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EU-Mali readmission agreement marks first such deal with an African state
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The EU has signed its first readmission agreement with an African state, after a deal was reached with the Malian government in Bamako on Sunday 11 December aimed at combating "the root causes of irregular migration" and "to encourage the return of Malian migrants from Europe". The deal marks a complete U-turn by the Malian government, which EU officials noted in February this year was "opposed to readmission agreements."

Mali has been one of the key target states of the EU's 'Valletta Process', which began after the November 2015 Valletta Summit on migration. Nine projects worth over €145 million have been agreed with Mali in recent months, focusing on a range of topics including the work of law enforcement and border control agencies, and initiatives to help young people find work.

The Dutch Foreign Minister, who signed the agreement on behalf of the EU, said in a statement: "This is the first time the EU has made such precise commitments with an African country on the return of refused asylum seekers."

More information (in French): L’UE et le Mali s’accordent sur la réadmission des migrants (EurActiv, link)

A year on from the Valletta Summit, diplomatic efforts made by EU and Member State officials (who have made numerous visits to Mali) have clearly had the intended effect.

A briefing paper (pdf) drawn up by the European External Action Service and the European Commission in February this year noted that Mali "is opposed to readmission agreements," and:

"Views and interests on migration between the EU and Mali do not coincide. The cultural dimension of migration as a model of success and the economic importance of remittances has to be taken into consideration. Fundamentally, even if partly irregular, migration is considered as a resource by the Malian government."

See: Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Mali (6473/16, RESTREINT/RESTRICTED, 24 February 2016, pdf)

The paper offered two recommendations, underlining the importance that development aid could play in negotiations (emphasis added):

"The important role the EU and Member States collectively play for the development and the security of the country provide incentives for deepened dialogue and cooperation on migration. Mali is significantly dependent on EU support in the area development aid, including budget support. The proportion of budget support is relatively high (so far, almost 40% of 11 EDF NIP) and offers permanent platform for dialogue. In turn, given Mali's low level of income and resilience, in addition to its high vulnerability to external shocks, resources for development cooperation are to be considered essential to preserve the countries development prospects.

A well balanced approach, combining collective EU messaging with a package of positive incentives seems advisable. Member States could make significant contributions to such an approach, potentially providing incentives in the area of mobility and legal migration. To be noted that a considerable part of the positive incentives lie in Member States competence. However, the EU and its MS should stand equally ready collectively to consider some of the elements outlined in the fiche as negative incentives, having in mind the potential impact this could have on EU interest and other policies' objectives."

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