Author: Mohammed Khachani, AMERM: Mohammed V Rabat University*

This working paper analyses the priorities and the impact of EU cooperation with Morocco on migration. It finds that as a result of the EU’s focus on the ‘fight against’ irregular migration Morocco has become a centre for its attempt to externalise its immigration policy. This has meant that resources are steered away from more sustainable and mutually beneficial approaches to mobility between Africa and the EU. Along with a discursive change in public of migration, the paper proposes that for an equal partnership to be realised, incoherencies between the restriction of mobility and the needs of European labour markets need to be addressed and backed by adherence to the regulatory framework for migrant workers’ rights.

Morocco’s rising importance as a country of transit to Europe has led to migration taking a prominent role in its relations with the EU and its Member States. On the multilateral level, Morocco has been an active part of the Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development (Rabat Process) that aims to promote border management, legal migration and synergies between migration and development. On the bilateral level, EU-funded projects on migration in Morocco (2016-2021) aim to strengthen the legislative and institutional foundations of Moroccan migration politics and support the implementation of its 2014 national strategy on migration and asylum. The paper notes that the EU’s support to Morocco focuses on asylum, integration and return of other African migrants currently in Morocco rather than on the situation of Moroccans abroad.

Although, as the paper notes, the EU’s priority is the “fight against irregular migration“, the support in this area is insufficient to provide for the sustainable integration of migrants in Morocco and the management of its 500km land border. The EU is putting significant pressure on Morocco to implement a more restrictive migration policy. However, such a shift is likely to jeopardize the country’s evolving political and economic relations with the mainly Sub Saharan countries of origin of these migrants, especially after Morocco rejoined the African Union in 2017.

A major sticking point under the EU-Morocco mobility partnership agreement from 2013 is the EU’s insistence on making visa facilitation conditional on Morocco’s signing of a readmission agreement. Moroccan public opinion considers this one-sided restriction as fundamentally unfair. Instead of reducing irregular migration, this strategic “blackmail” undermines all forms of mobility, including circular migration for economic reasons and thus may increase incentives to engage in irregular forms of migration. Likewise, labour markets across many EU countries could benefit from less restrictive migration policies.

The paper finds that the lack of a truly ‘common’ migration politics is hampering the EU’s ability to influence asylum and migration policy in Morocco.

The EU’s externalisation policy renders Morocco and the entire Maghreb in a buffer zone that is conferred responsibility for the “fate of migrants” and the prevention of on-ward migration in particular. Morocco’s 2003 law against irregular migration and on-going negotiations on a readmission agreement that would oblige Morocco to take back any person that allegedly transited through the country showcase how the EU is trying to impose its priorities. While addressing root causes of migration is one of the strategic priorities of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) the EU’s practical focus on the “fight against irregular migration” has curtailed the desired effects of sustainable and mutually beneficial approaches.

The paper argues that future cooperation between the EU and Morocco needs to take equal count of the interest of both partners in respect of the Global Compact for Migration (CGM), include support of research on migration in Moroccan institutions and foster the hitherto productive cooperation with Moroccan civil society. Promoting a positive image of migration in European media is the basis for a constructive political debate that diminishes the influence of right-wing forces. Enhanced coherence between migration politics and the needs of the EU labour markets demands the proliferation of legal pathways for labour migration and adherence to the related regulatory frameworks. In light of its economic, political and historical links with the African continent, the EU’s own prosperity can benefit from investing in the development of the Sub-Saharan region, where a majority of the migrants transiting Morocco originate from.


* Mohammed Khachani holds a State Doctorate in Economics from the Lumière Lyon II University in France. He is Professor of Higher Education at Mohammed V Rabat University in Morocco and President of the Moroccan Association for Studies and Research on Migration (AMERM). Mr. Khachani is a Member of the Scientific Committee of the Moroccan Journal of Political and Social Sciences and of thesis jury in French and Spanish Moroccan universities. He works as a consultant for national organisations (Ministry in charge of the Moroccan community abroad, Hassan II Foundation for Moroccans living abroad, High Commission for Planning, etc.) as well as international organisations (ILO, IOM, Arab League, European Union, Economic Commission for Africa, ESKWA). He has authored various publications on migration issues.

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