Mobility Partnerships: Rationale and Implications for African-European Relations

Demonstration for the human rights of the Libyan Refugees, victims of the Libyan war.
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A political framework encompassing f.e. development aid or temporary entry visa facilitation could help establishing mobility partnerships


by Jean-Pierre Cassarino*

Mobility packages were initially introduced in late 2006, when the EU and its Member States were called on to reflect upon the possibility of implementing circular migration schemes in cooperation with third countries, as a result of the November 2006 EU-Africa Declaration on Migration and Development. Mobility packages were defined as agreements concluded “with a number of interested third countries which would enable their citizens to have better access to the EU.” The following year, mobility packages were renamed mobility partnerships, probably to stress the joint management and ownership of the initiative and the sharing of mutual commitments between the EU and selected third countries.

Mobility partnerships could be viewed as a political framework, based on a form of quid pro quo, encompassing an array of issues ranging from development aid to temporary entry visa facilitation, temporary migration schemes and the fight against illegal migration. They have been presented as a “novel approach” capable of enhancing the cooperation with third coun-tries of origin and transit.

As a prerequisite for explaining the rationale for mobility partnerships, this article sets out to analyze the broader policy framework, i.e., the Global Approach to Migration (GAM), which has been conducive to their adoption. Then, it briefly analyses how mobility partnerships are configured and whether additional factors or preconditions need to be considered to enhance their impact and durability in terms of development.

A necessary compromise

It could be argued that the conclusions of the December 2005 Brussels European Council leading to the adoption of the Global Approach to Migration (GAM) and “priority actions focusing on Africa and the Mediterranean” results from a learning process. More precisely, it stems from the gradual awareness that circumstances, in their broadest sense, and power relations between the EU and its Member States, on the one hand, and Mediterranean and African third countries, on the other, have changed substantially over the last ten years. Three main factors have been conducive to a new compromise.


The first one relates to the adoption of a more pragmatic approach to migration management by recognizing that “international migration will continue” and that relations with third countries of transit and origin had to be very much improved in order to induce or persuade them to become more cooperative in the field of migration and border management. This pragmatic vision, based on an array of ad hoc incentives and compensatory measures, is enshrined in The Hague programme which was adopted in late 2004. 

Changed power relations

The second factor pertains to changed power relations. It could be viewed as a direct (and perhaps unintended) consequence of the aforementioned pragmatic approach. Whereas cooperation in the field of migration management, particularly regarding the expulsion and redocumentation of unauthorized migrants and rejected asylum-seekers, remains to be further improved, substantial progress has been achieved in the field of border management. Actually, various Mediterranean and African third countries have become proactively involved in the reinforced control of the EU external borders.

Incidentally, the bilateral and multilateral cooperation on border controls has been conducive to unprecedented links of interdependence between law-enforcement agencies in receiving sending and transit countries. Moreover, these joint initiatives have not only allowed some Mediterranean and African countries to play the efficiency card in migration talks, they have also allowed them to acquire a strategic position on which they can capitalize. In other words, some North and West African countries are now in a position to act as key and equal players in migration talks, expressing their own views, expectations and conditions regarding the strategy that the EU and its Member States plan to adopt on migration management. This empowerment has become more and more perceptible in Euro-African migration talks, particularly since the two Euro-African ministerial conferences which were held in Rabat in July 2006 and Tripoli in November 2006.

Member States’ concerns

A complete picture of the need for a new compromise cannot limit itself to pragmatism and to the empowerment of some third countries. Also, various Member States started to express growing concern about the progress made by the European Commission (EC) in the fight against unauthorized migration while questioning the EC mandate to negotiate community readmission agreements with some third countries, owing to the slow process of negotiation.

The foundation of the G5 (today’s G6) in 2003, which gathers together the Ministers of the Interior of France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Poland (since 2006), the signature of the Prüm Treaty on 27 May 2005 by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain, which is aimed at stepping up cross-border police cooperation and exchanges between Member States’ law enforcement agencies with a view to combating organized crime, terrorism and illegal migration, the open letter written in September 2006 by eight heads of state and government (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain) to the former Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, calling for reinforced common concrete actions aimed at countering mass arrivals in Southern Europe, including enhanced assistance in the control of the EU external borders in the Medi-terranean, and more recently, the January 2009 document addressed by Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta (the named “Quadro group”) to the current Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, pressing for the conclusion and effective implementation of community readmission agreements, may be viewed as being symptomatic of the concerns that Member States have often expressed regarding the capacity of the EU institutions to deal effectively with unauthorized migration, the swift identification process of undocumented aliens and their ensuing readmission.

Faced with the perceptible empowerment of some third countries, and confronted with the aforementioned concerns of various Member States, the EU started to perform a balancing act between the security concerns of some Member States and the need to respond in a credible manner to the pressing expectations of some strategic third countries. A form of compromise had to be found with a view to securing a modicum of operability with strategic third countries in the field of migration management.

The rationale for mobility partnerships

The analysis of the aforementioned contingencies is important to understand the rationale for mobility partnerships. The latter have, to some extent, been conceived to respond to this changed situation while forming an integral part of the Global Approach to Migration.

Mobility partnerships are tailor-made and encompass a broad range of issues ranging from development aid to temporary entry visa facilitation, circular migration schemes and the fight against illegal migration, including the issue of readmission. They are selective in that they are addressed to those third countries once certain conditions are met, such as cooperation on illegal migration and the existence of “effective mechanisms for readmission”.

The EU’s attempt to link mobility partnerships with cooperation on readmission reflects how this issue has become a central component of its immigration policy. This conditional link is also stressed in the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum which has been sponsored by France and endorsed by the 27 EU Member States in October 2008.

However, additional factors explain this conditionality. First, readmission is all the more central for the EU and its Member States as the control of the European external borders and border restrictions affect the fluid and repeated back and forth movements inherent in the mobility of people. The EU and its Member States are aware of the fact that, because of border restrictions and the difficult access to labour markets in destination countries, migrants might be tempted to extend their stay abroad or to overstay and become irregular. Second, the resilient differentials in standards of living, economic development, working conditions, welfare and political governance between origin and destination countries cannot be overlooked. Third, countries of origin might be tempted not to respect their commitment, above all when it comes to dealing with the readmission and redocumentation of their nationals. This explains why mobility partnerships are assessed on a regular basis by the parties involved.

Since late 2007, the Commission has been invited by the Council to launch pilot mobility partnerships with a number of countries. Cape Verde and Moldova signed a partnership with the EU in June 2008, and additional mobility partnerships are currently being negotiated with Georgia and Senegal.

There is no question that the implementation of mobility partnerships is of great political importance, for they are expected to mark a paradigmatic “shift from a primarily security-centered approach focused on reducing migratory pressures to a more transparent and balanced approach”, as stated in an EC communication dated 8 October 2008, based on the formulation of reciprocal commitments and on concrete steps to strengthen the link between migration and development.

However, as far as they are specifically concerned, the reciprocity of commitments does not mean that the contracting parties benefit equally from the conclusion and implementation of these new cooperative agreements.


It is too early to assess the impact of mobility partnerships. As explained before, mobility partnerships stem from the consolidation of a new compromise generating high expectations from both the Member States and third countries in general. At the same time, their adoption reflects the growing awareness, shared by the EU and its Member States, that, in order to secure the effective cooperation of key third countries, additional accompanying measures will have to be devised. These were clearly considered in the October 2008 EC communication on strengthening the Global Approach to Migration. They pertained to the development of mechanisms matching the supply and demand of labour; the portability of pension rights; labour market integration mechanisms; vocational training and skills development.

Never before has the relevance of these four interrelated measures been so strong in terms of political and social analysis, advice and solutions to sustain the rights of migrant workers and their contribution to poverty reduction and development at home.

Mobility partnerships constitute a new generation of temporary labour migration schemes whose effective implementation is not only contingent on enhanced cooperation with selected third countries. It also depends on the extent to which such partnerships will respond to labour migrants’ aspirations for employment opportunity, increased incomes, skill acquisition, equal treatment and rights. The responsiveness to these issues will determine the developmental impact of mobility partnerships as well as their durability and replicability in other systems.

Similarly, concrete mechanisms supporting a rights-based approach to the integration and reintegration of temporary migrant workers who will benefit from mobility partnerships will soon become critical. The role of labour union and employers’ representatives in the implementation of mobility partnerships should be more fostered. They are, by definition, key actors in the practical and sound development of such partnerships. Whereas a lot of emphasis has been put on the need to secure the temporariness of labour migrants’ stay abroad, further action should be considered to sustain their temporary integration and ensuing reintegration back home. In this respect, reintegration – i.e. the process through which migrants take part in the social economic, cultural and political life of their countries of origin – is mentioned as a core issue in the current development of mobility partnerships.

However, their effective implementation will necessarily call for a revised approach to reintegration and return. Since the early 2000s, the return policies of the EU and its Member States have been predominantly, if not exclusively, viewed as instruments with which to fight unau-thorized migration. This vision has been detrimental to the exploration of the link between return and development. Because of this security-oriented approach, return has been narrowly defined as the end of the migration cycle. This may explain why accompanying measures to support the social and occupational reintegration of migrant workers have been virtually overlooked so far.

Promoting a two-pronged approach to mobility partnerships based on the interrelationship between integration in the host country and reintegration in the home country would certainly foster the development impact of these new agreements. The two migratory stages are known to be closely interrelated.


* The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITC-ILO).

Selected EU Sources

  • Commission of the European Communities. 2009. Third Annual Report on the Development of a Common Policy on Illegal Immigration, Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings, External Borders, and the Return of Illegal Residents. SEC(2009) 320 final, Brussels.
  • Commission of the European Communities. 2008. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Strengthening the Global Approach to Migration, In-creasing Coordination, Coherence and Synergies. COM(2008) 611 final, Brussels.
  • Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: On Circular Migration and Mobility Partnerships between the European Union and Third Countries, COM(2007) 248 final, Brussels.
  • Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Applying the Global Approach to Migration to the Eastern and South-Eastern Regions Neighbouring the European Union, (COM(2007) 247 final, Brussels.
  • Commission of the European Communities. 2006. The Global Approach to Migration One Year On: Towards a Comprehensive European Migration Policy, COM (2006) 735 final, Brussels.


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Dr. Jean-Pierre Cassarino coordinates the Multi-sector Programme on Labour Migration at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation Turin. Also, he directed a project on return migration at the European University Institute.