Stefan Wagstyl in Berlin |
Economic development essential to Africa’s long-term stability, says German chancellor
Angela Merkel is stepping up diplomatic efforts to stem migrant flows to Europe as part of what Berlin terms a “Marshall plan for Africa”.
Responding to domestic criticism of her refugee policies as elections loom, the German chancellor will visit Egypt and Tunisia this week to press for greater efforts to counter the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean.
Ms Merkel wants more co-operation in accepting the return of failed asylum seekers from the EU but will not push the idea of establishing EU-backed camps in north Africa for migrants rescued at sea or while asylum applications are processed.
But the chancellor is also taking a business delegation, underlining Berlin’s desire to curb migration pressures by fostering economic development. “Only when there is overall development can the pressure for flight and for expulsions be overcome,” Ms Merkel told the Munich Security Conference last month.
North Africa has become a more urgent issue for Ms Merkel. She is making her second trip in six months to a continent she had not visited in five years, having been to Niger, Mali and Ethiopia in October. A planned trip to Algeria last month was cancelled.
Germany holds parliamentary elections this autumn and the chancellor has acknowledged widespread discontent at her 2015 decision to welcome refugees, which resulted in the arrival of about 1.3m asylum seekers. While she has toughened her approach, and greatly reduced numbers, Ms Merkel knows an upsurge in migrants could cost her the chancellorship.
A deal between the EU and Turkey to control refugees has reduced migration across the eastern Mediterranean but numbers crossing from north Africa reached a record 181,000 last year. Officials at Frontex, the EU’s border control operation, predict there could be more in 2017, with 700,000 to 1m migrants waiting in Libya and a further 350,000 internally misplaced people.
Libya would be a priority, Ms Merkel said in her weekly podcast this week. “Without stabilising Libya politically, we will not put a stop to the traffickers and smugglers that operate out of Libya,” she said.
Ms Merkel is to meet presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia. Both countries are resisting proposals to host EU-backed refugee camps, leaving Libya as an option for Brussels.
Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, called this week for an EU-Libya deal on such camps but only if good conditions could be guaranteed. “Reception camps must not be concentration camps,” he said in a German media interview.
Ms Merkel insists that controlling flows alone will not work and that the EU must address the economic causes of migration. She wants German business to invest more in Africa, where its presence is much smaller than that of Britain or France, former colonial powers, or the US.
Stefan Liebing, chairman of the German-African Business Association, said companies, especially smaller ones, underestimate the continent’s potential. “I am sure the next round of emerging economies will be on the African continent,” said Mr Liebing. “German companies now account for 200,000 jobs in Africa: a million, including people employed at suppliers and so on. This needs to be 3m, 4m, 5m or 6m jobs in the next decade.”