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On 1 February this year, His Excellency Willem van de Voorde, “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” and Permanent Representative of Belgium to the EU, received a letter from Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who at the time was chairman of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE).

Aguilar was seeking information on something called the Operational Coordination Mechanism for the External Dimension of Migration, also known as MOCADEM, for its initials in French (mécanisme de coordination opérationnelle pour la dimension extérieure des migrations).

MOCADEM, which is part of the Council of the EU, was set up in January 2022 to “prepare and propose operational actions” in or with non-EU states that the EU wants to rope into its migration control agenda. The origins of its legal basis lie not in EU immigration and asylum law, but emergency powers related to “a terrorist attack or a natural or man-made disaster”.

Beyond that, little is known of its workings. Aguilar’s letter to van der Voorde noted:

“As the committee responsible for asylum and migration in the European Parliament, LIBE should receive relevant documents and information regarding the MOCADEM, given the LIBE competences in the field and the principle of sincere cooperation between institutions.”

Unlike the Spanish authorities, whom Aguilar wrote to in July last year, the Belgian authorities did at least reply – only to flatly refuse Aguilar’s request.

“Given the specific operational and implementing nature of the work of the MOCADEM, I regret to inform you that the Council is unable to accede to your request,” van de Voorde wrote. That was not all, however – he also took the time to argue that the Parliament has no competence over any of the matters dealt with by MOCADEM.

“MOCADEM does not adopt any ‘measures’ within the meaning of your committee’s responsibilities as described in Annex VI of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure,” the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary declared.

This view is open to debate. Those Rules of Procedure say the LIBE committee is responsible for “measures concerning the entry and movement of persons, asylum and migration,” for “measures concerning an integrated management of the common borders,” as well as those concerning all EU “bodies and agencies” operating as part of the EU’s “area of freedom, security and justice” – one of which is Frontex, the border agency.

The question here, then, is: what constitutes a “measure”? As part of this bulletin, we are publishing almost two dozen documents produced or discussed for MOCADEM meetings over the last eight months, and they show that officials have been very busy.

Scores, if not hundreds, of “actions” – one might be tempted to say “measures” – are being put in place by EU agencies and institutions to try to control, monitor and regulate the movement of people far from EU territory. And MOCADEM is the body tasked with preparing many of them: its legal remit gives it the power to propose “operational actions” to the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), the body that van de Voorde currently chairs, “in any area relevant for the relationships between the European Union and the third country concerned in the field of migration.”

Is an “operational action” a “measure”? Is an “action” listed in a MOCADEM document – for example, the €40 million project to support Tunisian “border management” – a “measure”? Does the European Parliament have a legal right to scrutinise the EU’s support for migration and border control in non-EU states? Are EU governments attempting to avoid any form of democratic oversight for their attempts to strengthen political links with, and financial support for, governments in the EU’s “Southern Neighbourhood” and beyond, in the name of halting the movements of migrants and refugees?

The first three questions are perhaps best left to the lawyers. The answer to the last question is, undoubtedly, yes.

As the documents we are publishing show, the “operational actions” coordinated by MOCADEM are both extensive and expensive: they encompass states on the shores of the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean and many others in between, and the total cost runs into hundreds of millions of euros, at least. And, as one of the two analyses in this bulletin demonstrates, much of that expenditure is formally classed as development aid.

It takes a very particular frame of mind to think that buying surveillance equipment for an authoritarian government’s border police “promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries.” Yet that is the point we have reached. European governments can spend vast sums of public money to bolster the repressive agencies and powers of foreign states, who go on to commit egregious human rights abuses, yet elected representatives are denied the right to scrutinise these actions.

It is because of problems such as this, of course, that this bulletin exists. We hope you find it useful in your work to challenge the ongoing externalisation of border and migration controls – an old and failed agenda that serves the interests of political elites and profiteers, whilst reinforcing a violent and exclusionary political order. There has never been a more urgent time to work against it.

Chris Jones, Statewatch

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