The European Parliament has voted in favour of a €220 million research project that has the ultimate aim of curbing the flow of migrants into Europe from north Africa.
The Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (Prima), will tackle water and food scarcity around the Mediterranean, as two factors seen as massively contributing to the forced migration of thousands into Europe.
The project’s goal is to come up with fresh ideas for improving the sustainability of food and water provision in farmlands.
The ten year project will involve researchers from 11 EU countries, and Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey.
A combination of weak water management, adverse weather and declining farmland, coupled with political instability and violence in Libya, have made central Mediterranean the busiest route for migration to Europe.
“We have to acknowledge that these issues are the root causes of migration. Both within and beyond borders,” EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas told MEPs.
The region covered by the project is considered particularly vulnerable to climate change, which has already warmed the Mediterranean by more than the global average – 1.3C compared to 1C – since the industrial revolution.
It is not just north Africa beginning to feel these effects. If the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, experts think that deserts could expand northwards across southern Spain and Sicily.
Climate change may also hurt the production of Mediterranean food staples such as olives.
Prima’s pragmatic goals received praise from MEPs. “Everyone knows this is a highly problematic area for the EU,” said Patricia Toia, an Italian centre-left MEP. “I think the new project will help avoid forced displacement.”
The inclusion of non-EU countries was another positive element. “We are going to have countries from both sides of the Mediterranean, it’s going to build some bridges beyond technology,” said Pilar Ayuso, a Spanish MEP.
Not everyone struck the same optimistic note. Turkey’s inclusion in the project was an issue for one Greek MEP. “At a time when migrants are flowing into Greece, we need to step up and help people in the Mediterranean. [But] funding should not go to countries like Turkey,” said Notis Marias.