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European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
Promoting innovation and growth: Towards a forward looking EU Migration and Mobility policy
Inauguration of the Migration Policy Centre/Florence, Italy
25 June 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here with you today in such a beautiful environment on the occasion of such an important event. The launch of the Migration Policy Centre is the culmination of a lot of hard work and I would like to thank everyone who has played a part in its creation.
Not only are there good reasons for setting up the Migration Policy Centre, this is also a good time to do it.
The European Union is facing significant challenges in a fast-changing world. Migration can help us meet some of those challenges, but migration also poses challenges of its own.
The EU will have to adapt its policies to keep pace with these challenges — and we need the Migration Policy Centre to help us make those choices.
In a few minutes, I shall outline what I believe are the four key requirements for effective policy-making in this field. But before doing so, let me comment briefly on the main subjects that you have chosen for this event, subjects that correspond to the EU's priorities for its migration policy.
First, we need to ensure that migration and mobility support economic growth in Europe.
It will not be long before this continent starts to feel the impact of its ageing population and its shrinking workforce. Without net migration, the EU’s working age population will have shrunk by 12 per cent by 2030.
In just three years’ time, in the field of information technology, we will be short of as many as 700 000 workers! And by 2020 we could be short of two million doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
Even today, when unemployment is exceptionally high, many Member States are facing labour and skills shortages in some sectors.
Of course, tackling unemployment needs to be our first priority and immigration cannot be the only answer to the demographic crisis. But the reality is that many Member States will not be able to meet their future labour needs with a purely home-grown or even EU-wide workforce.
So Europe will increasingly need skilled workers and talented professionals from outside our borders. History tells us that countries which remain open and attract the best talent keep pace with their competitors. Those who shut their borders gradually fall behind.
So we need a demand-driven labour immigration policy to ensure Europe’s future prosperity and economic growth.
The basis for such a policy is being established. We have introduced the ‘Blue Card’ scheme; we are working to facilitate the access to the EU for intra-corporate transferees and we are introducing fair rules for seasonal workers.
But we need to do more. Given the importance of wider economic migration issues, I plan to launch a public consultation on this subject later this year. I am counting on the Migration Policy Centre to make a major contribution to these discussions.
The second priority for EU migration policy is for us to redefine our relationship with our neighbouring countries, both to the East and to the South.
Respect for human rights and the promotion of democratic values are basic principles upon which the EU was founded. The EU therefore has a special responsibility to help people who struggle against the odds to overcome oppressive regimes.
But in 2011, when the Arab Spring broke out, we failed to live up to those responsibilities. Instead of helping these countries and giving protection to those in need, the EU was too concerned with security issues and simply closed its borders.
It's as if we said "It's wonderful that you've started a revolution and want to embrace democracy, but we have an economic crisis to deal with so we can't help".
In short, we missed a historic opportunity to show the North African countries, and the rest of the world, that the EU was committed to defending its fundamental values.
We must not repeat that mistake – and that is why we are changing our policies. For example:
Right now we are negotiating ‘mobility partnerships’ with Tunisia and Morocco which I hope will be signed before the end of the year. These partnerships cover all aspects of migration — from asylum, border control, readmission and the fight against trafficking, to legal migration and visa facilitation.
As I said earlier, we need to change our relationship not only with our southern but also with our eastern neighbours. That is why we are having constructive dialogues on migration and related matters with most of our eastern partners.
The good news is that the Eastern Partnership as a whole is developing quickly. We are working well together on migration and mobility issues, and we recently set up a ‘migration panel’ to boost multilateral cooperation in this area.
On the bilateral level, we already have mobility partnerships with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, and we hope soon to sign one with Azerbaijan. With Ukraine and Moldova we are discussing how to liberalise our visa arrangements.
So in all these ways we have laid the foundations for an effective European migration policy.
But we need to further strengthen our relationship with our neighbours in a way that is mutually beneficial. Moreover, the realities in our neighbouring countries are constantly changing — so our migration policy too must be constantly updated and adapted.
This is where I see an important role for the Migration Policy Centre.
As I said earlier, for me there are four key requirements for effective migration policy-making. Let me now outline what they are, and say how the MPC can contribute to each of them.
First, strong evidence
Policies need to be based on facts – and defended by factual arguments. This is particularly the case with EU migration policy.
The impact and costs of migration policy measures are often unknown, so we need a stronger evidence base.
Moreover, people fear the unknown, and unscrupulous populist politicians are quick to exploit people’s fears. They blame migrants for our economic woes. Their mantra will be familiar to most of you: "Migrants are coming over here, taking our jobs, forcing down our wages and exploiting our welfare systems".
This statement is alarmist, misleading and wrong. It is the worst kind of politics, exploiting people’s insecurities and worries about the future. The populists' proposed solutions are simplistic, ill-thought out and simply unworkable.
We must counter such assertions with facts.
Reliable evidence is our best defence.
I therefore call on the Migration Policy Centre to provide strong evidence on which to base our policy measures and with which to defend them.
Evidence about the contribution migrants make to our societies, both in cultural and economic terms.
Evidence that immigrants do not ‘steal’ jobs from native-born workers and that well-designed migration policies do not drive down wages.
Evidence that migrants pay more in taxes than they receive from the state and are not a burden on the overall public welfare system.
The second key requirement is close cooperation with our partner countries
While focusing on the EU's labour markets and societies, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Europe is not alone. It is an actor on the world stage.
Migration is not only to somewhere, it is also from somewhere — and in order to fully understand it we need to know the situation in the sending as well as the receiving countries.
This is where the MPC's expertise will be so valuable. The Centre has connections with many leading academics and policymakers in all our neighbouring countries.
Indeed, a number of those people are with us today and I very much welcome their participation. So I look to the Migration Policy Centre for cutting-edge research that brings us a deep and clear understanding of migration seen from both ends of the process.
This research will provide vital input into the policy dialogues we are having with our partners in our southern neighbourhood – by which I mean North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean basin.
Good research will help us help our neighbours in the best way possible – and they certainly deserve that help!
When I visited Tunisia at the end of March last year, I was impressed by the people’s determination to make their liberated country a success. Here, and throughout the region, we need to constantly assess whether our policies are providing an effective response to their historic challenges.
We must also keep up progress in the East. Cooperation with our eastern partners on migration is proving successful, and we need to keep up the momentum and work even more closely together.
Here too the Migration Policy Centre has an important role to play. The Policy Centre is already a meeting place where partners holding different views can engage in open and constructive debate.
I would like to encourage the Centre to continue playing this role — keeping policymakers alert to the situation in, and the interests of, our eastern neighbour countries.
The third key requirement is for greater innovation.
Migration is a multifaceted phenomenon and is driven by a range of economic, personal and cultural considerations. It can bring the EU a wide range of benefits, including greater competitiveness, but only if we tap this potential in intelligent and innovative ways.
The EU therefore needs innovative immigration policies that constantly evolve to maximise the benefits to our economy and society. And these policies, in turn, require the constant input of world-class research.
So I am particularly happy that the Migration Policy Centre is part of the European University Institute, one of the world's leading research centres in social sciences and the humanities.
It can bring together the best brains in areas such as demography, economics, sociology and foreign affairs.
Research in all these fields is essential as a basis for migration policy. I strongly advocate a multi-disciplinary approach to migration research — the kind of approach already well-established here at the EUI.
The fourth requirement, in my view, is deeper engagement with stakeholders.
Governments cannot make effective migration policies in isolation. They need to talk with business and industry, with international organisations and with academics. The same is true for EU policy-makers – and they, in addition, need to talk with the governments of both source and destination countries.
This kind of dialogue is already happening, of course, but often in a rather informal way. I believe we need to reinforce our dialogue with the main stakeholders — and the Migration Policy Centre can provide an important platform for putting this dialogue on a firmer and more systematic footing.
The Centre should also become a place where EU and national government officials can meet to discuss migration issues with academics and thus become engaged in new ways of thinking.
Finally, let me stress that the Migration Policy Centre is not just a research institute. One of its main tasks should be to translate research findings into policy recommendations. It is not by accident that the Centre is called a POLICY centre.
The focus on policy also means that we expect the Centre to come up not only with hard facts and deep insights, but also with clear advice on the direction EU policies should take — explaining why and, if possible, how. That's a huge challenge, I know! But this is a time of huge challenges. Let's rise to the occasion.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, let me say this.
Migration has always been, and will always be, a part of what makes Europe. I look upon it primarily as an asset — giving individual people the chance to improve their lives and giving European countries a way to strengthen their economies.
Europe must therefore embrace those opportunities and take advantage of the benefits that migration brings — both cultural and economic.
But in order to do so we need innovative policies — based on hard evidence — and we need to step up and defend those policies using strong, convincing arguments.
By working closely together with our partner countries to the East and South, and with the key stakeholders here in Europe, we can and must ensure that migration is indeed a force for innovation, a force for growth, and a force for good in the world.