Speech by Foreign Minister Koenders at the Valletta stocktaking event

'Shaping our partnership and delivering on our joint responsibility to tackle irregular migration'. Speech by the Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at the Valletta stocktaking event (Brussels, 22 June 2016).

Check against delivery. This speech is only available in English.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I’m honoured to be speaking to you here today at the closing session of the Valletta stocktaking event of the Rabat and Khartoum processes. This is an important meeting and I would like to show our commitment as EU presidency.

Last November, leaders from both our continents agreed to join in a historic partnership to tackle one of today’s biggest challenges – irregular migration. In Valletta our leaders drew the contours of a partnership aimed at better management of migration, and in the months that have since passed, we have started to colour them in.

You have just had the opportunity to take a step back and examine our joint efforts so far. To see where the picture is starting to take shape, and where we need to make adjustments – where we urgently need to add that extra line, or use a different paint after all.

There’s certainly room for optimism. I came back optimistic after Valletta. We’re on the right track. I have heard from my Special Envoy on Migration that you have had a very fruitful meeting. But the paint’s not yet dry. There’s no room for complacency. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

Too many people are still leaving their homes in exchange for an uncertain future. Seen the misery and negative sides that brings when I lived in West Africa.

Too many people are still being exploited and taken advantage of.

Too many people are still risking their lives, undertaking a journey across hazardous deserts and seas.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that one in every fifteen migrants crossing the Mediterranean will lose his or her life at sea– and that figure doesn’t even include casualties along the dangerous desert routes (Libya, Niger).

In my view, we should not treat this meeting as if it were business as usual. To prove the success of Valletta, we need to show more results.

We cannot stand by and watch people expose themselves to hardship and danger by taking these illicit routes.

To make matters worse, more and more unaccompanied minors – and I looked at the figures– children – are taking these dangerous routes. This trend is not likely to change any time soon, given the ever-increasing number of young people looking for a better life.

To top things off, the profits of the criminal networks smuggling people are increasing and their networks are expanding as I have seen in West Africa. This provides scope for funding other criminal activities or even terrorism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We all share a responsibility to save lives, fight smuggling networks, better manage our borders and address the root causes of irregular migration.

So where do we stand? Seven months on, we have achieved some encouraging results. All parties are genuinely committed to making this partnership a success, and that is not a given- this is why this meeting is so important. Much has been done to launch the 16 flagship programmes in 2016. Under the leadership of Commissioner Mimica- the targeted programmes under the EU Trust Funds are rapidly being set up. And we’re engaging in high-level dialogues to translate our words into action at country level.

As part of these dialogues, last April, on behalf of the High Commissioner, I reached agreements with my counterparts in Mali, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire on the outlines of a migration partnership. The fruitful, candid and open discussions we had in the spirit of cooperation, and the agreements we reached, are a ‘proof of concept’ for the Valletta approach: forming genuine partnerships and accommodating common interests is the way forward. But I also saw that we still have several challenges to overcome if we want to make a difference.

Let me mention four areas where we really need to step up our game and I know it is complicated:

Firstly, we must all commit to doing more by joining forces on all five Valletta pillars. Valletta was a package for a reason; it won’t work if each of us tries to pick and choose. For example, European countries are expecting more effort and results on pillar five, a sensitive one: return, readmission and reintegration. Many African colleagues expect more effort from European countries on pillar two: legal migration and mobility. We all need to step up our efforts, because falling behind on one pillar risks falling behind on other pillars too. Integrating packages is political. We need to cooperate with different ministries: as MFA with Justice and Interior.

Secondly, we must enhance the Trust Funds’ measurable impact on migration. We can all agree on the quick start and the great efforts made by the Commission and EU Delegations. But before allocating more resources and we should allocate more, we should make sure that everyone’s still committed and that we are having a real impact. Let’s discuss at the upcoming Strategic Board meeting how we can improve our dialogue in this process. And how we can ensure the effectiveness and complementarity of actions financed by the Trust Fund. It’s absolutely key that those countries where projects take place are actively involved. The programmes must be aligned with their national migration policies. Otherwise they won’t work.

Thirdly, we need long term commitment to tackle the underlying causes of irregular migration. These are different in different countries. The clearer it is us to why people migrate the better we can help. We need to upscale our operational cooperation in the field of security. Last weekend I spoke with my colleague from Chad, Minister Mahamat. We both agreed that having some more projects in itself won’t be enough. We need to be far more ambitious if we want to achieve long term stabilisation. To tackle combination of poverty and regional instability such as in Chad, Libya, Darfur, Nigeria and West Mali.

Finally, in the field we must urgently address insecurity, instability and a lack of economic prospects for young people. It is our collective task to enable young people to realise their full potential. The future of both our continents depends on them. We need their energy and ideas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I’ve said, this is not business as usual. The current migration challenges call for concerted action and above all political action.

In Europe we are getting our act together; patience is running out, also during our presidency. There is widespread anxiety in Europe: about migration, about the economy, and about security. People are demanding solutions. A political fact we have to deal with.

In African countries people may wonder why they should help Europe and what they have to gain by working with Europe. I firmly believe that they have plenty to gain by building strong partnerships with closer cooperation on development, education, trade, investment and migration management.

The Commission’s new Communication shows that it is taking this task seriously. It’s a good basis to step up our efforts. Let’s take our Valletta partnerships further through tailor-made compacts.

After all, we face similar challenges that provide the perfect basis for knowledge exchange, joint solutions and true partnerships that benefit all involved – not least migrants and refugees.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am often asked if the EU should pursue a Turkey-style deal with African countries. Yes, the EU Turkey deal is important and valuable. But I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. It needs to be owned by African countries. We should not be tempted to simplify the enormous challenges we are facing. Turkey is a country; Africa is a continent. Its reality is complex and diverse, in terms of both the nature of migration flows and their underlying root causes. For example, the lion’s share of migration and reception of refugees and IDPs takes place within Africa itself.

So we should not be seeking one grand deal, but working on region- and country-specific action plans. Tailor-made compacts, as proposed by the Commission.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Based on the discussions you’ve had, please allow me to make three final suggestions.

First of all, we need to work on a more strategic level beyond the regional approach of the three EU Trustfund windows. There is a need to discuss our intended migration impact and to develop a common set of indicators in the run up to the Senior Officials meeting.

Secondly, at the same time we should further strengthen our capacities and actions at local level. Through High Level Dialogues and their follow-up, we can improve ownership and tailor made approaches. These High Level Dialogues need to a concrete set of actions right after they have taken place.

Thirdly, we have to incorporate lessons learned and best practices in our future work.

For example working on the Regional Development and Protection Programme has taught us three things:
- that our programmes have to be beneficial for refugees and their host communities at the same time.
-  that we need to combine short term protection and relief with long term development and security to have lasting impact. This is not easy, already a lesson for 15 years, but remains very important.
- and a cliché , but again that ownership is crucial.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Looking at the migration picture we can see that, when a crisis hits, we need politicians in both Europe and Africa to take centre stage. We need more, not less, politics. With Valletta we are on the right track and I am enthusiastic about it, but we need to step up our game.

As  a next step as members of the steering committees of the Rabat and Khartoum Processes, you are helping implement Valletta and shaping its success or failure.

We need to show that we are in control – instead of being prey to destabilising forces and relying on last-resort measures.

I have heard you have mapped the next steps during this meeting. You have the chance to show initiative, to pave the way for more political and strategic follow-up of all the Valletta pillars, in preparation for the Senior Officials’ Meeting next year.

This stocktaking meeting has been another key moment for us to strengthen our partnership. I was in the FAC yesterday and can assure you that all EU countries agree to want to make this work.

I encourage you to take this opportunity to maximise the impact of our important actions through the follow-up of Valletta.

Thank you.