1 Introduction

The summer of 2015 was baptised by some observers as the “Long Summer of Migration”. The news of migrant arrivals in Greece and Southern Italy, together with the emergence of makeshift migrant camps along the Balkan route, were met by the unwillingness of EU Member States to work together on a strategy to receive and integrate the hundreds of thousands of people arriving on Southern European shores.

Unsurprisingly, the EU Commission met the “refugee crisis” with a renewed interest in the prevention of migration movements. In particular, the Commission emphasised the need to integrate migration in development cooperation policies. The 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration was an important step in this direction, as it resulted in the establishment of the EU “Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa” (EUTF). With a budget of over 5 billion euro, the EUTF funds projects in 26 countries across three regions: the Sahel and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and North Africa (European Commission, 2020a). The Member States that are most engaged in funding the scheme are Germany (228.5 million euro), Italy (123 million euro) and Denmark (56 million euro) (European Commission, 2021).

The projects implemented as part of the EUTF tackle issues as different as the purchase of security material to improve border surveillance in Libya, to the funding of small business projects to reconvert the Nigerien smuggling economy into a licit market, to the improvement of the functioning of the justice system in Burkina Faso (European Commission, 2020b). With the EU taking charge of fundraising and disbursement, the EUTF thus created an overarching system of action in a field – border externalisation – where Southern European countries had long been at the forefront of action, bearing contradictions with the protection of the international human rights regime. Since then, Northern European countries, which had a feebler presence in project delivery and execution, became more active in the funding of border control projects in the African context.

The EUTF tries to support the EU migration containment strategy by following three well established principles in border control cooperation: effective control over the arrival of irregular migrants can only be achieved by cooperating with “origin” and “transit” countriesFootnote 1; spurring development in contexts of “origin” and “transit” will reduce the incentive for irregular emigration; development cooperation, along with trade preferences, constitutes the main leverage to secure third-country commitments to concrete outcomes in the field of return and readmission (den Hertog, 2016). These three principles have guided EU relations with third countries in the field of migration for the past 15 years: first announced at the Tampere European Council in 1999, the EU formalised its external agenda in the Global Approach to Migration (GAM) 2005, renamed Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) in 2011 – (Collyer et al., 2012; Hampshire, 2016). The GAMM set on paper the need to frame actions in the field of the prevention of irregular migration within broader cooperation initiatives, tackling also the development of “sending” and “transit” countries and legal migration of the latter’s nationals within broader migration debates (Collett, 2007). The GAMM gives a unique role to development financing as part of the strategy traced to establish “a balanced and comprehensive partnership with third countries” (EC, 2011), which in turn carries an inherent element of “conditionality” (Cortinovis & Conte, 2018).Footnote 2

Existing literature has tended to conceptualise the use of aid in border externalisation as part of a toolkit that countries in the Global North deploy to expand their reach beyond the geographical site of the border. Yet, thinking of a “European” border externalisation front risks to essentialise the reality of migration control in two ways. First, it flattens the engagement of European countries in border externalisation into a homogenous ensemble. However, Northern and Southern European countries have presented very different stakes in border externalisation in the past 30 years. Northern European countries, although always worried about the potential “transit” of unwanted migrants from the Southern European border to Northern Europe, have traditionally delegated externalisation strategies to Southern European countries. The signature and enforcement of the Schengen Agreement actually acted as a levelling measure for the immigration policies of countries such as Italy and Spain – considered during the 1980s and 1990s as the “soft underbelly” of the European Union due to their more open migration policies (Hollifield, 1994). Consequently, countries as Spain have been amongst the first to enact informal border cooperation strategies with third countries, such as Morocco (Gabrielli, this volume). Southern European countries have been at the forefront of border externalisation – to the point that their political leaders have time and again called for European leaders not “to leave them alone” (see il Fatto Quotidiano, 2017). Only recently, especially after the Arab Spring, Northern European countries like Germany have shown more interest to be directly involved in border control cooperation – especially in matters of return and prevention of irregular migration (den Hertog, 2017). Second, the idea of a “European” border externalisation front– like the idea of “migration governance” (Tazzioli, 2014) – somehow conveys the idea of “logical” process, taken by entities who collaborate – even though with ambiguities and setbacks – towards the achievement of a commonly acknowledged goal. Border practice literature, however, has shown that this imaginary could not be further away from the reality of development cooperation in the field of border control – a field where the security anxiety of the states often lead to totally contradictory outcomes, in situations where the very meaning of “controlling the border” is no longer readily identifiable (Gazzotti, 2021).

Our paper advances a more nuanced and complex understanding of the political dynamics surrounding the externalisation of European borders. We ask: is externalisation a coherent and unified process? Is it possible to identify a neat distinction between the migration control strategy pursued by countries in the North and in the South of Europe? How does aid affect border externalisation processes? Our findings challenge the existence of a structured, coordinated European externalisation front. Rather, we show that the implementation of a specific border externalisation programme is reactive and inconsistent in nature, driven by dynamics of temporary reaction to punctual crises and the NGO-isation of Member States. We show that differences between Northern and Southern European countries in this respect are less neat than one would expect, and that the use of aid in border control blurries the boundaries between the strategy of individual Member States. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Moroccan authorities – and in particular the Moroccan Ministry of Interior – substantially influence the allocation of resources from the EUTF to Morocco as a country more broadly, and to hardcore security as a specific sector of intervention.

The argument specifically builds on the analysis of primary documents related to the implementation of EUTF projects in Morocco. The analysis is more broadly informed by research conducted discretely by the three authors in Spain and Morocco over the past two decades. The rest of the paper unfolds as follows. In the first section, we discuss the theoretical framework underpinning our discussion. After that, we examine the use of development aid as an instrument of border control in the Western Mediterranean. We focus on how the EU has progressively emphasised the need to mainstream migration in development cooperation policies and how Morocco has been one of the leading destinations of that assistance. Following, the empirical section analyses the implementation of the EUTF projects in Morocco and uses findings to challenge common understandings about border externalisation. In the concluding section, we challenge existing assumptions on border control, highlighting that EU Member States’ strategy is not only affected by the EU’s supranational policies, but also by the political manoeuvrings of the countries from the Global South.

2 Theory: Transnational Governmentality, the Transnational Social Field, and Governing Through Aid

Since the late 1990s, the study of migration has taken a transnational turn, insofar as scholars acknowledge that the experience of migration does not end with the arrival of the migrant into a new place. Migration creates durable connections between migrants’ homelands and new places of residence, in the form of financial transfers, the emergence of circular mobility patterns, and the emergence of new religious or cultural centres in destination areas. The expansion of the migration field occurs even when people do not actively live or circulate between two countries: in a seminal book, Abdelmalek Sayad (1999) highlighted that the migrant inhabits a double absence – simultaneously embodying both the country of origin and the country of destination, but never fully present in the first, and often structurally marginalized in the latter.

In a context marked by increasing restrictions on cross-border movement, the transnational turn has also invested the study of migration governance. Globalisation has determined the emergence of actors who move, operate, and rule in ways that exceed the borders of the nation-state – such as transnational corporations, NGOs, and transnational criminal networks. The influence that these actors exercise in the regulation of social, political and economic life blurs the boundaries between state and society, and challenges pre-established notions of local and global, state and non-state action (Ferguson & Gupta, 2002; see also Hansen & Stepputat, 2006, 2009). Eschewing the boundaries of the nation-state, these actors operate in a “transnational social field”, which Liliana Suarez identifies as a “complex of dynamics that emanates from the impact of globalization of the labour market and in the governability of populations that are less and less linked to an only territory” (Suarez, 2007). In a seminal article, Ferguson and Gupta (2002) advanced the idea of “transnational governmentality” to conceptualise the indirect and composite patterns characterizing the establishment of global networks of power. Invoking the term “governmentality”, in fact, alerts the reader to the slow, discreet workings of this kind of power – which does not necessarily manifest through straightforward foreign interference or overt coercion, but rather through more subtle techniques of indirect self-ruling (Tazzioli, 2014).

Aid agencies rank highly in the business of governing beyond the nation-state. The action of donors, NGOs and IOs transcends scales of action: aid agencies occupy an in-between position in the international arena, stretching their action between different sites in the globe and exercising a capacity to act locally according to transnational logics. Migration governance is an obvious arena to observe this phenomenon. Although states have often delegated private actors, in particular carriers and transport companies, to verify identities and surveil mobility (Torpey, 2000), the anxiety of the Western nation-state around the presence of foreigners on its territory has determined the proliferation of modes, sites and actors surveilling the mobility of those singled out as “undesirable”. The frontier has “stretched” (Espiñeira, 2016) before and after its geographically fixed location, as controls on migrants’ identity and administrative status take place “away from the border” (Lahav & Guiraudon, 2000, p. 55; Nieuwenhuys & Pécoud, 2007, p. 1676), both in “sending” and “transit” countries as well as inside destination countries (Ford & Lyons, 2013; Casella Colombeau, 2015; Infantino, 2016). Countries like Morocco have experienced a process of border externalization, which Cecilia Menjivar defines as “a series of extraterritorial activities in sending and in transit countries at the request of the (more powerful) receiving states (e.g. the United States or the European Union) for the purpose of controlling the movement of potential migrants” (Menjívar, 2014, p. 357). Scholars are increasingly resorting to the term “migration regime” to encapsulate “the complex and multilayered political regulations of migration that escape realist definitions of the state as an acting entity” (Cvajner et al., 2018, p. 7). Border control and its externalisation take place both inside and outside the nation-state, within and across the North and the South. Its enforcement is assured and contested by state and non-state actors alike, including the EU, its Member States, International Organisations such as the IOM and the UNHCR, grassroot organisations, and migrant people as well (Stock et al., 2019; Gross-Wyrtzen & Gazzotti, 2021). Such actors are in charge of different dimensions of migration control, as they operate at different scales – ranging from the national level of policy design to the local level of street-level implementation. Accounting for the different scales of migration control enforcement and contestation allows to include the informal sites of governance into the formal discourse – which, in turn, conveys a more truthful account of policy successes and failures (Cvajner et al., 2018).

Chief amongst the instruments adopted by Global Northern states to further their border externalization strategy is development aid. Since the late 1990s, in fact, the EU and its Member States have resorted to their aid budgets to fund the most disparate border-related projects, from the training of border guards to Voluntary Return, from advising on migration policy reforms to the delivery of equipment for security forces. This reflects a well-established process of securitization of development aid, which emerged after the end of the Cold War and escalated after the outbreak of the War on Terror. Deemed to be the “root causes” of conflicts, poverty and marginalisation in aid-recipient countries have become objects of development and humanitarian governance in virtue of their presumed dangerousness for donors’ constituencies (Duffield, 2001, 2013; see Gupta, 2015). In a world of potential – but not fully realised – threats, aid comes to target what Duffield terms “surplus population”, or “a population whose skills, status or even existence are in excess of prevailing conditions and requirements”, a share of humanity that is made redundant and portrayed as “dangerous” by processes of local and international capitalist accumulation (Duffield, 2013, p. 9).

Saying that development aid has been transformed into an instrument of border externalisation, however, does not mean that countries of migrant “origin” and “destination” are powerless spectators and subjects in that process. Much to the contrary, countries such as Morocco, Libya or Turkey have been historically able to use migration as a “geographical rent” to forge alliances or gain leverage power both in relation to their Northern and Southern neighbours. Tsourapas has coined the term “refugee rentier states” to conceptualise the ability of countries hosting large refugee populations to obtain economic advantages (in the form, for example, of preferential trade agreements or additional development budgets) from Northern donors in exchange for their engagement in border control (Tsourapas, 2019). As Nora El Qadim argues in her work on EU-Morocco border control cooperation, the capacity of resistance of actors in the South is often accompanied by the incapacity of actors from the North to operate in a unified and coordinated way: the EU and its Member States hardly act as unitary, almighty, and omniscient entities deploying perfectly coherent strategies to secure their borders at home and abroad. In her book, for example, El Qadim shows how the different directorates of the EU were in competition with each other to access funding and negotiation spaces in areas related to forced return of Moroccan and third-country nationals to Morocco (El Qadim, 2015). As mentioned in the introduction, the development cooperation sector in Morocco is a set that challenges the presumed homogeneity of border externalisation: Northern European donors, in fact, have recently switched from a position of absence to one of scattered activity, where inter-state coordination and commonality of objectives are clearly lacking. The result is a border landscape that can sometimes be patchy and contradictory, and characterised by unexpected alliances and unexpected rivalries.

3 Governing Migration Through Aid in the Western Mediterranean

After entering the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986, Spain became part of the Schengen Agreement in 1991. At the Spanish-Moroccan border, the range of legal modifications associated with the “Schengenization” came together with the implementation of new securitization techniques, such as the establishment of visas and the reinforcements of the fences surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla (Ferrer-Gallardo & Espiñeira, 2016).

The securitisation of the border reshaped mobility dynamics in the region, as it obliged migrants to take more dangerous routes to reach Europe. In the mid-1990s, North African countries like Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco started consolidating as key “transit” countries (Collyer, 2007; Bredeloup, 2012). The EU and its Member States started seeking the collaboration of non-EU countries to secure their external borders. Morocco provides a case in point: since the 1990s, security controls were reinforced all along the maritime and land border between Spain and Morocco with the financial assistance of EU institutions. Cooperation with third countries was also sought through external migration dialogues, conducted by the EU Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) on three levels: continental, in the EU-Africa Partnership on Migration, Mobility and Employment; regional, for example in the Rabat Process, a multilateral dialogue grouping European, North African, Central African, and Western African countries as well as IOs; and bilateral, through Mobility Partnerships (MP) and Common Agendas on Migration and Mobility. The MPs are conceived as the main long-term bilateral framework for facilitating policy dialogue and operational cooperation on migration management –based on the expectation that, in exchange for greater commitment by the signatory countries, the EU will offer access to visa facilitation regimes, support for student exchanges and migration and development initiatives (Reslow & Vink, 2015).

Initially, the emphasis of several EU-Africa declarations and partnerships were strongly marked by the fight against irregular migration. However, since 2005 EU institutions have said that securitisation alone cannot achieve this, hence the dimensions of cooperation, partnership and development have been promoted (Hansen & Jonsson, 2011). An example of this is the Rabat Declaration, which was created during the first Euro-African Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development held in 2006 by the initiation of Spanish political action together with France and Morocco. Also called the Rabat Process, it promoted regional cooperation to prevent irregular migration (Frankenhaeuser et al., 2013), stating that: “[…]the management of migratory flows cannot be achieved through control measures only, but also require a concerted action on the root causes of migration, in particular through the implementation of development projects in Africa” (Rabat Declaration, 2006, p. 2). The inclusion of the “developmental” aspect on the premises of the EU migration agenda was strangely reflected as the first concrete action after the Rabat Process and resulted in the creation of joint border patrols between Africa and Europe, such as the Senegal-Spain Joint Operations (Gabrielli, 2016, this volume). So essentially, migration management, although having adopted a developmental dimension, was still rooted within security and border control, but now through cooperation with the “transit” and “origin” countries.

Since then, there have been lasting changes to the relationship between migration and development in EU external funding. This relationship is increasingly shaped by the more-for-more principle, under which third-country cooperation with the EU’s external agenda on migration, borders and asylum is becoming dominant (den Hertog, 2016, p. 14; Carrera et al., 2016, p. 12). Through the European border externalisation strategies, the security frame is also beginning to broaden geographically as the “European borders” towards Africa. Moreover, the outsourcing of EU “border-works” is not simply about the policing of migration, but is also “part of a broader attempt to ‘secure the external’” (Bialasiewicz, 2012, p. 845).

The European Agenda on Migration (EC, 2015) emphasised the need to mainstream migration in development cooperation policies. Together with trade preferences, development cooperation is the main leverage to get commitments and outcomes in readmission and return, being these the top priorities on the Agenda. Under this framework, when the Valletta Summit on Migration took place envisioning the EUTF, the Commission then presented the New Partnership Framework (EC, 2016) to reinforce cooperation. It includes three common elements for a partnership to become effective: (1) conditionality based on the cooperation of the partner country on readmission and return; (2) effective incentives, in particular through EU trade and development policies; and (3) a tailored country package. The European Council aimed the conclusions of these migration compacts at a number of priority countries mainly from the Horn of Africa and the Sahel and, in North Africa, it focused on countries with a low return ratio and where negotiations were not advancing, such as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

The EUTF is currently one of the leading financial instruments between the EU-Africa partnership in the field of development linked to migration (den Hertog, 2016; Kervyn & Shilhav, 2017). The region of Sahel and Lake Chad receives the most significant amount of money and support compared to other areas, which are Northern Africa and the Horn of Africa (Kervyn & Shilhav, 2017). For most of Northern African countries, the majority of the budget is invested in migration management, as the countries in this region are seen as ‘transit’ countries. Whereas in the Sahel region and Lake Chad the adopted actions address multiple objectives. These include development financing for a root-causes approach based on the questionable assumption that this will limit the “push factors” for migration, and linked to this are actions around “migration and development”, e.g. mobilising the diaspora of third countries for economic development, as well as migration management actions financing national migration policies, police capacities and data exchange (den Hertog, 2016, p. 13).

Morocco has always been a key partner for the EU and its Member States in border control cooperation, including in the area of development cooperation. Since the EU external cooperation in the field of migration took shape in 2004, the country has been one of the main destinations of that assistance. Between 2004 and 2006, Morocco was involved in 22 projects funded through the AENEAS programme, for a total amount of 18 million euro. This is a substantial figure, especially considering that the programme funded 105 projects in total (EP, 2015: 127). In 2007, Morocco received a further 67.6 million euro to implement an integrated border management programme directly managed by the Ministry of Interior. The EU Commission never managed to audit the programme, and no official information is available regarding its implementation (EP, 2015: 130).

Morocco was the first Arab Mediterranean partner country with which the EU signed a Mobility Partnership, in June 2013. The Joint Declaration between the EU, nine of its Member States (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and Morocco was complemented by an Annex of cooperation projects by EU agencies and Member States supposed to contribute to the achievement of each of the objectives stated. These objectives are (i) a better management of the movement of persons for short stays, legal migration and labour migration, (ii) strengthening cooperation in the field of migration and development, (iii) fighting irregular migration, networks of trafficking of human beings and the promotion of an effective return and readmission policy, and (iv) respecting international instruments on the protection of refugees (EP, 2015, p. 127). The flagship initiative funded by the EU in relation to the Mobility Partnership is the Sharaka Project, a five million euro programme launched in 2014 to support the MP implementation through a series of capacity-building initiatives. Its main objective is to support national migration and development and mobility policies in a framework of reinforced cooperation between Moroccan and European administrations. The specific objectives are to optimise the positive effects of migration, mobilising the expertise of the EU Member States to respond to the needs of Moroccan institutions –short and long term expertise, peer-to-peer exchanges, studies and benchmarking, pilot actions, networking and targeted communication (EP, 2015, p. 127).

The MP was followed, 3 months after its signature, by a change in the immigration policy in the Kingdom. The new policy prompted a quick reaction from the EU and its cooperation in this field. In the framework of the Sharaka Project, a new ten million euro budget support programme to promote the integration of immigrants has been deployed, including two million euro each for the Ministries of Public Health and Education to support the extension of health care and school enrolment to all immigrants (EP, 2015, p. 129). In August 2015, there were in Morocco 25 different ongoing projects in the field of migration funded by the EU, for a total of more than 20 million euro over their implementation period.Footnote 3

4 What the Implementation of the EUTF Tells About “Externalisation”

4.1 De-centring and Re-centring Morocco in the European Border Control Strategy

As mentioned earlier, the EUTF was established as part of the EU response plan to the “migrant crisis” in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. Through the EUTF, the EU and its Member States aimed to address the increase in migrant arrivals by spurring development in countries of “origin” and “transit”, so as to reduce the incentives for migrants to continue their journey onwards. When the EUTF was established, the majority of African migrants arriving in Europe came from Central and Eastern Africa and had transited through Libya. The funding allocation reflected the geopolitical attention of the EU on the Central Mediterranean route: with the exception of Libya, the Maghreb was not central to the functioning of the EUTF, and Morocco in particular was quite marginal in the funding allocation. Such marginality was also evident in the discourse of policy-makers. During an interview conducted in October 2016, an officer of the EU Delegation in Rabat dismissed a question on the EUTF as irrelevant to the Moroccan context. “The Trust Fund addresses the root causes of migration” the interviewee said. “Morocco is therefore not central, because it [the Trust Fund] really targets West African countries” (Gazzotti, 2019).

Morocco’s geopolitical relevance within the EUTF changed in 2018, when a (modest) increase in migrant arrivals recorded at the Southern Spanish coast pushed Spanish authorities to sound the alarm about the emergence of a new migration “crisis” at Europe’s borders. In 2018, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) recorded 57,034 irregular border crossings attempts on the Western Mediterranean route –compared to the 23,063 recorded in 2017. This increase occurred in a context where irregular arrivals at the EU external borders were “the lowest level in 5 years”, as declared in a note circulated by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU in February 2019 (Statewatch, 2019). However, it was enough to push Spain and the EU to escalate the attention on the Western Mediterranean border.

Since the EUTF was established in 2016, Morocco received a total amount of 17,894 million euro for national projects. Of these, 160,25 million euro were granted between 2018 and 2020 – and 145,75 million euro relate to projects focusing on hard-core border security. Between July and August 2018, the EU granted Spain 30 million euro to reinforce border control measures in the South of the country, and Frontex increased the human and infrastructural resources deployed at the Spanish-Moroccan border. The renewed impetus to securitise the Western Mediterranean border were accompanied by calls for Morocco to ramp up its migration control measures (GADEM, 2018). In late July 2018, Morocco started conducting internal dispersal campaigns to distance “potential irregular migrants” from border zones. According to data from the NGO GADEM, around 6500 people were arbitrarily arrested in the North of Morocco and bussed to areas in the centre and interior of the country, hundreds of kilometres away from their houses. The raids in the North of Morocco were conducted according to a logic of racial profiling, as they exclusively targeted black people, regardless of whether they had regular residency papers or the right to international protection (Gazzotti & Hagan, 2021).

The funding allocation strategy pursued by the EU through the EUTF reflects the renewed geopolitical salience of the Western Mediterranean border, and of Morocco as a partner of the EU. The factsheet of the project “Support to the actions of Moroccan authorities against the networks facilitating irregular migratory flows” (European Commission, 2020c) makes clear that the need to invest greater resources from the EUTF on Morocco is not only due to the renewed relevance of the Western Mediterranean route, but also to make sure that the decrease in the number of irregular border crossings is maintained with time.

The geographical situation of Morocco, in the immediate proximity of Spain (included on the African continent with the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla) makes this country particularly sensitive to the irregular migratory flows directed to Europe. The so-called Western Mediterranean route via Morocco represented 12% of the total irregular arrivals in Europe in 2017 compared to 0,7% in 2015. The number of migrants that take this route has recorded a strong increase since May 2018 and the total number of arrivals increased by 131% between 2017 and 2018, to achieve a total of 64.298 people in 2018. Anyway, starting from February 2019, notably thanks to the intensification of the action of Moroccan authorities, the trend recorded a stark U-turn. In the period between January and October 2019, 26.082 irregular migrants arrived to Spain from the Western Mediterranean route, therefore 51% less than those arrived in the same period of the last year (53.268). (p. 4, translation by first author)

The de-centring and re-centring of Morocco within the funding allocation strategy of the EUTF reveals the reactive nature of this particular border control instrument. Rather than responding to a long-term, structured strategy to address irregular migration, the EUTF is used by the EU to respond to short-term objectives, especially in circumstances where a sudden, albeit moderate, increase in border crossings is labelled as an emergency by those Member States tasked with its management.

4.2 Heterogeneous Strategies and the NGO-Isation of EU Member States

As mentioned earlier, the EUTF is administered by the EU Commission through its local delegations in aid-recipient countries. The implementation of the projects is operationalised through a “delegated cooperation”, whereby public development cooperation agencies belonging to individual Member States bid for and can be selected as contractors for large-scale aid-funded projects. This process produces a process of NGO-isation, or the tendency of Member States to act like NGOs insofar as they become the implementing actors of EU development funding. This marks a stark difference in the use of aid for border externalisation. When Southern European countries started introducing “soft” methods in border control, this process relied on bilateral cooperation – with Spain, Italy or France directly interacting with Morocco in the definition and implementation of development projects. Fifteen years later, the process of delegated cooperation resemanticises this process in two ways. First, it involves Northern European countries in the funding and disbursement of aid. The European Commission grants technical-financial operations with development-aid in those geographical areas where experience and international recognition are concentrated. The three major countries that implement delegated cooperation funds with Morocco are Germany, France and Spain. Second, by moving cooperation from the bilateral to the multilateral level, the EUTF puts EU Member States in a position of subordination to the financial power of the EU. The EUTF increased the budgets of development actors, including not only NGOs and IOs but also development agencies handling the development budget of EU Member States (such as Enabel, Expertise France, GIZ or the AECID). In Spain, for example, delegated cooperation complemented the depleted funds of Official Development Assistance (ODA), which had seen a dramatic reduction in 2008 and had left many actors involved in the implementation of development cooperation projects in a precarious situation (Olivié & Pérez, 2019).

The process of delegation, however, makes EU Member States less autonomous, insofar as their agencies have to write projects matching the guidelines and complying with the procedural mechanisms of the EU. Reliant on funding that is allocated based on a competitive process within pre-established frameworks, EU Member States are less able to implement their own border externalisation agenda, and have to subordinate it to that of the EU. Delegated cooperation has blurred the state nature in the solutions provided by development cooperation by putting the EU regional vision in the foreground. Although all the projects analysed broadly aim to contribute to the overarching objective of migration control, it is extremely difficult to identify a difference in the agenda of Southern European or Northern European countries or a distinctive migration regime for each individual Member State – partly because the projects they implement have very short timelines and scattered objectives, and partly because any difference has been diluted through the alignment with the EU global approach guaranteed through its delegations.

Belgium, through its development agency Enabel, for example, implements a 4.6 million euro project on the legal empowerment of migrant people (European Commission, 2017a) and a eight million euro project on the deployment of migration policies at the regional level (European Commission, 2018) –essentially targeting foreigners that have benefitted from the regularisation process in Morocco. Germany, through the GIZ, works on a 8.6 million euro project (European Commission, 2017b) on South-South migration cooperation. Spain implements one 5.5 million euro project through its development agency, AECID, and a 44 million euro project through the Fundación Internacional y para Iberoamérica de Administración y Políticas Públicas (FIIAPP). The two projects, however, have starkly contrasting objectives: AECID project focuses on the fight against xenophobia and discrimination; the FIIAPP project, instead, focuses on strengthening the capacity of the Moroccan security apparatus in border control, including the purchasing of equipment for the control of maritime and borders (European Commission, 2020d). The fact that the same EU Member State implements two actions (funded by the same funding body) which simultaneously fuel and fight racism highlights the neurotic politics characterising border externalisation. Morocco is also benefitting from a number of regional projects funded by the EUTF. The impact of regional projects on individual target countries is often difficult to single out, which makes the coherence of the European migration regime even more challenging to decipher.

The only common thread linking a number of different projects is the material predominance of security concerns in the allocation of aid budgets. Currently, Morocco is the sole recipient of 7 projects implemented through the EUTF, for a total budget of 178.9 million euro. 80% of this budget refers to two security-related projects, one implemented by FIIAPP, and a second one, “Support to the actions of Moroccan authorities against the networks facilitating irregular migration flows”, directly managed by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior as a form of budget support (European Commission, 2020c). This very substantial security budget is complemented by a further 30 million euro envelope allocated through the Border Management Programme for the Maghreb region (BMP-Maghreb), a regional programme handled by ICMPD. The intentionality of the EU in migration control is reduced to the availability of funding to implement security-related projects, a rationale that is then imposed on the implementing actors through the process of delegated cooperation.

4.3 The EUTF and Morocco’s Migration Diplomacy

European pressures to secure their borders abroad have been met and resisted by Morocco’s own migration control strategy. The approval of a border surveillance strategy by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior in 2002 was followed the next year by the approval of Law 02–03, a repressive migration act criminalising irregular immigration and emigration from the country. Branded as the clear evidence of Morocco’s transformation into “Europe’s gendarme”, Law 02–03 actually reconciled a more diversified set of interests: on the one hand, the appetite of the EU and its Member States to externalise their borders through the cooperation of North African countries; on the other hand, the willingness of Morocco to gain geopolitical leverage after a long time of political isolation in the continent and marginality in EU relations. The explicit security vocation of the law reflected in the harsh policing methods that characterised the following decade of migration governance in Morocco: until 2013, the presence of black migrant people from West and Central Africa in the country was controlled through the deployment of vast and frequent arbitrary arrest campaigns, often complemented by deportation to the no man’s land at the border with Algeria. The areas surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were particularly subjected to these violent policing methods.

In September 2013, Morocco reformed its approach to migration governance by announcing the adoption of a new migration policy, more respectful of migrants’ rights and of Morocco’s international human rights engagements. Applauded by the EU and its Member States (Gazzotti, 2021), the new migration policy included the announcement of a regularisation campaign in 2014, followed by a new one in 2017; the adoption of a National Strategy for Immigration and Asylum (NSIA) in December 2014; and the launch of three law projects on migration, asylum and human trafficking. The new migration policy earned Morocco further support from the EU and its Member States, as by centering the integration of migrants locally into the country’s strategy, it clearly aligned with border externalisation imperatives. But it also allowed Moroccan authorities to ease relations with their African neighbours by offering a more dignified treatment to their citizens living in the country after a decade of systematic abuses. The implementation of the policy, however, did not match the aspiration of the NSIA: although violence against migrants significantly decreased and over 20,000 people were issued residency permits during the regularisation campaign in 2014 (and a similar number was regularised in 2017), the two laws on migration and asylum have not yet been approved, the inclusion of migrants into state services still languish, and arbitrary arrest campaigns remained commonplace in border areas. Since the summer of 2018, migrants living in other areas of the country have also become the targets of arrest campaigns and violence by Moroccan police forces. Migrants’ detention and dispersal to the South of Morocco were also recorded after the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic, when strict quarantine policies and the shut-down of the economy made migrant people particularly vulnerable not only to the virus, but to violent border control practices enacted by an anxious security state.

Reading the implementation of the EUTF in Morocco only through the action of Global North actors offers a very partial picture of the hardening of the Western Mediterranean border. It is true that the EUTF has partially homogenised the action of EU Member States – with Northern European countries taking a more active role, and projects responding to the same guidelines and operations. Morocco, however, directly shapes the functioning of the EUTF, as it steers the priorities of the EU and its Member States according to its own geopolitical agenda. The allocation of over 175.7 million euro for border security to Moroccan authorities between 2018 and 2019 cannot be explained solely as the result of the EU willingness to externalise its borders. Representatives of the Moroccan Ministry of Interior have long been outspoken about the substantial costs that Morocco was shouldering to watch out its borders and prevent irregular migration from its territory.Footnote 4 In August 2018, Mustapha Khalfi, the spokesperson for the Moroccan government, rebuked accusations made by Spain and the EU about Morocco’s supposed laxism in border management by arguing that Morocco was doing huge efforts on the control of irregular migration, shouldering responsibilities beyond its capacities. Pointing to the lack of support from the EU, he specified that Morocco “makes huge sacrifices alone and with its own means and that the figures concerning [financial] support remain below the efforts and the sacrifices allowed by the Kingdom [of Morocco]” (GADEM, 2018, p. 48). That same year, Khalid Zerouali, director of Migration and Border Surveillance in Morocco’s Interior Ministry, declared to the Spanish press agency EFE that Morocco was spending over 200 million euro per year in border patrol, including the deployment of 13,000 members of different security forces.

The concerns raised by Moroccan authorities about the disproportionate division of economic responsibilities in border control seem to have clearly bore a weight in the rationale underpinning the allocation of the EUTF budget to Morocco. The factsheet (European Commission, 2020c) of the project “Support to the actions of Moroccan authorities against the networks facilitating irregular migration flows”, for example, specifies that facing the challenges related to border control required Morocco to “deploy major efforts at all levels and to continue allocating important human and financial resources [to border management]”. The EUTF-funded project thus aimed at “supporting these essential investments for the fight against cross-border criminality under all its forms, on the whole Moroccan territory”. The factsheet then clarified the rationale for the budget and for the activities linked to the project, directly invoking the costs that Moroccan authorities were shouldering in relation to border control operations:

In terms of costs, in its fight against illicit smuggling, Morocco deploys major efforts at all levels through a strategy of border control that needs an important investment in terms of equipment and human resources (more than 30.000 elements of different security forces). The implementation of this action envisages that Moroccan authorities reinforce the resilience of control devices through important investment in terms of additional human resources as well as aerial, maritime and land instruments of detection, interception, communication, precocious alert and mobility. The budget estimated by Moroccan authorities for this investment is 3.5 billion euro in the 2020–2027 period. Taking into account the 8-year period, this gives a yearly amount of euro 435 000 000 [translation ours, emphasis added].

The factsheet then concluded that “the engagement of the Moroccan government in the framework of this action is sufficiently relevant and credible to be supported with an important programme of budget support, which allows to contribute to a better management of migration and the fight against migrant smuggling and human trafficking, including a reinforcement of integrated border management”.

Acknowledging the capacity of Moroccan authorities to influence the allocation of the EUTF allows us to nuance claims on the existence of a compact “European” migration regime. First, Moroccan authorities seem to consider aid more as a partial reimbursement for the gigantic costs they have to incur to fulfil migration control duties rather than an incentive or a conditionality to cooperate with European countries. This stands in stark contrast with scholarship contending that North African and Middle Eastern countries use migration as a bargaining chip to accumulate economic resources. In other words, Morocco seems to be partaking in border control cooperation more to gain and maintain political relevance in the Western Mediterranean rather than to accrue financial incentives, given that the amount of money that the country invests in migration management seems to be much higher than the contribution of the EU. Second, the influence that Morocco is able to play on the implementation of the EUTF speaks to the agency that countries labelled “origin” and “transit” manage to exercise in border control cooperation. Despite being on the receiving end of border externalisation policies, countries such as Morocco manage to display significant agency in shaping the implementation of migration containment projects funding by the EU or its Member States. Morocco manages to do that either by actively shaping the project outline and budget, or by selectively engaging with the EU and its Member States, or by posing caveats to European action, as in the case under analysis. The shape that the EU externalisation regime takes is therefore also significantly influenced by Morocco’s reaction to border pressures.

5 Conclusion

In this article, we understood border externalisation as a transnational social field where different pressures – established migratory patterns, the appetite of the security state to control the border, the diplomatic interests of countries in the Global North and in the Global South, and the fragmented strategies implemented by Northern and Southern European countries – play out in the power relations that solidify at the frontier. Taking the case of the EUTF specifically, we reflected about how the EU externalisation agenda comes to life in aid-recipient countries. Development projects can thus be explored as a transnational social field where border politics, migratory regimes and aid policy overlap and clash. The EUTF thus becomes a vantage point to explore the contradictory logics of EU border politics, and to deconstruct the concept of externalisation. The EUTF constitutes the most interesting operational response of the EU to the migration crisis, as it signifies how European actors conceptualise the transformation of geopolitical spaces (Zardo, 2020). It also reshapes what externalisation means on the ground, and it shows how the European migration regimes can advance and backtrack in the Mediterranean scenario.

Our findings challenge the existence of a structured European externalisation front. We show that externalisation has always been a battlefield where the strategies of Northern and Southern European countries have been anything but coordinated. Prior to the establishment of the EUTF, this was particularly visible insofar as Northern European countries were basically absent from the debate, with Spain being the most active actor in the field. After the establishment of the EUTF, the boundaries between the strategies of Northern and Southern European states blur into the technicalities of delegated cooperation, whereby the agency of individual Member States seems to submit to the functioning of the EU, driven by a clear, yet contradictory, objective to advance securitisation policies. The NGO-isation of Member States, in particular, highlights how lack of programmatic vision in development cooperation policy, which can be easily hijacked by the European border externalisation aspirations. The implementation of a specific border externalisation programme is reactive and inconsistent in nature, driven by dynamics of temporary reaction to punctual crises and the NGO-isation of Member States.

The introductory section of this article referred to the summer of 2015, when almost one million people crossed the Aegean Sea to reach Europe. We conclude this article by referring to the ‘border crisis’ which occurred between 17 and 19 May 2021, when over eight thousand people, including many unaccompanied minors, crossed the border from Morocco to Ceuta (Eldiario.es, 2021). This latest episode highlighted the fragility of the European migration system, based on bordering, containment and control as the pillar of externalisation politics. This clashed with the migration diplomacy displayed by Morocco, based on the conversion of migration flows into a political weapon in the Mediterranean borderscape. This contradiction is particularly evident in transborder regions and its surrounding territory, where mobility has always been part of the economic and social dynamism. Migration control suffocates the plurality of exchanges that make cross-border life (and the life of cross-border communities) sustainable. Geopolitics takes embodied shape at the border, and transforms migration control into an essential instrument in diplomatic confrontation. Morocco is the target while an ally of these policies. When accepting them or not, the decisions the Kingdom makes can affect and even modulate the EU agenda. In turn, Morocco’s migration regime is an increasingly decisive piece within its international agenda (Jiménez-Alvarez et al., 2020). The strategy of individual EU Member States is not therefore only affected by the supranational policies of the EU, but also by the political manoeuvring of countries in the South, affected in turn by their own regional dynamics. The “crisis” of Ceuta in 2021, produced in a context of Moroccan diplomatic escalation to obtain international recognition of sovereignty over Western Sahara, showed us once again how migration and border control can become weapons through which countries in the South subvert the power relations with their diplomatic partners in the North.