The showdown is underway between Niger and the European Union (EU) on the migration issue. The junta resulting from the July coup in Niamey upped the ante on Monday, November 27, by repealing a law dating from 2015 penalizing the illicit trafficking of migrants.

This repressive system, one of the great achievements of Brussels’ cooperation with African states, aimed at stemming migratory flows towards the Mediterranean, is today denounced by the Nigerien government as having been adopted “under the influence of certain foreign powers » and to the detriment of the “interests of Niger and its citizens”.

The announcement promises to have all the more resonance in Brussels as the Sahelian country occupies a strategic place on the migratory routes of the African continent in its capacity as a privileged transit corridor towards Libya, a projection platform – with Tunisia – to Italy. It comes at the worst time for Europeans, as they struggle to unify their positions in the face of the new wave of arrivals affecting Italy. From January 1 to November 26, the number of migrants and refugees who landed on the coast of the Peninsula reached 151,312, an increase of 61% compared to the same period in 2022. The surge is unprecedented since the migration crisis of 2015-2016.

Concern in Brussels

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Sweden’s Ylva Johansson, said on Tuesday she was “very concerned” by the Nigerian about-face. The decision appears to respond to the EU’s recent hardening towards the putschists. On November 23, the Strasbourg Parliament “strongly condemned” the coup in Niamey, a month after the European Council adopted a “framework of restrictive measures”, paving the way for future sanctions.

“The leaders in Niamey are engaged in a major blackmail operation against the EU,” comments a Western diplomat familiar with Niger. They know that the subject of migration is a source of tension within the EU and want to open a breach in the European position, while they are suffocated by the economic sanctions decided by the Economic Community of West African States. [ECOWAS]. It has not escaped them that Italy is inclined to be more flexible towards them, precisely because of this migration issue. »

But the challenge launched by the junta to European countries could be even more radical, approaching the breaking point. “The decision of the leaders of Niamey shows that they have simply abandoned any idea of ​​negotiating with the EU in the future,” underlines another Western diplomatic source. Because going back would be extremely difficult after the repeal of the law. They show that they have chosen their side. They will now turn their backs on us, like the Malians did. They have abandoned their main pressure point with the EU. »