José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Study days of the European People's Party (EPP)
Palermo, 6 May 2011
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
Once again I am very pleased to be here in Palermo to attend the study days of the European People's Party. Palermo is indeed a most symbolic location for this gathering of leading European and national politicians.
I want specifically thank our Italian friends, the Head of the Italian Delegation to the EPP, my good friend Mario Mauro and others who have organised this and in fact I want to tell you how active they have been in these specific issues regarding the Mediterranean and also migration. I have personally received Mario Mauro several times, I've been working with our Italian friends to see the specific concerns they have here in Italy and specifically in Sicily and Lampedusa. Because we know that not very far from here, the most dramatic developments have been taking place and this impact has been clear on the shores of Sicily and Lampedusa. Carried by the democratic aspirations of their peoples, our Southern neighbourhood countries are undergoing profound transformations. And I think it is important to analyse what is going on and what can be our response to it.
The European Union has clearly expressed its support for these democratic transitions in words and in action, namely in the context of our Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity. This partnership will provide support and encouragement for these transitions, strengthened relations with civil society and also help for the development of sustainable and inclusive economies. In doing so, we will offer "more for more", depending on progress made in each country. For instance for Tunisia, which is the most advanced in terms of democratic transition, we are ready to mobilise 140 million EUR in support for the period 2011-2013.
We are looking at the whole region and we will work with our partners there and for that I also count very much on Italy. Italy is one of the most important countries in this region with great knowledge, with very important contacts and of course the specific contribution that Italy can make is very much appreciated.
Our strategy boils down to one concrete message: through this partnership, we want the Mediterranean to unite us and not to divide us! This is the real point. We have now the opportunity, finally, to have the Mediterranean together, to have the North and South of the Mediterranean working together in democracy, in stability for joint prosperity.
We have to turn the difficulties of the present into great opportunities for this region in the future. In three weeks time together with the President of the European Council I will represent the EU at the G8 summit in Deauville. There also, we will be pushing for a strong message of support to the democratic transition in the region.
But of course these transitions taking place on the other side of the Mediterranean are also leading us to take a fresh look at our migration policy. And today - just a few days after the Commission tabled a comprehensive strategy for progress towards a common European migration and asylum policy - migration was at the heart of our discussions here in Palermo. This was an excellent occasion to exchange views on the challenges and opportunities for European Union. As Commission President, I am very happy that there was a strong convergence of views around the main elements of the proposals of the Commission, Particularly on the following four issues:
First, we have to do more to forge cooperation with third countries including on migration issues;
Second, we have to do more together, in a spirit of responsibility and solidarity, in full respect of human rights, to control our external borders and to deal with the issue of irregular migration;
Third, as well as fighting irregular migration we need to tackle legal migration and integration and continue building our common European Asylum System.
Fourth, and maybe most importantly: we must not take migratory pressure as an excuse to roll back our achievements of border-free travelling inside the EU.
We, the Commission, say clearly: we will not abandon Schengen. Schengen is one of the biggest achievements of our Union – in terms of freedom and in terms of security. However, it is not perfect and it can and must evolve. We will do the necessary to uphold and improve its functioning. Temporary and exceptional re-introduction of border controls can and will be only a solution of last resort.
I am particularly happy about the wide consensus on this point of principle that we have seen on this here in Palermo. At the same time I hope that the message coming from Palermo will arrive to the Member States and to all capitals to the Member States. We need them to work closer in this matter. Let me just give an example: FRONTEX. FRONTEX is a European Agency but we in the EU do not have ships, we do not have planes so FRONTEX depends on the cooperation, on the means, on the human resources and the technical means that the member states are ready to put for the common good.
So I hope that this message is clearly heard also in all our capitals. We need concrete solidarity, practical solidarity. This is the best way to achieve our goal of a joint European approach to migration and I believe that it is in the interest of all our citizens and the citizens of our neighbourhood.