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Brussels, 22 June 2011

Statement by Commissioner Malmström: more leadership needed in Member States to defend solidarity, tolerance and mutual respect

"Solidarity, tolerance, and mutual respect between countries and people: these values have been cherished and protected by politicians and citizens in the European Union for more than half a century. They have been fought for, and are still being fought for, in many parts of the world where such fundamental principles cannot be taken for granted. I am therefore saddened and concerned to see that these values risk losing respect and support around Europe.

In recent years, we have witnessed growing support for populist movements and far-right political parties in the EU. In my areas of responsibility – asylum, migration, integration, and border cooperation – I can see that xenophobia is on the rise. Developments this spring illustrate the situation quite clearly.

Political leaders all over Europe have been quick to condemn the violence in Libya, in Syria, in the Ivory Coast, and to congratulate our Northern African neighbours in their fight for democracy and freedom. But when it comes to dealing with the consequences of these developments, and particularly when it comes to dealing with the men, women, and children coming to Europe for protection or in search of a better life, European leaders have not been as supportive.

We have to acknowledge that war has consequences, and that words are of little worth if they are not also followed by solidarity in action. So far, about 15 000 of the more than one million people escaping violence in Libya have made their way to the EU. EU Member States altogether have so far committed to give protection to some 800 people, while Norway alone has agreed to take in more than 300 such refugees.

EU Heads of State and Government are meeting on June 23 and 24 to discuss asylum, migration, and the governance of the Schengen area in view of recent events. I urge them to confirm that we need a long-lasting and well-functioning relationship with the Southern Mediterranean countries on mobility, as well as security, and that we are serious when we say that we are open to helping them on the path to democracy and economic progress.

I also urge them to back the European Commission's recent and revised proposals for asylum Directives so that we can reach a decision on the completion of a Common European Asylum System by 2012, a deadline which all EU countries have already committed to. This objective has been a common goal within the EU for more than a decade, but unfortunately negotiations have become deadlocked between the European Parliament and Member States who fear that common rules would be complicated and costly, and who have to deal with pressure from far-right movements at home. But the need for common regulations is pressing.

This all leads to the same conclusion: we need more solidarity, tolerance and responsibility in our asylum and migration policies, and we need to translate these principles into concrete action. I trust that the EU's Prime Ministers and Presidents will show leadership in these difficult times, by protecting the values that are now being challenged in many countries in Europe. I hope that this European Summit will confirm that solidarity and responsibility are still key principles worthy of being cherished within the European Union."

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