Mrs Barbara Delcourt, the Belgian National Focal Point for the Rabat Process, talked to us about Belgium’s strategic vision as Chair and its special role within the new multi-annual cooperation programme. For Belgium, chairing the dialogue implies not only presiding over meetings of the Steering Committee but also guiding the dialogue through the reflection and elaboration process. In early 2018, this new programme will replace the current Rome Programme and will be adopted at the next ministerial conference of the Rabat Process.

1. How does Belgium, as new Chair, contribute to make the dialogue a success? 

The Rabat Process has, since its creation in 2006, been characterised by a spirit of balance and partnership between Europeans and Africans. Belgium, as Chair, is committed to maintaining this aspect, which is unique to the Rabat Process. This spirit of balance is reflected in the composition of the Steering Committee membership – comprising an equal number of African and European members – and the choice to hold high-level meetings alternately in Europe and Africa. 

“In my opinion, it is this spirit of partnership that will enable the implementation of global policies and initiatives that will, in turn, bring lasting results for international human mobility.”

This mindset should be further developed – notably with regards to communication. It is important that all partners feel free to express themselves without taboos, and can share their points of views openly and frankly with other partners, thereby leading to a mutual understanding of current and future migration challenges. Moreover, several partner states are at the same time countries of origin, transit and destination: their experience can really contribute to the success of the partnership that has been established throughout the years. In my opinion, it is this spirit of partnership that will enable the implementation of global policies and initiatives that will, in turn, bring lasting results for international human mobility.  

The global migration agenda is particularly full throughout 2017 and 2018, and partners are called upon to participate in a multitude of fora and consultations. As Chair we seek to encourage open and genuine debates between partners and to ensure that the workload is fairly divided among all partners.

2. How will Belgium ensure a balanced and inclusive approach which involves all partners?

Let’s take as an example the drafting of the new multi-annual programme. We proposed the organisation of ‘drafting committee’ comprising equal numbers of European and African partners, to start thinking about the direction which the new programme should take. 

In addition, in keeping with our tradition of consensus and consultation, it is important for Belgium to reach out to and involve other important migration actors such as European and African civil society and experts from specialised international organisations. This is why we suggested to the Rabat Process Secretariat involving these actors more closely in the dialogue through the organisation of two informal consultations: one in Europe in April 2017 and a larger consultation in Africa in July 2017. These two consultations enabled us to gather input from African and European civil society organisations, academics, members of the diaspora and key international organisations based in both Africa and Europe, which helped to stimulate and feed into the reflection process of Rabat Process partners, with view to the elaboration of the new programme.

“I think that the link between migration and development is specific to the Rabat Process and that this will be a strong component of the new programme.”

3. Are you expecting any amendments to the new multi-annual cooperation programme?

Yes, the new programme will certainly have to include new aspects compared to the Rome Programme. It is important to remember that initially, in 2006, the Rabat Process was a platform for political cooperation between countries concerned by migration routes connecting Central, Western and Northern Africa to Europe. Since its creation, this dialogue has promoted the development of migration policy, and more specifically the synergies between migration and development. I think that the link between migration and development is specific to the Rabat Process and that this will be a strong component of the new programme. Today, as pointed out by several studies, the positive impact of migration on the development of countries of origin, transit and destination must be maximised.

Furthermore, the global migration context has obviously evolved since the adoption of the Rome Programme in 2014. Therefore, the new programme for the Rabat Process will have to take into account the new realities in the field as well as the international frameworks and instruments since then, such as the Valletta Summit of 2015 and the Joint Valletta Action Plan, or the New York Declaration for refugees and migrants adopted by the United Nations in September 2016.

4. How can the Rabat Process ensure complementarity between these new international frameworks and instruments and the future multi-annual cooperation programme of the dialogue? 

What is important for us, is to focus on a few operational priorities; being concrete, and demonstrating that a good understanding of migratory questions by countries of origin, transit and destination can lead to positive results and real social and economic progress, in full respect of human rights and dignity.

The Valletta Action Plan, for instance, is very broad and quite ambitious. It covers numerous initiatives and projects, and targets a larger region than that covered by the Rabat Process. The New York Declaration for refugees and migrants of 2016 and expected adoption of two Global Compacts by the end of 2018 also represent an important turning point in terms of global governance of migratory movements. The Rabat Process has to make sure not to duplicate this, and the new Action Plan of the Rabat Process will thus focus on a restricted number of priorities and concrete objectives to reach, whilst staying in line with the global frame of the commitments taken in Valletta.

5. What are the main thematic priorities for Belgium in the new multi-annual cooperation programme?

Belgium strongly believes that the following crosscutting themes are priorities for the dialogue: human rights, which apply to every human being irrespective of his or her status; gender-sensitivity; respect for the best interest of the child and the importance of the data collection, which, in terms of migration management and migration policy development, remains a difficulty at all levels. In addition, Belgium suggested strengthening three dimensions in the future Rabat Process programme, notably the operational, the regional and the communication dimensions. By selecting a restricted number of priorities, the Rabat Process can bring real added-value alongside the existing frameworks and instruments. Moreover, it can provide a unique space for political dialogue between Europeans and Africans, genuinely serve our governments with regards to agreements and bilateral/multilateral partnerships. Regarding the regional character, the Rabat Process will strengthen political and technical cooperation within the sub regions. Indeed, each region is affected differently by human displacement and requires specifically adapted responses. We hope to encourage the exchange of good practices and the strengthening of partnerships within sub regions in Africa with the support and involvement of European partners. Finally, communication will be improved both by providing better communication and information to populations with regards to what the Rabat Process does and by communicating better about migration itself. In a world and a Europe which is marked by the rise of nationalists, populists speeches and by isolationism, it is now time to promote an alternative, narrative, which highlights the positive impact of international human mobility. The advantages of safe, orderly and regular migration for countries of origin, transit and destination need to be better emphasised. It is also necessary, if we want to promote safe, orderly and regular migration, to improve international cooperationin terms of readmission and return.