EU: Tracking the Pact: Tunisia and other North African states targeted for new action on migration, asylum and more


Two papers circulated by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU give an insight into ongoing discussions and activities geared towards implementing the Pact on Migration and Asylum in North Africa, covering issues such as cooperation on asylum, border control and law enforcement.

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The LIMITE documents include questions for discussion by other delegations in the Council, who are seeking to put into place more cooperation with North African countries on border control, law enforcement operations (in particular against migrant smuggling), asylum and legal migration.

The aim is to implement the actions foreseen in the September 2020 Pact on Migration and Asylum, which promised to (pdf):

"Launch work immediately to develop and deepen tailor-made comprehensive and balanced migration dialogues and partnerships with countries of origin and transit, complemented by engagement at the regional and global level"

The document on North Africa sought to provide a basis for discussions at the informal meeting of home affairs ministers on 12 March, at which the a recent Commission paper - Enhancing cooperation on return and readmission as part of a fair, effective and comprehensive EU migration policy (COM(2021) 56 final, 10 February 2021, pdf) - was also on the agenda.

Discussions at that meeting were also framed by a joint paper prepared by the Portuguese Presidency and the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, which Statewatch published a fortnight ago.

A Council press release on the home affairs ministers' meeting said that with regard to the Commission document on return and readmission:

"Ministers reiterated the importance of effective return and readmission cooperation as part of the broader engagement with third countries on migration. They agreed that work in this area should rapidly continue with a view to improving cooperation with key countries as quickly as possible. The Presidency will now take work forward at technical level on the basis of this discussion."

With regard to the Presidency paper on North Africa:

"A majority of member states took the floor to support the initiative, showing a broad consensus in favour of the Presidency's initiative. Several member states pointed at the need for coherence with the existing policy framework and cooperation formats such as sectoral dialogues. On the topics, a majority of member states called to concentrate on migration, others also mentioned security (including counter-terrorism and organised crime). The Presidency announced its intention to hold a ministerial meeting with North African countries in May."

See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Enhancing EU-North Africa cooperation (Council document 6623/21, LIMITE, 2 March 2021, pdf, all emphasis added):

"Developing an EU comprehensive dialogue with North African countries in the context of external relations in the JHA area is of particular interest. In fact, and with a view to ensuring stability and security in the EU’s neighbourhood, North Africa has become increasingly important in the JHA area."

"To begin with, it will be an EU dialogue and not a conventional intergovernmental dialogue. Secondly, it will be centred on North African countries (as opposed to the Rabat Process, Khartoum Process and the Union for the Mediterranean). Thirdly, it will only address JHA issues (as opposed to the 5 + 5 dialogue and the Union for the Mediterranean). Fourthly, by covering the entire JHA dimension, it will focus on issues other than migration (unlike Rabat and Khartoum). Finally, it will have an important focus on operational cooperation and capacity-building between the two sides, including cooperation with EU agencies."

"As a comprehensive JHA political dialogue, it will also contribute to the external dimension of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, where there is significant convergence among MS."

"As a first approach, it is possible to consider the participation of the Mediterranean countries, such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Countries from the Atlantic coast, such as Mauritania and Senegal, or from the Sahel, could follow."

It is proposed that the dialogue cover four areas of justice and home affairs policy:

  • Migration, including legal migration, and border management
  • Civil protection and response to humanitarian crises
  • Hybrid threats and cybersecurity
  • Strengthening law enforcement cooperation

The document includes the customary nod to Europe's colonial history, and proposes that this "EU dialogue" exploit it: "This dialogue should benefit from the privileged relations that some Member States maintain with the North African countries concerned."

And: NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Implementing the Pact – strengthening migration partnerships with selected priority countries in North Africa: Tunisia – discussion paper (Council document 5723/21, LIMITE, 8 February 2021, pdf, all emphasis in original):

"With a view to helping Tunisia to honour its commitments/responsibility towards its citizens and European partners, the EU has been focusing on supporting Tunisia in: i) border management ii) managing the mobility of people iii) irregular migration. Tunisian border agencies are constantly being urged to respond to the multiple threats associated with terrorist or criminal groups, and the prevention of irregular movements into Europe. A very significant EU-funded support programme, benefiting the Tunisian Coast Guard, is currently being implemented.

Several Member States have bilateral projects with Tunisia on integrated border management and counter-smuggling. In contrast, the Tunisian authorities have not yet engaged in structured cooperation with Frontex."

"Following the signing of the Mobility Partnership [in 2014, with the EU and Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Portugal, UK and Sweden], the EU obtained a mandate for the negotiations of agreements on readmission. Five negotiations rounds took place with good progress, but were postponed in autumn 2019 due to the elections. The EU is currently discussing the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible.

"Operational Mediterranean Initiative

Following the virtual conference on counter-smuggling held on 13 July 2020 with the participation of five African Partners (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Mauritania), five Member States (Italy, France, Spain, Malta and Germany as the Presidency of the Council of the EU), and the European Commissioners for Internal Affairs, Ylva Johansson, and for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, the Operational Mediterranean Initiative was launched, as part of the implementation of the external dimension of the Pact.

On 17 August 2020, Commissioner Johansson and Commissioner Várhelyi visited Tunisia, and Commissioner Johansson is planning a follow-up visit when the situation in Tunisia improves."

"Regarding cooperation with Tunisia, an assessment is needed as to whether all interests are being met or whether there is room for improvement. It is also essential to build a shared understanding with Tunisia on the need to address irregular migration and migrant smuggling. Cooperation in the field of integrated border management, with the active involvement of Member States and Frontex, including capacitybuilding and training as well as operational cooperation, should be further developed and promoted.

It is also necessary to address the root causes of irregular migration, including the lack of economic prospects and political instability. Tunisia should adopt its asylum law (drafted in 2017, but pending presentation to the Parliament), and build up a robust national protection system. The EU should improve legal migration channels for students/workers in some areas (linking labour needs to available skills) that could help counter the narrative of smugglers."

"Taking into consideration the need to have a comprehensive approach, as well as the context of Tunisia and its needs and the EU’s political priorities on migration management:

1. What are the key opportunities for strengthened high-level political engagement with Tunisia on migration?
2. What should the priorities for strengthened cooperation on migration be?
3. What tools can we use to improve cooperation with Tunisia?
4. How can we maximise the effectiveness of the financing instruments?

Image: Mike McBey, CC BY 2.0

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