EU pushes diasporas' role in development

A map of Europe and Africa. Photo by: Lonely Planet / CC0

BRUSSELS — The European Commission is working on a new strategy to understand and improve the relationship between diaspora organizations and their country of origin.

Details of the EC support for a global EU diaspora facility emerged at the European Parliament’s development committee this week during an appearance by Hans Stausboll, acting director for EU-Africa relations at the commission’s development arm, DEVCO.

The facility will have a budget of €5 million ($5.8 million) over three years. The commission expects it to be rolled out in early 2019, mainly implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. “We had aimed for more and more, but it was €5 million in the end,” Ron Hendrix, who manages diaspora engagement at DEVCO, told Devex.

Stausboll said the plan has four components: A worldwide mapping of diaspora engagement; capacity building and technical assistance for governments and civil society; a global diaspora platform for structured dialogue with the EU; and the creation of a roster of diaspora development experts to serve as a centralized resource.

Hendrix said the platform would be a digital entity but would also include meetings between EU staff and diaspora organizations to see how the latter could contribute to development cooperation. The plan was proposed under the migration budget line of the commission’s 2018 annual action program, which was discussed this week by the member states’ committee responsible for the EU’s development cooperation instrument. The measure was approved by the 13 members present, and the details will now be honed by DEVCO before a final sign off by the end of the year.

Kékéli Kpognon, acting executive director of the Africa-Europe Diaspora Development Platform, said at a panel discussion in Brussels on Wednesday that Europe’s diverse diaspora is often underrepresented institutionally. “Sometimes finding support from member states in the EU but also in countries of origin can be quite tricky,” she said.

Kpognon also pointed to the high cost of sending remittances as an ongoing concern. The EU is trying to lower the cost of sending money to countries of origin, including through the InclusiFI initiative, one of the first batch of projects supported through the new European Fund for Sustainable Development. When asked at the same event Wednesday why it was so expensive to send money from Europe to Africa, DEVCO Deputy Director-General Koen Doens responded: “Ask Western Union.”

Birgitte Markussen, Africa director at the European External Action Service, recalled at the event that trying to cut transfer costs is part of the 2015 Joint Valletta Action Plan on migration management, and has also featured in EU talks with the African Union. However, she said, “the way that diaspora funds are working in the economy, is at the moment, not something that we know very much about.”

Hendrix said remittances were not the focus of the new facility. Rather, the aim was to use the mapping exercise to identify 5-10 countries, including some outside Africa, where the commission could support capacity building for governments and diaspora organizations. This could involve assistance in setting up a policy framework for countries that currently don’t have a diaspora policy, or improving existing tools, Hendrix said.

“The whole objective,” Stausboll told the deputies, “is for governments of countries of origin and diaspora organizations to engage and collaborate more effectively with each other.”

Kpognon welcomed the new facility, adding that the diaspora’s involvement in development should be more than just consultative. “The diaspora needs to be actively involved when EU priorities — in terms of development policies — are being discussed, decided, and implemented,” she said. And she urged the EU to do more to promote “social remittances,” such as skills transfer, “by ensuring the greater mobility of diaspora experts keen to support development in countries of origin.”

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.