European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
The way forward for the Family Reunification Directive
European Parliament Economic and Social Committee Public Hearing on the right to family Reunification of Third Country Nationals living in the EU
Brussels, 31 May 2012
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving me the opportunity to open the 7th European Integration Forum which this time takes the form of a public hearing on family reunification.
I am glad that we have opted for this formula as it allows us to bring together Forum members, who are experts on migrants' integration, and the contributors to the Green Paper, including representatives of national governments, with an interest in family reunification.
The wide range of backgrounds and perspectives represented at the event today will no doubt lead to a lively and fruitful discussion.
I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who have contributed their views to date. The response to the consultation has been excellent, both in terms of quantity and quality and has reflected the breadth of opinion in this area.
Family life is a fundamental right for everyone and family reunification is a right flowing from it, acknowledged by the Member States and enshrined in the Directive on family reunification for third-country nationals (2003/86/EC). It is a right that must be genuinely used and it is important that Member States can efficiently fight misuse wherever it occurs.
On the other hand, the right to family reunification should be protected and we must identify and remove any disproportionate barriers that prevent third country nationals from exercising this right.
Today, the topics of the public hearing will address this tension between preventing misuse while ensuring the right to family reunification. The topics have been chosen to address the concerns of those who have contributed to the public consultation.
In all four sessions, the discussion will centre on whether current national processes and rules create the appropriate balance between rights and obligations.
The first panel on integration measures will explore whether such measures serve the purpose of integration and whether they lead to undue barriers for family reunification.
The second panel on the right to family reunification in the application process will emphasise the need to take into account the individual circumstances and the best interest of the child.
The third panel will deal with the asylum specific parts of the family reunification process.
The fourth panel will address issues related to fraud with specific regard to marriages of convenience on the basis of data provided by the recent European Migration Network study on this topic. The study will be presented today for the first time.
From the analysis of contributions to date it appears that stakeholders – both NGOs and most Member States – are not asking to re-open the Directive but consider it more useful to ensure its correct implementation through more active implementation policies.
This can be accomplished through infringements or interpretative guidelines.
In addition to the consultation contributions, both Member States and NGOs have also recently made specific suggestions for policy actions going forward, for which we are very grateful.
When it comes to the correct implementation of the present EU rules, the Commission will continue to closely monitor Member States' present legislative and administrative practice and will act if necessary to ensure compliance with the current EU rules.
In its report, the Commission had already identified certain areas where implementation of the EU rules seems to be problematic in more than one Member State. Efforts will be intensified to ensure compliance and, if necessary, we will initiate infringement procedures.
As regards interpretative guidelines, the Commission is open to preparing them. Due to the small number of relevant court cases that could form the basis of such guidelines, elaborating them will be more complex than for other Directives. This is the reason why further work is needed to develop these guidelines.
The Commission welcomes the statement published by NGOs on 15 May which already goes some way towards identifying the key issues where guidelines are required, such as the length of procedures, integration measures and definition of family members.
The Commission is committed to making the process of developing guidelines as inclusive as possible. We are considering organising discussions with interested stakeholders and Member States.
An inclusive follow-up process will help us all satsify the common desire that the European rules on family reunification are genuinely and efficiently used, and that there is a sustainable mechanism to ensure it.
To conclude, I hope that today's discussion will help crystallise what the next steps should be. Without pre-judging the outcome of today's public hearing, I am prepared to take a decision on the policy follow-up in the event it is needed but I am in any case committed to ensuring that the process of this follow-up will remain inclusive at all stages.
Thank you for your attention and I will now pass the floor to the next speakers before opening a general debate with you.