Member of the European Commission responsible for Home Affairs
The way forward for EU Home Affairs cooperation with Eastern Partners
Chisinau Conference "The Eastern Partners contribution to the Stockholm Programme: Synergies to improve mobility and strengthen security"
Chisinau, Moldova, 25 January 2011
Prime Minister, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to open today’s conference. This is my first visit to Moldova as European Commissioner for Home Affairs, and I take this opportunity to congratulate Prime Minister Filat on his recent re-election.
Coming to Chisinau yesterday, I had important news for Prime Minister Filat, namely the action plan for the next phase of the dialogue on visa liberalisation with Moldova. And I hope to leave this conference with many good ideas on how to further the cooperation between the European Union and our Eastern Partners in the area of justice and home affairs.
Over the last couple of years, the EU has focused on visa issues with the Western Balkans. This has not been an easy process, not least since visa liberalisation demands sometimes painful and costly structural reforms in many aspects of the home affairs area, such as the rule of law and biometric passports.
That being said, our Balkan friends have come a long way. In 2009 we managed to grant visa liberalisation with Serbia, Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia. Just before Christmas last year, visa liberalisation entered into force also for the citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am very pleased about that.
As I stand here today, both Moldova and Ukraine are in the process of making the reforms needed to be able to enjoy visa free travel to the EU. Other countries are also aiming for that same goal. I intend to propose the start of negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Armenia and Azerbaijan before the summer, and the visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Georgia will enter into force on 1 March.
However, many EU Member States are getting more and more reluctant towards further opening up the EU borders. After the visa liberalisation agreement with Serbia became effective, many Member States experienced a large inflow of Serbian migrants applying for asylum or wanting to stay within the EU beyond the 90 days authorised period. This is not what the visa liberalisation agreements are for. They are instead meant to make lives easier for our citizens, making it simpler to travel. To give people better means to meet each other is a huge achievement, but it must not be abused.
Against this background, I see all the more reason to continue our visa dialogue with both Moldova and Ukraine. The visa liberalisation action plan that I presented yesterday is key in this process. It outlines a two-phased approach. A first set of benchmarks on legislation and planning and a second set of more specific benchmarks, covering implementation and results on the ground.
The progress towards visa liberalisation will therefore depend on two factors; the partner country's ability to secure already achieved targets and that it continues to implement the reform agenda. There is no automaticity in this process; progress on the road towards visa free travel will depend solely on concrete achievements of our partner country. But I can assure you that the Commission's expertise and financial support are available to those willing to pursue the reform agenda. This is a long-term process that will take some time, but if you follow this plan, we will reach the goal. The European Commission stands by your side.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It will be of interest to both our Eastern Partners and the EU to seek ways to better manage migration and promote legal mobility. Mobility Partnerships constitute a political and practical framework for addressing all the relevant issues in a comprehensive manner.
I was very pleased that the Mobility Partnership between the EU and the Republic of Moldova was the first one to be signed in this region. It is a useful tool to better manage migration and mobility. Please allow me to express my appreciation for the way you have committed in making this Partnership fruitful.
In this respect, I want to mention a project, coordinated from Sweden, that brings together a network of around half of the EU labour market agencies with the Moldovan labour market agency. The aim is capacity building with a view to assist the Moldovan authorities to work with job seekers, by both providing information to potential migrants about legal migration opportunities and providing assistance to migrants returning to Moldova. This project could serve as a source of inspiration to other similar intiatives in the region.
The EU has also signed a Mobility Partnership with Georgia, in November 2009. Some thirty actions are currently being implemented, covering areas such as the strengthening of Georgia's capacity to manage labour migration, support return and reintegration of migrants, strengthening Georgia's capacity to monitor migration flows, border management, and strengthening its capacity in the field of asylum policy, as well as supporting Georgia in its efforts to implement the readmission agreement with the EU.
Recently, an EU financed initiative of 3 million euro started in Georgia. It is being led by the Czech Minister of Interior, in partnership with eight other EU Member States, and it is aiming at reinforcing Georgia's capacities to manage return migration and readmission, support social and economic reintegration of Georgian nationals and provide information campaigns for Georgian communities abroad, relevant Georgian organizations and Georgian general public on legal migration channels and sharing experiences on labour migration, including circular migration.
All these initiatives will also be relevant for the citizens of our Eastern partners. Mobility Partnerships have proven useful and I am committed to expand them with more Eastern partners over time, provided that there is sufficient interest on both sides.
In the field of visa liberalisation and migration policy, there are also other useful initiatives. I would like to mention the initiative of the Hungarian and the incoming Polish EU Presidency to promote the regional "Building Migration Partnership" Prague process, which started in 2009. I expect that the results will be complementary initiatives to migration-related activities under the Eastern Partnership.
We will need to be careful to avoid duplication among all the initiatives.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Eastern Europe is one of the priority regions for the EU Global Approach on Migration. Unfortunately, the current economic climate is not the best ground for promoting migration policies. But the truth is that the EU is facing structural demographic challenges. Last year, there were more deaths than newborns on our continent, and the European workforce has already started to decline. It might be hard to imagine, but although unemployment rates all across Europe are high today, in a few years time we will not be able to sustain our way of living without immigrants.
One part of the solution is to attract migrants with different skills, and we need well managed migration policies. This year, we will present a communication on addressing labour shortages through migration in EU Member States.
Within the EU, it is up to each Member State to decide on the volumes of migrant workers to admit, and this has to be fully respected. But this is not in contradiction to the fact that we need to make the EU more attractive, or that we need a common framework with clear admission rules and rights of migrant workers. We have already taken important steps in that direction, with the EU Blue Card Directive and proposed legislation on seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees last summer. But we need to do more.
We must improve labour matching and invest more in recognising qualifications and skills. And we must be more transparent about the realities of migration. The Commission has funded projects in both Ukraine and Moldova, where migration information centres provide basic information on the legal conditions of entry and stay in the EU. I am convinced that to be able to meet the challenges ahead, we must continue to open up more legal ways to Europe.
Our Moldovan hosts did well in taking the Stockholm Programme as the point of reference for this conference. I was Swedish Minister for EU Affairs at the time when the Programme was endorsed in Brussels. Translating it into concrete initiatives, by finalising the Stockholm Programme Action Plan, was one of my first priorities when I took office as EU Commissioner for Home Affairs a year ago.
It has already been two years since we embarked on the Eastern Partnership project. As you all know, in the area of justice and home affairs, important progress have been made since then. Sub-committees on justice and home affairs and migration dialogues have been established with Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. And most Eastern Partnership countries have further pursued a reform agenda, resulting in progress as regards the reform of the police and the judiciary, the fight against organized crime and corruption. Such reforms take time and much still remains to be done. Nonetheless, these steps are crucial for the rule of law in the region.
This year, we will review and deepen our cooperation. There is a ministerial conference of the European Neighbourhood partner countries next week; in April the Commission intends to issue a policy paper with a strategic review of the cooperation; and in May the Eastern Partnership Summit will take place. You can count on the European Commission as a constructive partner in all of this.
Increased cooperation is in everybody's interest. That is why I intend to present, in June this year, an Action Plan on how to continue our fruitful cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries in the area of justice and home affairs. This is envisaged in the Stockholm Programme, and I look forward to continuing to work and to exchange ideas on how we can achieve our joint objectives.
As you know, these joint objectives do not only cover visa issues and migration. Other challenges where we need increased cooperation are the fight against corruption and organised crime, protecting fundamental rights, and reforms of the judiciary and the police. These issues go hand in hand, and I therefore encourage all Eastern partners to pursue further reforms. This is of course important in its own right, but it is also an indispensable aspect of increasing mobility.
When I leave you to your discussions in a little while, I will go to visit a shelter for victims of trafficking in human beings. Human trafficking is a horrible form of organised crime, and a gross violation of human rights. This is a crime that we need to fight together. There is broad political agreement within the EU to do this, and I am very pleased that the European Parliament recently voted in favour of new EU legislation that I had proposed to see tougher action against the criminals and better protection of the victims.
To fight this modern-day slavery is one of my key priorities. Just before Christmas, we launched an anti-trafficking website, and at the same time I appointed for the first time an EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator to bring together all different policy areas in this very important fight. These are important steps, but we must also be realistic – trafficking in human beings will never be totally eradicated. Continued efforts will be needed to fight the criminals profiting from other people's misery. We look forward to continued cooperation with our Eastern partners in this area.
To summarise, all these areas go hand in hand. Visa liberalisation, migration, mobility, regional cooperation, protecting fundamental rights, and fighting corruption, cross-border and organised crime are all vital for continuing to make our cooperation fruitful in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today, and to share some of my reflections on our most valuable cooperation. We look forward to hear your reflections, because if we are to succeed in developing our cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs, we need all ideas and suggestions. This conference is a great opportunity to discuss the best way forward, and for me to get your input on the Action Plan on Eastern Partnership cooperation.
I wish you all a very productive conference.