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Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
A better management of migration to the EU
Press conference on communication on migration
Brussels, 4 May 2011
Today we have adopted a Communication which outlines a comprehensive strategy for a common EU asylum and migration policy.
The Commission has been working intensively for quite some time, with the Council and with the European Parliament and other stakeholders on these issues.
Progress has been made but a lot still needs to be done. We have the intention, with this Communication, to bring our work forward and to set out our long-term political vision on the different aspects of our migration policy.
Our ambitions have been reinforced by the recent events in the Southern Mediterranean. While the historical changes in the region bring hope for a better life for millions of people in our neighbourhood, as well as for greater respect of human rights, pluralism, the rule of law and social justice, the political unrest and military conflicts have also led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
The EU has supported the democratic aspirations of these people, and we must continue to provide a long term support for the process of transformation taking place in the region and the migratory movements that has resulted.
The vast majority of the over 650 000 people fleeing the violence have found hospitality in the neighbouring countries, primarily in Tunisia and Egypt, which are shouldering the greatest burden.
So far, very few people seeking international protection have come to Europe. However, since the start of the Hermes operation in the Mediterranean on the 20 February this year, over 25 000 people have arrived by sea to the EU, mainly to Italy and to Malta.
Of them only a few thousand have asked for international protection, to be compared with the 236,000 that asked for asylum last year.
This increased migratory pressure on some of the Member States has raised questions about the efficiency of European migration policies. While the EU response to the emergency situation has been comprehensive, the current crisis has exposed the fact that there are still ways in which the EU can better deal with such situations and with migration management generally.
The Communication addresses issues in a comprehensive way – because it all goes together. Visa policy cannot exist without an efficient border control; irregular migration cannot be addressed unless we have proper return and readmission policy; we cannot give international protection without a common asylum policy that is fair and efficient; legal migration cannot succeed if it is not accompanied by integration.
This document is a catalogue of initiatives to come. When and if they are all in place we can really talk about a true European migration policy.
The current crisis has confirmed the need for increased solidarity at EU level and a better sharing of the responsibilities.
We need to step up our efforts to further alleviate the burdens on the most affected Member States and to make sure that we have an effective system of migration management which increases the trust among Member States when it comes to migration.
As you know, we have prolonged the pilot project to Malta. We are still monitoring the situation very closely and it is possible – not today, not tomorrow but if the situation worsens – that we will trigger the temporary protection directive.
We are also seeking new ways to deliver concrete solidarity using the tools that we have: our agencies, our financial assistance and other forms of cooperation. And we must also show continued support towards North Africa, to the people there in need of international protection. And for that purpose, next week the Commission is hosting a conference to discuss resettlement for Malta but also from North Africa.
In order to have a functioning migration policy we must ensure that people can trust that we have functioning border controls. We need to strengthen Frontex, as the Commission proposed already a year ago and we must make sure that the Member States can effectively control their portion of the external borders.
We are going to propose intensified cooperation on border surveillance, and the feasibility of some kind of European border guard system. We will put forward different proposals to the Member States concerning smarter border initiatives to facilitate crossings for bona fide travellers but also to make sure that we have better control of the border with an entry-exit system etc. This is provided for in the Stockholm programme.
Lately there has been a lot of discussion about Schengen. Schengen is a fantastic achievement that we secured in the European Union and we should protect and defend it. It is a beautiful achievement for the mobility of the people of the European Union.
It can of course be improved and that should be done by better evaluation, better governance, and better implementation. The Commission will also issue guidelines in order to guide the Member States on how it should be implemented.
We will look at the possible introduction of a suspension mechanism under very strict conditions, monitored on a European level.
We are also looking at the visa issue and a modification of the visa directive with a safeguard clause in case of abuse; as well as different ways in which we can facilitate the use of the current tools that we have such as the visa code, the Schengen borders code; and also the possibility of setting up joint visa application centres in neighbouring countries.
Secure borders do not mean that we are constructing fortress Europe. It will still be possible for people to seek international protection in the European Union and we must also keep it open for the labour migration that we so desperately need.
Migrants contribute a lot to European economy, to European culture, to European human resources. They create new jobs and bring new ideas and new innovation and help fill the gaps in labour that we cannot fill from within the European Union. They also help address the demographic challenge that European societies are facing.
We will make proposals in line with the European 2020 Agenda within the year.
Of course, legal migrants also need to be integrated. There are a lot of good experiences in the European Union, but also some less positive ones. We will also propose in a few weeks, a Communication on integration building on best practices in Member States, trying to identify models and mechanisms that are necessary, and focusing very much on local solutions.
As we celebrate this year the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Convention the European Union must live up to its vocation to offer a haven to those in need of protection.
It is now time to complete the Common European Asylum System. Negotiations are ongoing, there is progress, but it is still too slow. We need an agreementon the asylum package by 2012, as was agreed by all Member States.
We also need to have an agreement on the European resettlement programme. II know that progress is being made between the Council and the European Parliament on this.
Finally, we need a strong partnership with the North African countries to find a long term solution to migration issues.
We have already started to discuss mobility partnerships with Egypt and Tunisia, building on all aspects of migration: border, control of irregular migration, fighting traffickers who make a lot of money in this business but also measures that facilitate legal migration and labour migration. We need to have a strategic approach to this.
Later this year we will put forth a proposal on a global approach to migration building on partnerships with third countries.
I am fully convinced that we need a robust political debate on migration and asylum, and I am looking forward to discussing these issues with the interior ministers at the Justice and Home Affairs Council next week. Today the Commission has contributed to that debate with a strong message: Europe needs to strengthen the existing rules, and not to undermine them. We need to address this challenging and evolving situation through long-term measures based on the values of the respect for law and the respect of international conventions and, not through a short-term approach limited to border control. We need leadership that can stand up against populist and simplistic solutions. We need clarity, responsibility and solidarity. We need more Europe, not less.