Written by Etienne Bergès, co-founder of Kiron France and Development coordinator at CARAS.
“We’ll soon have 2 billion Africans, and we better prepare for that”, Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB, told POLITICO in Davos this January. The EU’s ‘preparation’ was announced in Juncker’s 2016 State of the Union address: an External Investment Plan (EIP), which will act as a foreign counterpart to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). With an objective to support investments in Africa and the European Neighbourhood, this humbled version of the ‘Juncker Plan’ gives us a taste of how the EU is looking to implement the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; by focusing economic and diplomatic efforts on combating the root causes of migration, while privileging private sector financing over development aid.
Revolutionising development aid
The EIP is the concrete manifestation of a buzzword that has been making the rounds at development talks for the past 2 years: “blending”, or how to pump-prime private investments with official development aid. The plan’s main innovation will be the creation of a new European Fund for Sustainable Development backed by €3.35 billion from the EU Budget and the European Development Fund. The hope is that this will mobilise €44 billion in public and private investments, and trigger up to €88 billion if Member states agree to match it.
Foreign Direct Investment has waned since the 2008 financial crisis, and has always been limited in fragile countries like Nigeria or Guinea. In these countries especially, traditional assistance does not cut it when it comes to achieving sustainable development and growth. The EIP’s objective to provide strategic guarantees whilst promoting a better policy and business climate make it relevant for African countries with weaker governance, where the cost of setting up a business is 3 times higher than in their more resilient neighbours. Directly copied from its internally-focused cousin, the EFSI, the EIP is also a major step forward in achieving the principle of universality that underpins the 2030 Agenda; its rationale is that development can and should take the same form in the French countryside as in rural Niger.
Further, private investment could be a game-changer for disadvantaged regions as it targets key sectors – energy, water, transport, ICT – while facilitating access to credit for SMEs. Yet, the plan has elicited concerns from civil society heavy weights like Oxfam, Care and Actionaid, which point towards the mixed development results of past blending efforts and the danger of privileging investments at the expense of crucial aid programmes, and subsidising private profits made in poor countries.
The EU’s new slogan: Combating the root causes of migration
More concerning perhaps than the possibility that the EIP may sanction EU subsidisation of private profits in poor countries is its focus on combating the root causes of migration. This is part of a broader European effort to direct its foreign actions towards migratory questions, in a bid to appease populist pressures at home. From the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa in November 2015 to the Partnership Frameworks of June 2016, which mirrored the Turkey Deal in March, the EU has found a common voice when it comes to migration diplomacy; the EU28 are keen to leverage their influence over countries of origin to obtain better border control, more efficient readmissions, and reduced flows.
This interaction between migration and development applied to international relations is old wine of course. The first of France’s 15 ‘Agreements on a concerted management of migration flows and development’ was signed 10 years ago with Senegal. These bilateral agreements have since lost credibility with the realisation that more development often increases migration, but the hope is that the EIP will succeed in being a sufficiently new bottle by creating jobs rather than distributing handouts. The EIP serves as the economic arm of the EU’s migration diplomacy, a further reminder that Europe still fails to think of herself as a continent of immigration.
Photo used under CC license, by Geraint Rowland.1989 Generation