Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, EU policies towards North Africa, in particular Tunisia and Morocco, focused on two main paradigms: trade liberalization, resulting in structurally asymmetric outcomes of free trade and association agreements; and the minimization of both regular and irregular migration. These two policy agendas were often mutually incoherent and, in combination with national-level policy making, also had a negative impact on the most vulnerable populations of the Maghreb countries, undermining or even destroying their livelihoods, while at the same time closing their opportunities to seek employment in the EU. As the world is reeling from the initial impact of COVID-19 on the global economy, the EU and the countries of the Maghreb will need to reassess their broader political and economic relations. Negotiations on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) – temporarily paused by the outbreak of the pandemic – are pivotal to shaping the future of these relations. This brief argues that, so far, these negotiations have been marked by a lack of tailored country-based approaches and are increasingly dominated by the migration management agenda. This is a particularly harmful combination of policy priorities that threatens to further exacerbate inequalities in the Maghreb and impose economic models that strengthen the systemic causes of irregular migration, which the EU is allegedly trying to combat through more ad hoc means using different migration management tools. Instead of forging ahead with business as usual, this forced pause should be used to rethink these existing models and develop coherent, tailored approaches to the Maghreb countries aimed at combating unemployment, strengthening public services and decreasing inequalities in the region.

Southern Neighbourhood
Migration and mobility