Funding the EU External Migration Policy

By Dr. Leonhard den Hertog, TRANSMIC postdoctoral fellow, Justice and Home Affairs Unit, CEPS & Faculty of Law, University of Maastricht

This blog post presents some arguments based on a published paper: Leonhard den Hertog, ‘Money Talks: Mapping the Funding for EU External Migration Policy’, CEPS Paper in Liberty & Security in Europe 95, November 2016, please find it here.

There are many English language sayings about money, such as ‘money talks’ and ‘put your money where your mouth is’. Both advance straightforward assumptions about how ‘money’ works – namely respectively that money can get you what you want and that how you spend your money shows whether you really mean what you say. When looking at EU funding for external migration policy we often find such implicit logics in policy, media and academic writings. For example, the idea that EU funding is a ‘leverage’, ‘incentive’ or ‘conditionality’ to obtain cooperation from third countries on issues such as readmission. Or, the idea that the EU can use money for development to show it is serious about ‘tackling the root causes of migration’. Both ideas have gained ground since the ‘refugee crisis’ and may appear intuitively convincing.

A closer look at the EU funding landscape for external migration policy however reveals a different picture. This funding landscape saw a major reconfiguration as a consequence of the ‘refugee crisis’. To complement arrangements with third countries and regions, new funding instruments have been established and are managed with surprising speed and flexibility. Most notably, these include the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa linked to the EU-Africa Valetta Summit and the Facility for Refugees in Turkey linked to the EU-Turkey ‘Statement’. These instruments mostly amount to a relabelling and rewrapping of existing EU funds under new management and priorities. In this blog post I argue that in this field, ‘money talks’ not that clearly, that looking at funding is part of understanding where the EU’s ‘mouth’ actually is, and that the challenges in this field evolve around the concepts of flexibility, coherence and accountability.

‘Money Talks’

‘Money talks’ in this inherently incoherent and multi-actor funding landscape means that one ends up with a Babylonian confusion of tongues. There is no ‘EU’ in these matters, there are various Commission Directorate Generals, Member States and international organisations pushing their funding priorities and interests. This also makes it near impossible to have one EU voice or let alone to organise ‘conditionality’ in practice, apart from the ethical and legal questions surrounding it.

First, there are a large number of funding instruments for migration-related projects in third countries, as there is no central EU fund for such projects. These funding instruments are established under various EU policy fields, such as development cooperation, home affairs, neighbourhood, enlargement, and common foreign and security policy. Furthermore, the EU agencies externally active in this field are also funded through the EU budget. 

Second, linked to the disparate approaches of the Commission Directorate Generals and services that manage all the different funding instruments, divergent priorities are pursued. These follow the lines of i) security and irregular migration, ii) rights and humanitarian needs, iii) migration and development, and iv) legal and labour migration. It is however clear that security and irregular migration have been deemed the highest priority, as the Court of Auditors also found it its recent report. Linked to this, there is a strong geographical focus on countries located in the southern Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa.

Third, the processes of establishing, programming, managing and implementing EU funding instruments involve an intricate set of interactions between actors. These include the different Commission Directorate Generals, services, agencies, the European Parliament, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, third countries and further private parties. As each of these entities has its own set of interests and priorities, the funding landscape is increasingly fragmented.

Fourth, despite a lack of contributions from member states, they obtained privileged access to funding for implementing projects under the Trust Fund for Africa. This, combined with the fast pace of funding decision-making, leads to a lack of transparency and casts doubt on whether value for money and EU added value are achieved. Such nationally implemented projects also make any EU centrally steered ‘conditionality’ far from evident – as cutting funding would mean hurting Member States (agency) funding.

‘Put your money where your mouth is’

‘Put your money where your mouth is’ assumes that we know where the EU mouth is and what it is saying. In reality, there is no unified EU ‘mouth’ but, again, rather different discourses and messages are sent across several priority areas by different actors. More importantly, examining funding shows that this is not about testing whether the policy formulation is backed up by funding, suggesting a rational process of policy formulation then followed by implementation. Rather, funding is all about policy formulation and discourse itself, with contestation and struggles around political priorities and institutional prerogatives playing out forcefully in funding decision making.

First, especially in an area of ‘crisis’, the strategy of ‘throwing money at the problem’ leads to ad hoc and emergency funding led policy making. Indeed, there is a growing risk that funding in this area is led by emergencies rather than forward looking policy, as the policy priority structure has grown increasingly diffuse. Although the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) and its instruments have not been revoked formally, the 2015 ‘European Migration Agenda’ and the 2016 ‘Partnership Framework’ have come to take precedence over it. As a result, some third countries find themselves increasingly targeted by overlapping and competing EU instruments and funding. An example is Ethiopia that has signed a ‘Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility’ with the EU, is now a ‘Compact country’ under the ‘Partnership Framework’, and is targeted by several projects under the Africa Trust Fund.

Second, EU funding for migration and development is increasingly moving from ‘migration for development’ towards ‘root causes’ and ‘conditionality’ approaches. The ‘root causes’ approach, when viewed as a means to limit the drivers of irregular migration, is based on an incomplete understanding of what funding can do in development processes and the effects of those processes on migration flows. Research has shown that migration is an inherent element of development. The ‘conditionality’ approach, linking external funding to third country cooperation on border management and readmission, will be difficult to coordinate and implement in reality given the level of fragmentation in funding. Those with the political priorities on readmission – i.e. the Home Affairs actors – are not the ones with the external funding – i.e. the development actors. Using funding as leverage or counterweight is therefore not straightforward. The struggles over the degree to which the ‘root causes’ and ‘conditionality’ approaches can be promoted in EU external development funding are embedded in long standing differences of opinion and priorities between these different policy communities or ‘universes’. The decision-making process on this funding is thus not the implementation of a given policy line, but rather a focal point for further struggles over the future direction of EU development funding. The ‘conditionality’ approach may also backfire on the EU as third countries increasingly see migration as leverage to obtain EU funding, and may hinder the work of the EU as a development and humanitarian actor.

Flexibility, Coherence and Accountability

The main keyword under the new funding instruments is ‘flexibility’, to allow for quick and more strategic funding decisions. It is certainly true that under the Africa Trust Fund and the Turkey Refugee Facility, money has been spent at lightning speed compared to regular procedures for programming, managing and implementing EU funds. This flexibility has been justified as necessary under the ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ framing of the current situation, but it comes at a cost.

First, there is a risk that such funding decisions are incompatible with existing EU legal bases and regulations, such as for humanitarian aid and development cooperation. The European Consensus for Humanitarian Aid makes clear that humanitarian aid should be needs-based and not politically driven to accompany migration ‘management’. Under the Turkey Refugee Facility, it is not clear how this character of humanitarian aid is safeguarded in specific procedures when mixed with other EU funds. The direct participation of Turkey in the funding decisions in the Facility under its ‘advisory’ role further complicates this. As far as development cooperation is concerned, the Treaties specify clearly that its primary objective should be ‘the eradication of poverty’. Although this is a broad concept – there are some boundaries to what Policy Coherence for Development can withstand when migration ‘management’ objectives enter development cooperation funding.

Second, when taking stock of the long-term developments in this funding landscape, we note its incremental expansion, leading to increasing incoherence. As the Court of Auditors has identified, there is no clear central overview of funded actions, making it difficult to measure the impact and EU added value of the funding involved. With the arrival of new funding instruments such as the Trust Fund for Africa, further layers of management and implementation are added to the picture. A certain degree of incoherence is inevitable in this multi-actor field of shared competences, a finding that should however not be confused with or taken as justification for a lack of transparency or accountability.

As there is now more EU funding available than ever before for migration-related projects in third countries, it is crucial to devote resources to management, monitoring, evaluation and auditing. Several steps could be taken to ensure this, such as the enhancement of the Commission’s mechanisms and human resources to manage and monitor EU spending in this field, especially where shared management with and implementation by the member states is involved. It is imperative that the Commission improve its information systems to allow for a clearer overview of migration-related spending across the relevant instruments. To ensure value for money and transparency, the Commission should consider opening up and rationalising procedures to access funding under the new instruments. In general, as these new instruments partly circumvent the EU budget authority, including democratic debate in the European Parliament, the Commission should plot a clear path towards a return to ‘normality’ as soon as possible. This could be addressed in the MFF review. Finally, the Court of Auditors should consider carrying out a holistic audit of this reconfigured external migration funding landscape.

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