INTERVIEW: Egypt valuable EU partner in combatting irregular migration - Danish PM

Ahmed Morsy , Tuesday 21 Mar 2023

In an exclusive interview with Ahram Online, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Egypt is a very valuable partner for the European Union (EU) in combatting irregular migration, stressing that the 65-year-old Danish-Egyptian partnership has great prospects.

Mette Frederiksen
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaking to Ahram Online during her visit to the Giza Pyramids last week. (Photo courtesy of the Danish Embassy in Cairo)

Speaking to Ahram Online during her first official visit to Egypt last week, the youngest prime minister in Danish history who has held the office since 2019, emphasised the importance of creating a more sustainable future for Africans as a key solution to eliminating irregular migration.

No boat or person has crossed from Egypt’s maritime border to Europe since September 2016 when the country launched its first national strategy to combat irregular migration. Egypt introduced a law criminalising all forms of migrant smuggling with strict imprisonment and a fine ranging from EGP 200,000 to EGP 500,000. The country toughened the law in 2022 by adding another fine, equivalent to the value of the amount the smugglers or their accomplices profited from their crime. 

According to the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) estimation in late 2022, Egypt hosts nine million migrants from 133 countries.

During his press conference with Frederiksen on Monday, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi highlighted that Egypt treats refugees as citizens, emphasising that tackling issues besetting the region is crucial to addressing the issue of irregular migration.

“Providing job opportunities to Africans will help stem the flow of those who irregularly migrate to Europe searching for better financial prospects,” he said.

The 45-year-old prime minister agreed with the Egyptian president, saying “we have to address the root causes of immigration and work towards a sustainable future for the children and young people of Africa. This should be a common goal and a common responsibility.”

Fewer irregular crossings by Africans have been recorded since establishing the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) in 2015, according to the EU border agency, Frontex.

Nevertheless, the German broadcasting company Deutsche Welle quoted Alia Fakhry, a migration researcher at the German Council for Foreign Relations, in December as saying that “eradicating root causes is one thing, but conflicts and natural disasters will continue to push people away from their homes."

The number of Africans who left – or fled – their homes and became internally displaced or refugees in other African countries almost doubled from 2015 to 2020, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Bolstering bilateral relations

In 2023, Egypt and Denmark celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations. However, the Danish premier still sees more room to strengthen the partnership.

The value of trade exchange between Egypt and Denmark decreased to $292.2 million during the first 11 months of 2022, compared to $321.2 million during the same period in 2021 – a nine percent decrease – according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

However, the value of Egyptian exports to Denmark reached $49.2 million during the same period of 2022, compared to $39.4 million in 2021, an increase of 25.1 percent.

“I think it is quite interesting to have a stronger partnership between a great African country [Egypt] and a very tiny European country [Denmark],” Frederiksen said.

From his side, El-Sisi indicated that Egypt is prepared to provide all the required facilities for Danish companies to work in Egypt, highlighting investment opportunities in the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone) for maritime transport and shipping.

Frederiksen, in response, expressed that her country is working to move forward on this front in the near future.

During a meeting between Frederiksen and her Egyptian counterpart Mostafa Madbouly, he hailed the existing investments of Danish shipping giant Maersk in Egypt, pointing to its $500 million project to transform the container terminal in East Port Said into a global hub.

Madbouly said cooperation with Denmark might expand into strategic industries such as pharmaceuticals, expressing his hope to see more Danish investments in the Egyptian market in the fields of maritime transport as well as in projects to supply ships with green fuel.

Frederiksen stressed that Egypt and Denmark will increase cooperation in renewable energy and green hydrogen.

Egypt seeks to become a global and regional hub for green hydrogen production, storage and export, recently signing numerous memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to establish industrial complexes to produce green hydrogen in the Ain Al-Sokhna Industrial Zone, which is located within the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZONE).

Egypt has the potential to generate some 350 gigawatts of wind energy and about 650 gigawatts of solar energy, said Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker.

Egypt aims in the coming years to reduce carbon emissions, promote the use of renewable energy sources, and use alternative energy, including green hydrogen, as part of its National Climate Strategy 2050.

The strategy should help Egypt produce green hydrogen with the least cost worldwide for $1.7 per kg by 2050 instead of $2.7 per kg in 2025, according to previous statements by the government.

It will pave the way for implementing an ambitious plan to gain eight percent of the global hydrogen market.

The strategy aims to increase Egypt’s GDP to between $10 billion and $18 billion by 2050, generating more job opportunities and reducing oil imports.

Climate change

When it comes to climate change, Frederiksen said the two countries [Denmark and Egypt] are on the same page.

“Egypt has a huge population [104.7 million] who are already facing difficulties because of climate change. So, its problems are already now,” she stressed.

Egypt is one of the world’s most climate change affected countries, the country’s former irrigation minister previously said. He highlighted the adverse effect of rising sea levels on the fertile Nile Delta, which threatens them with greater salinity and, in the worst case scenario, inundation.

He also pointed to climate change’s effects on the Nile, which provides 97 percent of Egypt’s fresh water.

Egypt is already a water scarce country, with its annual share of water only 500 square metres per person at a time when the UN has set water scarcity at 1,000 square metres of water per person per year, according to recent statements by the current irrigation minister.

In an attempt to help Egypt overcome its water challenges, the EU has provided Egypt with more than €550 million in grants since 2007, head of the EU delegation to Egypt Christian Berger said last week.

“Climate change is an area where we can work closer together as you [Egyptians] have been taking local leadership in climate change and green transition. [On the other hand], Denmark has a long history of finding sustainable solutions and has many old and good Danish companies that have the solutions that Egypt is looking for,” Frederiksen said.

Denmark – which currently emits 0.1 percent of the global greenhouse gases – has been working hard to reduce its emissions for 50 years, or since the oil embargo resulting from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Denmark aims to reduce 70 percent of its emissions by 2030 and to be a climate neutral country by 2050, according to Head of PR & Communications at Copenhagen’s State of Green Magnus Højberg Mernild.

Green partnership and COP27

On whether there will be a green partnership between the two countries, Frederiksen said this was exactly what she discussed with the Egyptian government as “how we can take the partnership even further.”

“You [Egyptians] had a very successful COP27 [the 27th session of the UN Climate Change Conference],” the Danish PM said.

“I believe the COP27 was very successful under the presidency of Egypt as its focus on the consequences of climate change by establishing a loss and damage funding is important,” said Frederiksen, adding that Egypt and Denmark had a very good collaboration during the COP27 and she looks forward to continuing that.

After decades of negotiations, parties at COP27 agreed to form a transitional committee that will make recommendations on how to manage the fund and which is scheduled to meet for the first time before the end of March 2023.

Two months before COP27, Denmark was the first country to pledge loss and damage finance – worth $13 million – to support the most climate-vulnerable countries suffering from climate disruptions.

Room to enhance cooperation with Egypt and Africa in tackling climate change?

“I think there is a room and I think there is a need,” Frederiksen said.

This, she says, is because the consequences caused by climate change are already visible in Egypt and across the African continent.

“It is important to always set new goals and make global decisions on how to reduce emissions. Moreover, at the same time, we have to acknowledge that some of the countries [are responsible for] emissions, but not all of them are bearing the consequences of climate change.”

Frederiksen expressed her concern that the African continent is at risk of drying up, which could make it impossible for people to continue living in many areas that they currently inhabit

The African continent is the most vulnerable to climate change and least responsible for emissions, according to experts.

Africa suffers more severe climate change impacts than most parts of the world mainly because it is exposed to unrivalled weather extremes, is heavily dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as rain-fed agriculture for economic services and livelihoods and has the least capacity to respond adequately to climatic stresses due to chronic poverty, said the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

“In the past 50 years, drought-related hazards have claimed the lives of over half a million people [in Africa] and led to economic losses of over $70 billion in the region. More than 1,000 flood-related disasters were reported, involving more than 20,000 deaths over this period,” said Kenya’s President William Ruto, chair of the Committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change, during COP27.

It is estimated that by 2050, climate impacts could cost African nations $50 billion annually, according to Ruto.

Two months earlier, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that G20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions.

This, Frederiksen added, is the area in which progress can be made despite the war in Europe, rising inflation and the energy crisis.

“Hence, we need stronger cooperation between European and African countries and I hope Egypt and Denmark can play a role in that as well.”

Frederiksen said that building stronger partnerships between Europe and Africa, particularly through Egypt as one of the biggest countries in Africa, is one of the most pressing issues to address in these years.

Politics and regional conflicts

Politically, Frederiksen said, Egypt is a very important player on the international scene.

“It [Egypt] has one leg on the African continent and the other leg on the Arab world, leading it to have a very good understanding of two major regions in the world.”

“I know that Egypt is working towards stabilising and deescalating the situation in the region, and we all desire a more peaceful future,” she said.

“If you look at the European continent, we used to have wars all the time until World War II. However, after building up a strong European Union and very close cooperation between our countries, there were no wars anymore. There is a war [in the meantime] because of Russia and it is not included in the EU,” the Danish PM said.

Hence, she added, “I think the idea of working closely together and building strong cross-border institutions is very important. Therefore, we have to work together also in solving the different conflicts in the region, including the Libyan and Israeli-Palestinian ones,” the Danish premier concluded. 

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