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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Migration flows and asylum and their impact on Schengen

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 10 May 2011

Mr President,

Minister Győri,

Distinguished Members of this Parliament,

Today we are here to debate migration and cross-border movement of European citizens.

But let me start by reminding all of us that yesterday was the 61st anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, which laid the foundations of the European Union. And from that day began a process in which European people have willingly come together, and put aside their differences, to build a European continent without borders, where our citizens can move freely between countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, for regions like the one we are now here in Strasbourg, which are like Alsace, living on a frontier no longer equates to borders. And these benefits extend far beyond these border regions. For the vast majority of European citizens, the right to move freely is the embodiment of the European project – one of the most tangible results of the EU project. And, I am pleased to say, most Europeans use their right to the full – making around 1.25 billion journeys as tourists within the EU every year.

That would be completely impossible without the European Union. Yes, it would and it was not the case. I still remember when to go from Portugal to Spain we had to overcome so many difficulties. So it is indeed a great progress of civilization that countries are able to put borders down and to let citizens flow freely.

Moreover, for the economy as well, free movement is central to success of the Single Market and to Europe's continued efforts to boost growth and jobs.

To put it plainly, ladies and gentlemen, free movement is to Europe what foundations are to buildings. Remove it and the whole structure is undermined.

Last week the Commission presented a communication on a more structured approach to migration, referring, among others, to a possible proposal on a reinforced Schengen governance system. Other proposals will follow in the next weeks. I want to praise the work of Commissioner Malmström, who with great intelligence and sensitivity is doing her best to find the right approach to such a complex matter.

Let me concentrate on the governance of Schengen as I understand this is the most important concern here in the Parliament. Of course, there are many other proposals like the reinforcement of FRONTEX, like the Common European Asylum System, but I hope we will have other occasions to go deeper in that discussion.

Already last year, the Commission put forward proposals to preserve and strengthen the evaluation mechanism of Schengen as a central "acquis" of our common project. And I want to underline: already last year, well before the recent developments, the Commission has identified some problems in the governance of Schengen. We will now update and complete these proposals and will do all we can to come to swift results.

The current migration situation in the Mediterranean and resulting pressures have highlighted some weaknesses and uncoordinated reactions by Member States in the management of Schengen.

In the wake of these exceptional circumstances, we urgently need to reinforce the governance of Schengen and of the external borders. We need a better coordination between the European Commission and the Member States and above all between the Member States themselves.

While recent events have provided a spark of urgency to bring this to the table, the Commission takes this opportunity, through the Communication, to address the long-standing, underlying inconsistencies and unresolved issues that have provided scope for some Member States to act unilaterally, and not necessarily with an EU perspective.

It is time to nip this tendency in the bud, to stop it "ab ovo".

The Commission has already taken short-term measures to deal with the situation in the Mediterranean. In addition, the package we put forward last week urges a rational reflection, taking into account short-term needs of strengthening external borders, as well as a broad approach to asylum and migration. These must also be considered in the light of our neighbourhood policy, trade with North Africa and support of democratisation, as well as Europe's own long-term labour shortages and efforts to boost European competitiveness.

Honourable members, this is not a knee-jerk reaction. This is not an improvisation. This is, and must be, a broad scope of measures that are built on the foundations of a strong and successful EU policy, and are defined in the best interests of the EU and its citizens now and into the future.

At the same time, it aims to give relief to those Member States who are trying to cope with an unfair share of the migration burden. When thousands of people arrive on the shores of one country, it is not just because they dream of living in Malta or Lampedusa, it is because they are seeking a better life in Europe. Countries that are more directly exposed to massive migrant inflows cannot be expected to deal with them alone. The rules on free movement of citizens benefit all countries in the EU. It is the duty of all countries to support countries under particular pressure at one time or another. This means that burdens have to be shared equitably. This means also that all Member States need to take their responsibilities seriously. When looking at burden-sharing, all the pressures and all the contributions need to be taken into account. And this is the very spirit of the European Union; the management of crisis by solidarity and responsibility. Solidarity and responsibility are the key words in our response. Immigration is a European challenge, immigration requires a European response.

That is why the Commission's proposal aims at a step further in Union governance of the Schengen system, showing that there can be solidarity between Member States. It is about common governance, not unilateral moves. I emphasize once again: this is part of an overall approach. The strengthening of FRONTEX belongs to this as well as the move to a Common European Asylum System.

Honourable members,

Allow me to make one point crystal clear – this is not about finding ways for Member States to re-introduce border controls. I firmly believe that to do so would catastrophically undermine not just what Europe has constructed over the last 61 years, but to sabotage the viability of our efforts to build a prosperous and integrated Europe for the future.

Moreover, Member States already have the right to unilaterally exercise this option under the existing Schengen system. This right has even been exercised in the past to help Member States cope with short-term, punctual and exceptional circumstances, such as in the wake of terrorist attacks or movement of drugs.

These exceptions should remain exceptions. For I cannot emphasise strongly enough, that reintroducing border controls is not a desirable development for Europe, neither in the current circumstances, nor for the future challenges that we will face sooner or later. They should be an absolute last resort.

Moreover, we all know that internal controls can be sporadically useful, but they are not part of a constructive approach to European integration. Nor do they represent a cost-efficient long term solution to monitoring movement and coping with immigration pressure. This has always been the case. The fact is that when faced with massive arrivals of migrants, no Member State will be ultimately in a better position if they try to deal with them alone. Only if all Member States face the situation together, a lasting solution can be found.

The proposals we put forward one year ago to strengthen Schengen, through an evaluation mechanism, and an intensified coordination of border surveillance, will help create a sense of Union-wide discipline and shared guidance in the system. They will ensure that, in the future, countries will not feel pressured to take decisions alone that affect all Schengen signatories.

This is not, I emphasise, a new policy that undermines the Union. It is a chance to strengthen it – a step forward for joined EU governance, not a step back. It is to reinforce the Schengen "acquis", not to go out of the Schengen "acquis". We cannot be blind and not face the fact that last events have revealed a problem in Schengen governance that we have to solve. If we do not reinforce the existing mechanisms, Member States will continue to act alone. They will in fact be encouraged to act alone. We will be giving arguments to the populists or the extremists, sometimes to the xenophobes that want to put into question the great "acquis communautaire" in this area. This is why we think the best way to avoid putting Schengen at risk is exactly to reinforce the rules of governance of Schengen and clarify some of its aspects.

This is not about caving into pressure from any part of Europe. By enhancing our capacity to deal with crisis situations, it will put a more robust governance system in place that will equip decision-makers with better tools to resist populist or extremist pressure in the future.

It is not a proposal just to deal with short term events. But there can only be real confidence in the long term solutions if we show that we can effectively address the short term issues as well.

It is not about turning back time, it is about getting the governance right today for the challenges Europe will surely face tomorrow.

It is not about abandoning citizens' rights of free movement; it is about valuing their integrity by strengthening the rules.

I am confident that this House will support our approach and our efforts. We are united in our determination to keep up the principles on which our Union is founded against any populist temptation. We know that it is now fashionable in some quarters to be extremist or populist or even to wave sometimes the flags of xenophobia. This in not what we are going to do. We will resist all these kinds of pressure. But to succeed in this, we need to give citizens the confidence that we stand firm on two things: first, on correcting the shortcomings of the existing system, so that effective relief can be brought to situations of pressure and crisis; second, on ensuring, on this basis, the full respect of human rights and humanitarian principles on which our Union is founded. The people are ready to exercise solidarity, internally and externally, if they are confident that their security concerns are addressed, decisively and comprehensively.

I count on the support of this House in calling on the Member States to quickly take the necessary decisions. Our proposals are on the table. Now is not a time to wait. Now is a time to act, so that an open European Union comes out of this challenge united and stronger.

Thank you for your attention.

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