• Long ago (35 years), on the First of January 1986, Spain and Portugal joined the European Union – the EEC as it was known back then – thereby completing the integration of Western Europe. With this accession, the 12-membered club reached a significant geographical milestone: being present in continental Africa, thanks to the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

    With 18.5 square kilometres and 84,000 inhabitants, Ceuta has been part of Spain since 1580 and was previously part of the Portuguese crown for over 150 years. Melilla is 12.3 square kilometres, has roughly 87,000 inhabitants, and joined Spain in 1497. Since the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe has seen many changes and so have Ceuta and Melilla. The only constant has been their belonging to Spain and, therefore, to Europe.

    Today, these cities present a challenge for the Union’s borders and migration policy like no other EU territory. They are the only two physical borders we have with the Sahel, one of the main origins of illegal migration and refugees, along with the Middle East. For years, tens of thousands of migrants from Western Africa have reached the EU by jumping the fence between Spain and Morocco, or swimming to the cities’ beaches. What we saw on television the past few days is nothing new to the residents of Ceuta or Melilla, nor is the accompanying blackmail from the Moroccan authorities.

    For instance, every time the Moroccan government or its Monarchy have had a window of opportunity, they have used border control and migrants as leverage to obtain what they wanted, be it a more beneficial fishing agreement with the EU with respect to the shared waters with the Spanish Canary Islands, investments for Tangier harbour so it can better compete with neighbouring Spanish ports, launching political propaganda about their sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, or boosting their illegal occupation of Western Sahara, as was the case this time.

    A few weeks ago, Brahim Ghali, leader of Frente Polisario – the liberation movement for Western Sahara – travelled to Spain from Algeria under a false identity and was hospitalised with a serious COVID-19 infection (he is 71). Upon discovering this, Morocco’s government expressed their indignation towards Spain for allowing the Sahraoui to enter the country and demanded robust action from Madrid.

    When Spain explained the humanitarian reasons for keeping Ghali in the country, thousands and thousands of illegal migrants suddenly arrived at the border of Ceuta, and we saw the Moroccan police opening the gates of their fence, allowing them to go towards Spain. As a result, ten thousand people illegally entered Ceuta in just 24 hours, many among them children (who were told that they were going to watch a football game with Cristiano Ronaldo playing in Ceuta!).

    Spain had to send the army to control the continuous assault on its territory in the following days and was forced to relocate hundreds of minors in the rest of the country (under international law, they cannot be returned immediately after entering the country alone). Only after a bank transfer of 30 million euros for migration control cooperation did Morocco re-establish order at the border, and the assaults ceased.

    This crisis was covered more by European media because of the calm of the previous months, during which COVID-19 reduced migration flows considerably, and because of the pervasive use of minors. However, the phenomenon has existed for decades. We can expect it to continue for a long time, especially as it depends on the Moroccan government’s interests, just as it happens with Turkey and Erdoğan’s blackmail tactics.

    Given this, what can Europe do against these faraway villains? Europe can do a great deal; for example, deploying Frontex agents, sending economic assistance through the Internal Security Fund, or using the Solidarity Clause. But, in order to assist Spain with these instruments, the national government has to ask for it and, for some reason, Pedro Sánchez and his socialist-populist coalition government hasn’t.

    Why do we have these mechanisms at all if Member States would rather respond individually to the great challenges they face? Many of the aggressions and provocations from neighbouring countries would probably not happen if we showed unity and strength.

    As in most old tales, evil takes advantage of the weaknesses of good-hearted characters, but then there is a brave hero that puts the cowardly bullies in their place. Who will that hero be for Ceuta and Melilla, for Lesbos, for Malta, for Lampedusa? Furthermore, who will become the hero for the thousands of families destroyed by human trafficking, loss of life, and poverty in their home countries?

    We all know the answer: the EU could be that hero. But, in order to become it, Europe needs more competencies in various areas including migration, the ability to act quickly, and real understanding and solidarity from the Northern Member States, even if the problem seems distant to them. Let’s do what we do best: take one step after another and start by letting some of the issues of foreign affairs be decided by enhanced majorities instead of unanimity. Let us become heroes for Africa, let’s put a “happily ever after” at the end of this tale.

    Álvaro de la Cruz Immigration Migration North Africa

    Álvaro de la Cruz

    A Tale of Two Cities in Africa


    27 May 2021

  • Neighbourhood Policy North Africa

    Net@Work Day 2 – Panel 1: The EU’s Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    20 Apr 2021

  •  This week, we had with us EU Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, Riina Kionka. She and Roland Freudenstein discussed Africa – EU relations, colonialism, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Apartheid, and China’s influence in the continent, among other things.

    Roland Freudenstein North Africa

    The Week in 7 Questions with Riina Kionka

    Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions

    24 Jul 2020

  • Search and rescue (SAR) in the central Mediterranean continue painting a disturbing portrait of European disunity on disembarkations and relocations of the rescued passengers. This research paper provides a more optimistic outlook. It argues that, despite the inter-governmental conflicts, which remain unresolved, the EU states have been developing a two-segment policy which has greatly reduced the numbers of irregular maritime arrivals via the central Mediterranean route. The European policy segment has consisted of SAR operations by the individual South European member states, ad-hoc arrangements following disembarkations and a coordinated withdrawal from the Libyan SAR zone.

    The EU’s Afro-Asian policy segment has been based on the prevention of illegal border crossings and support for Libya and the other North African countries in running their own border control and SAR operations. The EU should be moving towards a policy that balances the traditional rights-based SAR system that primarily guarantees the rights of individuals with a functioning rules-based system that encourages adherence to international norms by all the countries around the Mediterranean. The EU needs to continue addressing the human rights abuses in the Libyan detention centres, without compromising on the imperative that the Libyan coastguard should continue bringing the rescued migrants back to their country.

    Human Rights Mediterranean Migration North Africa

    Rescue Operations in the Mediterranean: Towards a Reliable EU Policy

    Research Papers

    13 Nov 2019

  • Irregular immigration is emerging as a threat to the political stability of the EU. This is because the EU’s asylum and immigration system has been overly tolerant towards irregular migration. Despite a dramatic decrease in the number of migrants and refugees coming to Europe, the need remains to instil in the European public a sense that the EU border is properly guarded and that the number of illegal border crossings—as one aspect of irregular migration—is being reduced.

    In the short to medium term, the EU should help to ensure the protection of the refugees who are hosted in other countries. The EU should resettle the most vulnerable refugees through legal channels at the expense of irregular migration movements. The EU’s external border needs to be vigilantly policed in order to increase public confidence in the EU’s migration policy. Over the long term, the EU should set itself the goal of enlarging the area of functioning migration and asylum governance.

    EU-US Immigration North Africa Security

    Reducing Irregular Migration Flows through EU External Action

    Policy Briefs

    12 Mar 2019

  • In the years to come, Europe will face many difficult challenges related to migration. To cope with the increased flows emanating from the African continent, present policies will have to be adapted and new ones created. The EU must pursue a course that protects the integrity of free movement, secures the external borders and enables it to work with stakeholders, both in Africa and elsewhere, to avoid an unchecked influx of migrants.

    The article reviews important elements of the debate that has been taking place in the EU in recent years and shows that a new basis for the European Migration and Asylum Policy is needed to ensure that it has a more realistic chance of success. It argues that there is a need for a review of EU policies on migration and asylum, and for the development of more useful tools to disentangle the complex web of interests which today is ever present in the debate on the European Migration and Asylum Policy.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Tobias Billström Foreign Policy Migration North Africa

    Tobias Billström

    The end and the beginning: the EU, Africa and the need for a new migration regime


    30 Oct 2017

  • The rising terrorist threats in the region have compelled Morocco to enhance the protection of its vast territory, long borders, 34 million citizens and over 10 million visitors per year. Morocco’s comprehensive security strategy combines a wide range of policies which link the improvement of the socio-economic situation to the capacity to anticipate the risk of terrorism and the operational aspects of the strategy.

    Security governance and the modernisation of the security forces, religious reform and the promotion of moderate Islam, the involvement of civil society, and close international cooperation, including religious diplomacy, are all key to preventing terrorism and countering extremism. Reforms to improve human security and to lift vulnerable groups out of poverty and exclusion have contributed to enhancing sustainable security.

    An example for many, Morocco still has a few big challenges ahead, especially to provide quality education, both to ‘immunise’ the minds of the youth against extremism and to create jobs so that hope can be restored to an overwhelmingly young population.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Assia Bensalah Alaoui Defence Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy North Africa Security

    Assia Bensalah Alaoui

    Morocco’s security strategy: preventing terrorism and countering extremism


    07 Jul 2017

  • The Libyan conflict is the result of a complex and controversial series of developments, where local political events have been strongly influenced and driven by exogenous factors. A dual set of conflicting interests can be found in both the Euro-Mediterranean and inter-Arab dimensions, with Italy and Turkey struggling against France and Great Britain on one side, and Qatar being opposed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the other.

    Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, which was certainly not an example of good governance and respect for human rights, was quickly swept away by a conflict primarily fought by non-Libyan actors, which eventually caused the collapse of the central institutions in Libya and the creation of dozens of local militias. The failure of both local and exogenous ambitions has caused a crisis in which additional factors have been able to influence the Libyan civil war, making the situation very opaque and extremely difficult to solve.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Nicola Pedde Crisis Mediterranean North Africa Security

    Nicola Pedde

    The Libyan conflict and its controversial roots


    04 Jul 2017

  • As Tunisia continues to move forward on the path of democratisation and pluralism, the problems it may still face remain significant. A comparative analysis of the (failed) Algerian attempt to democratise and the current process underway in Tunisia could shed light on what Tunisia needs to do to avoid a setback in its democratisation process.

    Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Dario Cristiani Arab Spring Democracy Foreign Policy Mediterranean North Africa

    Dario Cristiani

    Consolidating pluralism under the terrorist threat: the Tunisian case and the Algerian experience


    07 Nov 2016

  • Olivier Guitta, a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe, looks at the Muslim Brotherhood – its history, its ideology and its vision of the West as well as at three branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Middle East and North Africa region.

    Islam Middle East North Africa

    Muslim Brotherhood Parties in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region

    Policy Briefs

    01 Sep 2010