In raw numbers, the European Union and its members provide the most development aid in the world, around €75 billion in 2019 alone. About one-third of that aid currently goes to Africa. With historical inequalities keeping African nations at a disadvantage in negotiations, EU countries often use development funds as levers for their own political agendas. In recent years, migration control has been at the forefront of these efforts.
Africa has been the focus of Western European development policy since the precursors to the EU were established in the 1950s.
With large parts of Africa still colonized by the inheritor states of the European empires, structures such as the European Development Fund aimed to continue the development policies of the former empires, historian Sara Lorenzini said: “The idea was to build European-style welfare states in the colonies and for Europe to retain geopolitical weight as a third force during the Cold War.”
As African nations started to gain independence in the 1960s, development policies allowed European countries to maintain their influence on the continent.
Development aid is still a geopolitical tool
Political agendas continue to shape where aid goes — and which projects get prioritized. “The main agenda in Africa continues to be geopolitical,” said Jan Orbie, the director of the Centre for EU Studies at Ghent University. “In the past 10 years, development policy has become more connected to migration, to energy policy, to trade.”
Data on official development aid collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows, for example, that EU institutions and member states spend a lot more of their development aid north of the Sahara than other donors do — often in countries considered the origin or transit states for migrants who make their way to the European Union.
One instrument that exemplifies the European Union’s focus on migration control is the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which just concluded its six-year funding period. After large numbers of irregular migrants reached the European Union in 2015, EU policymakers were eager to prevent a repeat. A result of the ensuing negotiations was the now roughly €5 billion in “emergency” project funding for the EUTF, largely redirected from existing development funds. Its purpose was to dispense money quickly — without much parliamentary oversight and the bureaucracy it would bring. “The trust fund illustrates that the EU can act very quickly, efficiently and cohesively when it wants to,” Orbie said. “Whether that’s a good thing is another question.”
Success defined as fewer Africans arriving in EU
The funds are officially meant to “address root causes of irregular migration” in the recipient countries. But the priority of policymakers seems to be to prevent migrants from arriving at EU borders, as an Oxfam report found. In one board meeting , the head of the Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Christian Danielsson, happily asserted how t