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European Commission

Cecilia Malmström

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs

Speech by Commissioner Malmström at the State of the Union Conference: Europe should give migrants the opportunities they deserve

State of the Union Conference/Florence, Italy

9 May 2013

Today is 9 May 2013. If we look 30 years ahead, on 30 May 2030, the world will look quite different. That is only 17 years away but many things – predictable and unpredictable - will have changed. But we can also be sure that other things will not have changed.

We will still want to live in a prosperous and peaceful Europe; we would also want this for our children and grandchildren. We would like to have a good doctor if we need one and we would want our children and grandchildren to have access to education and a decent job. That is what I want for my children. But we cannot take this for granted with the crisis. We are going through a very severe crisis and it will take time before we get our economy back on track.

By 2030, we will also be much older. There will be very little indigenous population growth in some countries and the population in working age in some countries will have shrunk.

How can we respond to this? Let me give you some reflections. Of course, we need to step up all our efforts to stimulate economic growth. We need to reform labour participation; Europe cannot afford to have the best educated housewives any longer. We need to do educational reforms and invest in research and development. We need to increase the possibilities to move within the internal market and we need to address youth unemployment. But we also need to make a much better use of the skills and talents we already have here in Europe, particularly among migrants and refugees. Too many of them have no job at all or a job below their skill level. And many of them are European citizens or aspiring to become European citizens. We also know that there is untapped potential of entrepreneurship amongst this community but unemployment is helas very high.

Some countries do better than others and we need to learn the lessons. Migrants and refugees have a pool of skills and talents which is untapped and we need to make use of it. Whilst stepping up integration efforts we should not deny the challenges: people today are facing a very difficult situation and feel insecure about their own future. This environment breeds fertile ground for xenophobic and populist and even racist movements. This requires leadership and we all have to stand up against easy solutions and avoid that migrants become the scapegoats of this phenomenon.

We need to make difficult political choices. How do we address the pressure of more people arriving in the cities? How do we provide housing and social services? How do local authorities find the answers to do what it takes to manage increasingly diverse societies? Absorbing new citizens and migrants is not easy but we do want an inclusive Europe, we have to make it happen and we have to meet this challenge. This is of course a two-way integration process: migrants will be required to do their part like all citizens; they have to learn the language, respect the laws and rules of the host society and do what they can to integrate successfully. At the same time, the majority society has to make sure that migrants are treated as full members of our society with both the rights and obligations that follow.

The Italian Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge spoke very passionately about citizenship. This is an issue that is decided at national level and where there are no harmonized EU rules, but facts show that if you have the possibility to become a citizen in your new community you will have a stronger feeling of belonging. Therefore I very much welcome that this is discussed in Italy and elsewhere.

We should also stop criminalising people because they cannot show the right papers and stop blaming migrants for problems they have not caused. This is the only way to enable migrants to achieve what they aspire to: be full part of our society and live well in our communities and be able to provide for their families like all of us.

We do have high unemployment rates and this is of course a tragedy for million of individuals and for our societies and our economies but, at the same time, we also know that there are serious labour shortages in Europe. Millions of jobs are and will remain unfilled in the future. How do we deal with this paradox? We are short of people in some sectors - engineering, IT, health - and we also have, at the same time, millions of unemployed.

This again demands a very strong political leadership because in order to grow Europe needs skilled people. And while many Europeans are out of work, businesses also have to look elsewhere. This is a very difficult message to send but our demographic development is indeed a huge challenge for the future.

From the EU side we are trying to put some pieces in place and we have the first blocks of a common European migration policy. We already have the so called Blue Card fro skilled workers and there are proposals on common rules for intra-corporate transfers, seasonal workers and students and researchers as well. These proposals are being negotiated.

We also have to adapt to changing mobility patterns. An increasing amount of people in the world today can choose where to go and many of them will not choose Europe. International statistics show that people tend to go elsewhere while we need them to come here. We need to make the European Union an attractive place to go to. This is why we have to put in place flexible admission policies and reform our visa policies. We must be clear about the skills that we need. We need to identify the labour sectors that have potential and we have to work with businesses to define our policies. We also need to reach out to the countries where people can come from and above all, once again, we need to make Europe an attractive place to come to.

Everybody has a role to play here: politicians, academics, the business sector and media. We all need to contribute to changing the attitudes. Political leaders need to show the courage to tell the truth about the current situation. They have to explain why Europe needs these people and how we can make this possible. Academics have a very important role to play to dismantle some of the worst myths and to show the facts and the evidence of what societies look like today and what they will look like in the future and what role migration really plays. We need business leaders to step up and speak out about their demands, their expectations and their arguments. The role of media is important in order to give migration a human face and to give migrants a voice and help getting away from stereotypes.

So to conclude, migration and citizenship are areas that will have a big influence on how Europe will evolve in the coming years. Migrants are often asylum-seekers who come to us and ask for shelter and international protection. I am very happy that we will very soon have common rules and standards on how to receive people who are asking for protection. Let me stress that many of these people are skilled and they must be given a possibility to realize and fulfil their potential in their new countries. As for other groups of migrants, we need to look at possibilities for well-managed migration in order to bring benefits to them, to our citizens and to our economies. Our response to this depends on whether Europe comes out stronger or weaker economically, socially, culturally.

To reap the benefits of migration we need open, transparent, realistic policies and strong political leadership. We need a Europe open to the world, a Europe that gives people the opportunities they deserve.

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