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I’d like to outline an idea I have been toying with for sometime. It is a framework to try and tackle the mass migration problems in the Mediterranean with thousands of people coming from North Africa by boat.

With all that said, I do not profess to be an expert in the topic. Like everyone else, I see and read things on the news and have my ideas. For what they are worth, here they are…

Acknowledge The Scale Of The Problem
A quick search on wikipedia tells me that in 2013 the total population of Africa was estimated at 1.1 billion people. Depending upon where you consider to be in or out of “Europe” (EU? EEA? others?) the population of Europe has been estimated at up to 740 million people (in 2010).

While it would obviously be wrong to say that everyone in Africa is desperately trying to get into Europe, the reality is that there are more people that might want to migrate than Europe can reasonably cope with.

Sadly, it is much more likely that North Africa will run out of boats than people to put in them. In fact, my understanding is that the main reason that migrant boats are being picked up so much closer to the Libyan coast this year is because of the unseaworthiness of the vessels now being used.

If we cannot deal sensibly with everyone now, what will happen if things get worse in Africa? How will the EU cope then?

Remove The Populism
It goes without saying that “immigration” will remain a hot button in domestic European politics. It is easy for right of centre politicians to play the “foreigners” card at election time.

However, the sad reality is that the populist support they receive is unhelpful to finding a solution. For example, this report and footage from March on the Vice channel highlights the terrible conditions many people find themselves in. Torture, inhuman prisons and awful conditions mean that the populist call of “send them back” is unworkable to anyone with any sort of humanity.

Then What?
If accepting migrants into Europe is difficult logistically, financially and politically and sending them back to Libya is not the answer, what remains?

It is my belief that we need to go upstream and try and tackle issues in the home countries of these people. Clearly some countries are much more politically stable than others, so these ideas will be impossible to apply evenly, but right now my thinking is that we could really help some people and that would be a great step forwards.

At this point, I accept my there will be severe limitations in my ideas, but I simply hope to put ideas into the public domain for more competent experts on aid and Africa to think about anything that looks sensible.

Here are the steps in short form:

Step 1: Adopt a nation
Step 2: Release financing
Step 3: Provide the workers and materials

Step 1: Adopt a nation
This will need some effort to do in a respectful manner, what with the European legacy of colonialism hanging around.

The concept is simple. Each European nation (and perhaps beyond) agrees to aid one (or more) African nation(s). So, for example, Germany might help South Africa. Or wherever. Then aid and assistance flowing from north to south would be focused and handling the politics and admin ought to become easier.

When a longer term relationship is being built, longer term relationships and the trust and respect that come with them, are built.

One problem that I believe Europe faces is that everyone sees “Africa” as “a problem”. Africa is too big to “fix”, but broken into smaller areas, such as the existing nation states, makes this problem more manageable.

I realise that there are more African nations than European ones, but the harsh reality is that in the short term, some are just un-adoptable. Clealry, this is where the real problems lie and they might prove to be impossible to improve, but for now, it would seem unlikely that any European nation would be keen to rush to the aid of Somalia, for example.

Step 2: Release financing
Some years ago in my Brussels days I had a very intense conversation with a retired friend that was once incredibly high up in the world of aid on a global level. We were discussing the impact of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles.

The summit had pledged enormous amounts of money and debt relief to developing nations and African nations in particular. My question was simple, “With so much money, why can’t poverty be ended, or at least massively reduced?” It seemed – then and now – like a fair question.

His explanation amazed me, but as I spoke with a few other people, it seemed that he was quite correct – as I had suspected.

It appears that we Europeans like our rules a little too much. If you want aid, you need to be able to apply for it correctly, report as the money is being spent and then supply accounts, which will be audited, to ensure that the money was not stolen. When people in the developing world find all of this out, the reality hits that they cannot reasonably apply. Having been involved in a few Framework Contract applications to the Commission myself, I know what they mean…

Those early applications that do make it are then heavily audited and because the local African accounts do not meet EU standards, no more funding is available until these issues are solved – which, of course, they are unlikely to be.

This means that money is “pledged” but the majority of it sits in a bank account waiting to be spent, never to be used productively in the developing world. The politicians feel great and get some nice TV air time for “helping the world” but the more cynical reality is that a sizable proportion of the money will never reach anyone that needs it.

In other words, there ought to be lots of money available somewhere that has previously been earmarked for African aid. The recipient nations should not need to borrow any money, since funding will come from the existing budgets.

Step 3: Provide the workers and materials
If the problem my friend described above is real, as I believe it is, why do we insist upon simply giving money?

European member states could also provide the workers, administrators, architects, auditors and on and on. Considering how many skilled Europeans are out of work currently, there ought to be no lack of high quality applicants. Jobs can be created for Europeans to go and not just oversee, but actually build and create the infrastructure required.

A modern health centre/water treatment plant/solar power plant/hydropower plant etc will need a wide range of skills that may or may not be available locally.

So, if aid from Spain is going to be used in country A, why not Spanish workers and managers too? A sizable portion of the aid being pledged by Spain, or whichever country, would actually be spent on wages for their nationals whilst working abroad and to their corporations for supplying everything. Spanish aid money would largely be spent on Spanish goods, services and wages, whilst offering tangible benefits for the recipient nation.

Job creation? Check.
Contracts for a wide range of infrastructure firms? Check.
International aid? Check.
Politicians get to be seen as statesmen and heroes? Check.

Let’s be clear, helping even a small country along with schools, teachers, health centres, power supplies and water treatment would entail massive projects.

If European countries, and others, plan to contribute anything like the 3% of GDP aid target that they are all signed up to, then the money has to go somewhere. Why not spend it in a focused way that helps individual nations to develop and for jobs to be created at home?

(I’m sure that much of the above is fantastical and impossible to apply. However, I am no expert and do not have a development career to protect, so I can write my crazy ideas down and not lose my job. So I did.)

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EurActiv Network