The “Rabat Process” from a Euro-Mediterranean perspective: what to expect from the 24th-25th April 2014 Paris Thematic Meeting?

By Marco Stefan, PhD candidate at University of Ferrara

With the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, Euro-Mediterranean relations have abruptly returned under the spotlight of European policy and decision makers. Outspread societal claims and tormented geopolitical transitions across the Maghreb and the Mashrek urged the EU to reframe its policies toward the Southern-Mediterranean region, with the whole area becoming a major testing ground for the thorough coherence and effectiveness of the newly reformed EU post-Lisbon external action[1]. If the medium and long-term response to the Arab turmoil necessarily requires the EU to redesign its comprehensive but largely unaccomplished regional strategy (and eventually demands for a global readjustment of the overall European Neighborhood Policy), an early European reaction to the crisis involved a significant development of the external dimension of EU migration and asylum policy[2].

Since the outburst of the uprisings, the EU undertook extensive political, regulatory and operational efforts to ensure the security of its southern external borders[3], and progressively activated new international cooperation tools for the joint management of third country nationals’ crossing the Mediterranean Sea[4]. In the meantime, enduring political instability and lack of economic opportunities in the Southern rim of the Mediterranean continued to cause systematic difficulties (and frequent abuses) in handling mobility across the Euro-Mediterranean region[5]. Despite the external migration policy of the EU should aim at implementing the “Global Approach to Migration and Mobility” (a strategy based on strengthening dialogue with partner countries, and on integrating migration in the overall EU external policy framework)[6], the Union is often criticized for maintaining a narrow, hierarchical and ultimately securitarian approach in its external borders’ control activities[7]. Such critics are recurring particularly with regard to migration policy in the Mediterranean Sea, where critical humanitarian challenges are nowadays concentrating and fundamental rights problems are most likely to occur.

Data exchange programs, joint patrolling and search and rescue operations by sea may help to limit death tolls and prevent migrants to embark upon hazardous travels in the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, the pursuit of a far-reaching and holistic strategy towards migration is not only required to better ensure human rights and grant adequate guarantees to those seeking protection under EU and international law, but also essential in order to contain the high political and financial costs involved in the surveillance of the Union’s external maritime frontiers. In other terms, sustainable political and legal responses to the current migratory and humanitarian pressures in the Euro-Mediterranean region need to be anchored to a more articulated system of governance establishing shared regulatory and operative responsibilities as well as venues for legal migration across countries of origin, transit and destination.

Among the existing (multilateral, bilateral, and unilateral) platforms of cooperation for migration management in the Euro-Mediterranean area, the “Euro-African dialogue on migration and development” constitutes an interregional initiative comparatively reflecting a more dynamic, integrated and inclusive attempt of dealing with the migratory routes flowing to Europe from northern, central and western Africa. Since the first Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development convened in Morocco’s capital on July 2006, the “Rabat Process” kept gaining momentum, with inter-ministerial, senior level and experts meetings regularly bringing the EU together with representatives from more than fifty countries of origin, transit and destination[8]. In 2011, the Third Euro-African Conference adopted the “Dakar Strategy”, a three-years programme that built upon the success of previous initiatives and further confirmed the Rabat Process as “driving force” and “preferred framework” for bilateral, sub-regional and multilateral cooperation on three strategic pillars, namely: the organization of legal migration, the contrast to illegal immigration, and the strengthening of the migration and development nexus[9]. Providing a large number of co-owned forums for comprehensive dialogue, exchange of information and practical coordination on migration challenges, the Rabat Process concretely facilitates the elaboration and the follow-up of initiatives structured around clear and shared priorities. Furthermore, despite its marked intergovernmental nature, the Process is open to the participation of Partners Countries’ civil society organizations, migrant associations, social partners, private sector and local and regional authorities, who are entrusted with a crucial role in the implementation of the agreed actions.

Complementing the external dimension of EU migration policy in the Mediterranean with a comprehensive geographical, strategic and operative approach, the Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development contributes to the improvement of the overall Euro-Mediterranean system of governance[10]. In the first place, the initiative helps promoting cooperation on matters – including free movement of persons, integration and non-discrimination of migrants, protection of migrants’ rights, regulation of remittances and circular migration – that are only partially treated in EU bilateral and multilateral relations with the Southern Mediterranean associated and neighbouring Countries[11]. Within the framework of the Rabat Process, partner Countries including Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt not only took part in multilateral and bilateral discussions and joint programming, but also contributed to the launch and implementation of a large number of initiatives touching upon the three strategic pillars of intervention[12]. Beside strengthening the vertical (north-south) dimension of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, the Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development also supports the mutual exchange of good practices and promotes reciprocal capacity building in the horizontal (south-south) direction. Calling upon all the concerned parties to actively contribute to the regulation and practical management of the “West African” migratory route, the Rabat Process represents a useful tool of coordination, cooperation and (in some case) integration in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

On the 24th and 25th of April 2014, a thematic meeting will see the partners of the Rabat Process reunited in Paris to discuss the crucial topic of migrations management in situations of crisis. The objective is to stimulate synergies amongst the participants, who will not only have the chance to stress the specific challenges faced by their respective peoples and territories, but are also called to mutually share their own experience in order to identify tools to efficiently cope with common Euro-African migratory issues and current international humanitarian challenges. For the EU, the meeting constitutes an occasion to positively reaffirm its own values and objectives in the region. In particular, presenting its (internal and external) experience in the field of migration and asylum in order, the Union could help the partners to adopt the substantial and procedural means that are necessary to develop an all-encompassing mobility policy. For the African Countries, Paris represents a precious appointment to expose the substantial and regulatory efforts they already assumed to manage the mixed migratory fluxes associated to widespread socio-economical hardships and geopolitical tensions. Southern Mediterranean partners are called to reaffirm – in a spirit of sincere partnership – their individual and collective will to establish closer and constructive relations with the EU.

[1] For a far-reaching study on the EU response to the Arab turmoil, see G. FERNÁNDEZ ARRIBAS, K. PIETERS
(eds.), The European Union’s Relations with the Southern-Mediterranean in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring, CLEER WORKING PAPERS 2013/3.

[2] For an account of the various stage of the EU response to the migratory flows following the outburst of the Arab Spring, see S. CARRERA, L. den HERTOG and J. PARKIN, EU Migration Policy in the wake of the Arab Spring. What prospects for EU-Southern Mediterranean Relations?, MEDPRO Technical Report 2012/15.

[3] Agreement has been reached between the Council and the European Parliament on a draft regulation establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the member states of the EU (FRONTEX). New search and rescue rules clarifying how border guards serving in FRONTEX sea operations should deal with migrants and where they should disembark them were approved by Parliament on Wednesday 16.04.2014. The regulation should enter into force before this summer.

[4] The EU has progressively established structured dialogues on migration, mobility and security with the Southern Mediterranean countries. the EU and some Member States concluded a mobility partnership with Morocco first (signed 07.06.2013), and with Tunisia later on (signed 03.03.2014), see the Political Declaration. A dialogue with Jordan has also started.

[5] Data and figures available at the European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights website. In particular see, Fundamental rights at Europe’s southern sea borders – http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2013/fundamental-rights-europes-southern-sea-borders

[6] COM(2011) 743 final.

[7] See A. MORICE and C. RODIER, Politiques de migration et d’asile de l’Union européenne en Méditerranée in, Confluences Méditerranée 2013/87.

[8] Following the first Euro-African Dialogue, three thematic meetings on legal migration, irregular migration and migration and development permitted the Second Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development to take place in Paris in 2008. On that occasion, the parties adopted an ambitious three-year cooperation programme, which has finished in early 2011 and served as a basis to launch the third phase of cooperation.

[9] Held in Dakar, Senegal, the Third Euro-African Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development consolidated the achievements in the implementation of the three-year Paris Cooperation Program, and adopted a new strategy for the years 2012-2014 (the Dakar Strategy).

[10] In this respect, it is significant that in the Dakar Strategy the contracting Parties have explicitly affirmed the need to ensure close coordination between the Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development and other Euro-Mediterranean cooperative frameworks, in particular the European Neighbourhood Policy, the “5+5” Process, and the Union for the Mediterranean.

[11] While the southern neighbourhood relations have only recently started to include a dialogue on migration and mobility, the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements in force with the Maghreb Countries do not include provisions concerning the free circulation of persons.

[12] For the complete list of initiatives see, http://processusderabat.net/web/index.php/initiatives-in-the-region.