing governments and stoking populism in Europe.

QuickTake Europe's Refugee Crisis

Calling migratory pressure the “new normal,” the European Commission proposed to deploy 8 billion euros ($9.1 billion) over the next five years to tackle flows of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. It’s seeking “partnerships” that would return more arrivals to their countries of origin or transit, address the root causes of forced displacement and limit migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea when smugglers’ boats capsize.

The commission, the EU’s executive arm, has been emboldened by the March 18 accord with Turkey on stemming the influx of Mideast refugees. That deal, under which irregular migrants who enter the EU in Greece are sent back to Turkey and Syrian refugees in Turkish camps are resettled in Europe, has slowed to a trickle Europe’s biggest refugee wave since World War II and eased domestic political pressure on leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

‘On the Move’

"Millions of people are on the move worldwide and we can only manage this if we act globally, in full partnership,” EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement after the commission approved the strategy on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France. “Our goal, while staying focused on saving lives at sea and dismantling smugglers’ networks, is to support the countries that host so many people and foster growth in our partner countries.”

Preoccupied these days less by the euro-area debt crisis than by the threat of further refugee waves, the EU is weighing more active migration policies abroad in an effort to prevent a repeat of the uncoordinated national reactions and finger pointing that have put Europe’s passport-free travel zone at risk and fueled anti-European forces from the U.K. to Austria.

In Britain, calls for migration curbs are a central plank in the campaign being waged by those -- including the U.K. Independence Party -- urging Britons to vote to leave the 28-nation EU in a June 23 referendum.

Atop the commission’s priority list for “tailor-made” partnership agreements are Jordan and Lebanon followed by Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia. The commission also said it intends to increase EU engagement with Tunisia and Libya.

Brand Building

In two related initiatives on Tuesday, the commission proposed an action plan to help European countries integrate non-EU nationals and a revamp of Europe-wide rules to help member states attract highly skilled migrants.

The push to lure well educated non-EU nationals was announced as the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report that the bloc “has to build its brand among potential labor migrants.” Of non-EU migrants to OECD nations, only 31 percent of those who are highly skilled choose a destination in the EU, according to the commission.

Its proposal would overhaul the EU’s “Blue Card” program by establishing a single, Europe-wide system in place of parallel national ones and by making the conditions more flexible. This includes reducing to six months from 12 months the required minimum duration of initial contracts.

“The EU has to compete for a global pool of talent with a growing number of other destinations,” the commission said. “The EU Blue Card scheme has, however, proven to be insufficiently attractive and underused.”

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