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The Political Courage on the Migration Compact Will Determine the Future of Europe


Image Courtesy of Chappatte: http://www.globecartoon.com

Premise: we must not forget that when we talk about migration we are actually talking about thousands of human lives–innocent children, women and men–that get lost every year in the pursuit of a normal life. The humanitarian aspect of migration in the Mediterranean is dramatic and should by itself be sufficient to allow EU countries to take unprecedented measures to curb this tragic reality. This is definitely what should have already driven EU countries to put forward a long-term plan. The incapacity or political unwillingness from certain member states to come up with a solution has been, however, evident so far.

The issue of migration flows is the next imminent threat to the unity of the EU. Considering that the number of attempts to cross the Mediterranean multiply over the summer period, the crisis requires an immediate resolution.

It’s the time for a political turning point. The best way to demonstrate the relevance of the EU in face of Brexit is to push for a courageous Migration Compact à l’italienne rather than the watered-down version that came of out of the Commission.

If the EU comes out again with its renowned half-measures (at best) on the migration issue, it will be a further confirmation of its inability in decision-making, thereby reinforcing euroscepticism.

Immigration policies have played a crucial role on Brexit. The EU needs to show it is able to provide timely and courageous responses to those global challenges. This is the only way to demonstrate that “together we are stronger.” This may really be the last call to keep the EU together.

Political instability, wars, the spread of ISIS, climate change, failed states are all factors telling us that the magnitude of migration flows is not a contingency and we must expect such massive flows to be a constant for many years to come. In order to face such a long-term global challenge, the EU needs to show its unity.

Three main aspects are worth analyzing. The crux of the matter remains first and foremost political. There is a need to find a mechanism for co-responsibility with the other member States. This was the core message of the Italian proposition in the original text of the Migration Compact that called for a Eurobond, which would signal the shared responsibility in facing the crisis. Mario Giro, Italy’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has recently stated that “Italy is not ideologically attached to the idea of Eurobonds” and that “alternative measures are welcome” as long as the political message of mutual responsibility remains the same.

Second, the financial resources to be put on the table are the indicator of the political will to find a credible solution. The departure from Italy’s original Migration Compact is not a good sign. The New Migration Partnership Framework of the Commission replicates the same (ambiguous) “Investment Plan for Europe” scheme a.k.a Juncker Plan according to which an investment package of €60 billion would trigger and leverage (quite magically) investment in the “real economy” for €315 billion. The economic think tank Bruegel analyzed the Juncker Plan a year after the beginning of its implementation and noticed that: “since it got underway a year ago only €11.2 billion worth of projects have been approved, just over half of the target for the first year.”

It is, therefore, unclear how the New Migration Partnership Framework will actually benefit from “building on the experience of the successful Investment Plan for Europe.” In fact, the New Migration Partnership Framework announces resources for €3.1 billion for several African partners–against the €3 billion made available for Turkey alone in order to curb the contingency of the migration flows caused by the Syrian War–that are “expected to trigger total investments of up to €31 billion and the potential to increase to €62 billion.”

Vice Minister Giro is right in stressing the need of an holistic Europe-Africa agreement to create a win-win situation that focuses on investment in energy and infrastructure where European companies can play a key role as well as agri-business–a crucial area of development for the sustainable growth of the African continent and its security. In order to shape up a similar grand partnership, the real financial resources on the table have to be significantly increased.

The third important aspect of the departure from the Italian version of the Migration Compact is the re-emergence of the old-fashioned Western idea of providing financial resources with strings attached. African partners, instead, have to be empowered through co-ownership of the framework.

Imposing conditions to your counterpart is by definition not a partnership. Historically, this has been the approach included in the European aid policies. The “carrot and stick” approach evokes the paternalistic vision to provide funds in exchange of proof of performance–in this case the African partners’ ability to demonstrate to be able to curb the massive flows of migrants.

The effectiveness of the New Migration Partnership Framework is, however, extremely dubious when the mutual security of the EU and African counterparts is at stake. Moreover, it is not clear how long-term investment on strategic sectors such as energy and infrastructure could take place if the disbursement would be tied to periodic reviews.

The strongest answer in the aftermath of Brexit is implementing courageous policies instead of getting stuck with the usual techno-politics EU leaders got us used to so far. I hope the European leadership will surprise us with the necessary rush of pride and put the migration issue at the core of a new spirit of the EU.

All six foreign ministers of the founding members agreed on Saturday that Europe needs to do more to solve pressing issues like the migration crisis. The European Council that will take place tomorrow and Wednesday is the only golden opportunity to show the braveness that has been lacking to EU leaders for a long time now. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.



International Cooperation: The Other Side of The Coin — Cooperazione internazionale: l’altra faccia della medaglia

IMG_1030Last year in January I decided to work as an international volunteer in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region I specialized in during the course of my studies and I couldn’t wait to actually get an experience in the field. I ended up in Cotonou, Benin, for 4 months. My program lasted for only 8 weeks but I loved it too much and I wanted to stay longer. Then I realized that 4 months were not enough, and I started applying for other jobs. I therefore moved to Accra, Ghana, where I worked for 6 months as Project Manager. I worked both times for local NGOs.

I’ll for sure write more posts on this awesome experience, but now I’d like to share only some thoughts on the shortfalls of international cooperation. A premise is necessary: what I am going to describe is not the only side of the medal. The are a lot of success stories in the field of international cooperation. However, I feel like it’s useful to shed some light on the dark side of the system. In Benin I worked in Ladji, the poorest yet most interesting community of Cotonou, where I got to know some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. I carried out a lot of activities with community members on projects to prevent HIV and malaria. What I found out is that although the CEO of the NGO- Dr. Théophile Hounhouedo, one of the most prominent doctors of Cotonou and probably of Benin- had received funds from huge organizations such as The World Bank and The Global Fund, the people that were working in the projects could not even earn enough money for their most basic needs.

This is because these humongous institutions disburse funds most of the time in tranches (in my case, every three months), after receiving the project’s trimestral results. Also, in 99% of the cases, salaries are paid late because the certification of the results takes approximately 45 days. The relais communautaires– community leaders and members working for the projects- cannot survive without income for over three months and always have a second job or look for other more fruitful opportunities. A vicious cycle therefore starts and it rarely brings to good results. Moreover, in most cases supervision takes place at contractor level, namely host nation’s Ministries, international organizations, or big US or EU-based NGOs. Donors very rarely engage with local NGOs that are the principal implementer of projects.

Obviously, the main contractors get the funds for the programs and it’s up to them to allocate the resources to sub-contractors, namely local NGOs. From my experience I can say that the greatest chunk of the money remains-evaporates-disappears at contractor level. Contractors have all the incentives to show good results to donors even when there’s no evidence that the project is on track because they want to assure themselves a continuous flow of funds. At the end of the day, only crumbs get to local NGOs that are responsible to carry out the activities on the ground.

There’s evidence that Sub-Saharan countries receiving aid are worse-off. Dambisa Moyo investigated this interesting inverted correlation. I am not suggesting here that developed countries and international organizations should all of a sudden stop providing financial resources towards developing countries. What I am trying to point out here, paraphrasing Chris Spray and applying it to the context of international cooperation, is that it “is like teenage sex- everybody claims they are doing it but most people aren’t, and those that are, are doing it very badly.”


L’anno scorso ho deciso di partire come volontario internazionale in Africa. L’Africa sub-sahariana è la regione in cui mi sono specializzato nel corso dei miei studi. Per questo motivo, non vedevo l’ora di fare un’esperienza sul campo. Sono andato a finire a Cotonou, in Benin, per 4 mesi. Il programma aveva una durata di appena 8 settimane, ma l’esperienza è stata così figa che sono voluto restare più a lungo. Poi, non avendo molto “amore di casa” e avendo realizzato che 4 mesi non erano sufficienti, ho incominciato a cercare altre opportunità. Me ne sono andato così ad Accra, in Ghana, dove ho lavorato per 6 mesi come Project Manager. In entrambi i casi, ho lavorato per ONG locali.

Di sicuro scriverò altri post su questa esperienza fantastica, ma per ora vorrei solo condividere qualche pensiero sui deficit nell’ambito della cooperazione internazionale. Premessa: ciò che sto per descrivere non è l’unica faccia della medaglia. Ci sono molte storie di successo nella cooperazione internazionale. Tuttavia, penso che sia utile far luce negli angoli più oscuri del sistema. In Benin ho lavorato a Ladji, la comunità più povera ma anche più interessante di Cotonou, dove ho incontrato le persone più generose che abbia mai conosciuto. Ho partecipato ad attività con membri della comunità locale su progetti per la prevenzione di HIV e malaria. Ciò che ho constatato è che, nonostante il fondatore e amministratore dell’organizzazione, il Dottor Théophile Hounhouedo- uno dei dottori più di spicco di Cotonou e probabilmente del Benin- avesse ottenuto fondi da organizzazioni internazionali enormi, quali la Banca Mondiale e il Global Fund, i membri della comunità che lavoravano ai progetti non riuscivano nemmeno ad ottenere uno stipendio adeguato per far fronte ai bisogni più basilari.

Ciò avviene perché questi giganti istituzionali sborsano fondi il più delle volte in tranche (nel mio caso, ogni tre mesi), dopo aver ricevuto i risultati trimestrali del progetto. In più, nel 99% dei casi, gli stipendi vengono pagati in ritardo a causa della certificazione dei risultati per cui ci vogliono approssimativamente altri 45 giorni. I relais communautaires, ovvero i leader e membri della comunità che lavorano al progetto, non possono sopravvivere per più di tre mesi senza reddito e hanno sempre un secondo lavoro o sono in costante ricerca di opportunità più proficue. Si crea così un circolo vizioso che raramente porta a buoni risultati. Inoltre, nella maggior parte dei casi, la supervisione da parte dei donors avviene a livello dell’appaltatore, ovvero Ministeri, organizzazioni internazionali e  grandi ONG con base in USA o in UE. I donors raramente entrano in contatto con le ONG locali che sono gli attori principali dei progetti.

Ovviamente, gli appaltatori ricevono i fondi per i programmi e sono loro a decidere come distribuirli ai sub-appaltatori, cioè le ONG locali. Dalla mia esperienza, posso dire che la gran parte dei fondi resta-evapora-sparisce a livello degli appaltatori. Questi ultimi hanno anche tutti gli incentivi per mostrare buoni risultati anche quando non ci sono prove che i progetti siano sui giusti binari, in quanto vogliono assicurarsi un flusso continuo di fondi. Alla fine, solo briciole arrivano alle ONG locali che sono responsabili delle attività sul campo.

Ci sono ricerche che provano che i Paesi dell’Africa sub-sahariana che ricevono aiuti stanno messi peggio. Dambisa Moyo ha studiato questa interessante relazione inversa. Non sto suggerendo che i Peasi più sviluppati e le organizzazioni internazionali cessino all’improvviso di erogare fondi ai Paesi in via di sviluppo. Ciò che voglio evidenziare qui, parafrasando Chris Spray e applicando la citazione al contesto della cooperazione internazionale, è che “è come il sesso adolescenziale- tutti dichiarano di farlo anche se la maggior parte mente e quelli che ci riescono, lo fanno davvero male”.