The use of pseudo-causal narratives in EU policies: the case of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa

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The EUTF aims to address the ‘root causes of migration’ by providing development assistance to countries of origin and transit. While it is allegedly based on scientific evidence, scholarly consensus suggests that development assistance is ill-suited to address irregular migration–which is something that some of the actors who designed the EUTF were aware of. We advance a new framework for understanding the emergence and success of pseudo-causal narratives (i.e., narratives relying on unproven and/or disproven causal claims) in EU policymaking. Using frame analysis, we argue that the pseudo-causal ‘root causes’ narrative was adopted against better evidence because it was plausible, compelling and had been used in EU external migration policies before. Faced with the salience of migration and the urgency to act in late 2015, and due to the absence of any clear ideas of what other measures could work, EU actors adopted this narrative to demonstrate that they were actively responding to the ‘crisis’. The narrative met little contestation, since it met the concerns of both those who were keen to stop migration and those who wanted to preserve the core of previous EU development policy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)510-529
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on the research funded by the Norwegian Research Council (Project No. 288372). The authors would like to thank their interview partners for sharing their insights. Moreover, they would like to thank André Bank, Ingunn Bjørkhaug, Kamel Doraï, Christiane Fröhlich, Luicy Pedroza, Guri Tyldum, Karin Vaagland as well as three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    Research areas

  • development aid, EU external migration policy, European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, evidence-based policymaking, framing, policy narratives
  • Politics