STRASBOURG/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe plans to coax as well as pressure African governments to help curb migration northward using a mixture of aid and trade levers under proposals put forward on Tuesday by the EU executive.
As Africa's biggest donors, divided from the world's poorest continent by a sea that is failing to deter many from attempting risky crossings, EU leaders want to see their trade-and-aid euros used to help solve their migration crisis, though that has brought criticism from African governments and rights groups.
"We propose to use a mix of positive and negative incentives to reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us and to ensure that there are consequences for those who do not," Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Commission, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
One focus of EU pressure will be the reluctance of some African governments to take back their own citizens deported from Europe. The Commission said some 8 billion euros ($9 billion) was on offer over five years for aid targeted at giving Africans more incentive to stay at home, though much of that must come from EU states and much is money already promised.
Timmermans noted the deal he has negotiated with Turkey to staunch flows of Syrian refugees and other migrants to Greek islands - a deal achieved by offering Ankara financial and diplomatic concessions and criticized by human rights groups - and said there was a need to curb renewed crossings from North Africa to Italy, which have claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
"We must do the same that we have done on the route through the Aegean also in the southern Mediterranean to find solutions, sustainable solutions," the former Dutch foreign minister said.
His Commission colleague, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, dismissed a suggestion from Libya's fragile, U.N.-backed government that Brussels might pressure Libyans to take back migrants who set sail from its coast, as Turkey now does.
Europe's plan was to get irregular migrants from Africa who do not qualify for asylum back to their home countries, she said, noting that few Libyans themselves make the crossing.
Jordan and Lebanon in the Middle East, the main hosts along with Turkey of Syrian refugees, would be priority recipients of help under the EU's new migration "compacts", which the Commission said aimed to leverage EU funding with private investments that could reach tens of billions of euros.
Five African states - Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Ethiopia - will also be targeted to curtail migration to Europe.
Aid could be focused on easing conflicts or economic difficulties that prompt people to emigrate as well as on border security, EU officials said, while other incentives may include preferential trade terms and easier visa access to the EU.
The plan is part of a strategy responding to a surge in arrivals in the past year that has divided EU governments and posed a serious threat to the Union's cohesion and credibility.
On Tuesday, the Commission also proposed a revamp of its Blue Card work permit scheme to expand legal immigration options for skilled workers and support for EU governments to give migrants training and other help to integrate in Europe.
The proposals will require detailed discussion and approval by EU governments and the parliament. Speaking in the chamber, Manfred Weber, conservative leader of the biggest party in the EU legislature welcomed a move to "speak clearly" to Africa and warned of "trade consequences" for states that do not cooperate.
But he cautioned on expanding the Blue Card scheme, saying the priority must be jobs for Europeans before immigrants.
Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Louise Ireland