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With the latest deal on migration, Europe is wooing Africa’s dictators

The agreements made at the Malta summit reveal that European leaders have decided that it is prudent to live with African leaders, no matter how unsavoury some of them might be.

The unprecedented EU-African summit that has just ended in the Maltese capital Valletta was proclaimed a success. It was an example of African leaders co-operating with their European counterparts to resolve a common problem: the refugee crisis.

The political communiqué (pdf) was replete with motherhood and apple pie.

 “We recognise the high degree of interdependence between Africa and Europe as we face common challenges that have an impact on migration: promoting democracy, human rights, eradicating poverty, supporting socio-economic development, including rural development, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.”

The reality, buried in the action plan (pdf) was rather different. Certainly there were elements that were welcome. These included a recognition that African states bear the greatest burden of refugees – only a minority of whom actually make the journey to Europe.

There was also an understanding that the camps in which so many languish need to be upgraded. Security in the camps must be improved, education and entertainment needs to be provided, so that young men and women are not simply left to rot. There are even suggestions that some – a tiny, educated minority – might be able to travel via legal routes to European destinations.

What is really worrying is contained in paragraph 4 of the document. Here are details of how European institutions will co-operate with the African partners to fight “irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings”.

This aim is laudable enough. But consider the implications through the eyes of a young refugee struggling to get past Eritrea’s border force, with strict instructions to shoot to kill, or to escape from the clutches of the dictatorship of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Europe will offer training to “law enforcement and judicial authorities” in new methods of investigation and “assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units”. The European police forces of Europol and the EU’s border force (Frontex) will assist African security police in countering the “production of forged and fraudulent documents”.

While there would be few who would oppose offering such support to democracies like Ghana, what will be the implication for the majority of refugees fleeing from notoriously repressive African states like Eritrea and Sudan? The price of forged passports is certain to rise all along the paths refugees tread, from Khartoum to Niamey.

The threat this poses refugees is no idle speculation. The latest quarterly report from Frontex (pdf) indicates that Eritrea is the main driver of African refugees. Eritrea is responsible for the third largest exodus of all refugees landing in the EU (10 per cent of the total) behind Syria and Afghanistan. Even war-torn Somalia does not come close.

The Eritrean government has made plain its intention to end this embarrassing exodus. At the last high-level meeting with the EU in 2014 the Eritrean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Saleh, told the gathering that:

“Eritrea values its partnership with the European Union and is determined to work with the EU and all European countries to tackle irregular migration and human trafficking and to address their root causes. We call for an urgent review of European migration policies towards Eritreans, as they are, to say the least, based on incorrect information, something that is being increasingly acknowledged.” [emphasis in the original]

The Eritrean government will never accept that it is its own policies that force its young people into exile. Yet this is clearly the case.

The UN Commission of Inquiry into Eritrea’s human rights made this clear in June this year. Its key finding was that: “The Government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country... Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.” [emphasis added]

Despite this scathing finding European leaders, including David Cameron, had no qualms about reaching an agreement with the Eritrean and Sudanese governments. The aim of the European leadership is to attempt to slam the continent’s doors shut at any cost. Hardly surprising that Eritrea’s Foreign Minister welcomed the outcome. “A clearer and more accurate picture of the reality is emerging,” he said.

In reality, the West has decided that it is prudent to live with African leaders, no matter how unsavoury they might be. The Arab Spring is today seen to have led to the chaos that gripped Egypt and the collapse of the Libyan state. Rather than face a renewed threat of Islamist extremist regimes foreign ministries from Washington to Rome would rather back the current dictators. Better the devil you know. . .

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

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