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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Progress in EU migration policy since 1999
Metropolis Conference/Tampere, Finland
13 September 2013
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of this important event with such a wide and dynamic composition of researchers, policy makers and practitioners from all over the world.
Tampere can truly be considered as the cradle of the area of freedom, security and justice. It was here in October 1999 when the European Council held a special meeting that set the milestones for the development of a European area of freedom, security and justice.
14 years later, I am very grateful for having the opportunity as the Commissioner for Home Affairs to have been part of this process the past years.
One of the areas where I have devoted enormous amounts of time and energy from day one as Commissioner is to create a Common European Asylum System within the EU.
And I am very proud to say that about two months ago we finally adopted the Asylum package, one of the cornerstones of the area of freedom security and justice.
It is fair to say that in 1999 not many would have bet that we would get so far in less than 15 years. But it is also fair to say that we still need to do more.
When looking back we have made a number of achievements since Tampere in the area of asylum and migration. There have also been challenges that we still face. I will go through some of our highlights as well as look a bit into the future to see where we will need to move to further improve the area.
Developments of EU migration and asylum policies Asylum
Let me start with asylum. Our precious Schengen area, which leads to the free movement of persons, means that we also need to have a common asylum system. You cannot have open borders, free movement for citizens, Schengen visas and common rules on immigration, but then not have a common asylum policy. It just wouldn’t work. And it didn’t work before. The system was already unstable – so we had to fix it.
The Tampere Programme heralded the beginning of the Common European Asylum System. It led to the adoption of several new EU laws concerning the whole asylum process – reception conditions for asylum applicants; rules on who qualified for refugee status; procedures for asylum applications and so on.
This was a great achievement, but it was only a first step. We were not fully satisfied with the outcome. The situation across EU Member States was still too varied and the levels of protection still not strong enough.
That is why we 2008 embarked on a journey to negotiate a revised set of EU asylum laws. And I am so proud that we finally concluded the agreements on these laws earlier this year, despite the difficult financial times.
My strong devotion to the area of asylum is due to the fact that it boils down to the very fundament of humanitarian compassion. And this is, and should continue to be, at the core of the EU’s values.
Of course, we are a Union built around free trade, and peace and prosperity for our citizens. We are investing in a legal migration system to increase the attractiveness of the EU as a destination for foreign students and skilled migrants.
But we must remember that Europe is the cradle of democracy. It is our duty to protect those most in need, in respect for our own history and with respect for the world around us. The EU is, and shall continue to be, the global front-runner on human rights.
But we cannot just preach to others, telling them how to improve their human rights’ record if we ourselves do not lead the world by providing the best area of protection for those fleeing.
Our new asylum package is accompanied by a much greater emphasis on solidarity – sharing the responsibility of receiving people.
We have created a new Agency – the European Asylum Support Office, or EASO – specifically to assist Member States in implementing EU asylum law and to enhance the practical cooperation.
For example, we have designed modules to train asylum case workers to the same standards across the EU; we are also working on sharing country of origin information so that case workers can access the most up to date information about the source countries to be able to make an informed decision.
In terms of direct solidarity to Member States, we are also assisting Malta through a relocation scheme. Recognised beneficiaries of international protection, based in Malta, may be relocated to other EU Member States to relieve the pressure on Malta.
This is important not only as regards Malta. The pressure is still today very unevenly distributed and many more Members States could and should take their responsibility.
We are also working in a collective effort to assist Greece with its asylum backlogs and with its border management. Good progress has already been made but we have still quite a journey ahead before we can be at peace.
Before Tampere, we had almost no common European law on asylum aside from the Dublin Convention. And look where we are now!
Before anything else, our focus will from now be to establish a coherent implementation across the EU so that we are sure to have a solid European Asylum System also in practice.
I would like to move on to migration. Migration is certainly a policy area of growing importance for the EU. It is inextricably linked to the well-being of our societies from different perspectives: economic growth and competitiveness, demographic challenges, social cohesion and cultural diversity. It also plays a big role in our relations with the world, especially with the countries of origin.
Today, we have a high unemployment rate which is of course a tragedy for millions of individuals and for our societies and economies but, at the same time, we also know that there are labour shortages in Europe.
Many jobs are, and will remain, unfilled in the future. We are short of people in some sectors - engineering, IT, health, seasonal work in agriculture and tourism at the same time as there are millions of unemployed.
This is why we for the past 10 years have devoted time to help addressing these challenges and we have considerably developed our acquis on legal migration. Today we have six Directives covering different categories of migrants and three other proposals are currently under negotiation.
Let me just say few words on the directives that are in the process of negotiation. My latest proposal concerns Students and Researchers and aims at increasing the EU's attractiveness for these categories and thereby our global competitiveness.
First of all, we propose to facilitate visa procedures and better link the residence permit and the visa, as well as procedural guarantees in general.
Importantly, we have also improved access to the labour market for students, and proposed simplified rules to facilitate intra-EU mobility for both students and researchers.
We are also currently negotiating the directive on Intra-corporate transferees (ICTs). I cannot stress enough how crucial this proposal is to bring know-how and innovation to the EU economy, and to make it more competitive and attractive to investors. This piece of legislation truly has the potential to foster EU competitiveness and help economic recovery.
I am confident that we will get an agreement very soon on this proposal. COM will continue to strive for an ambitious text on ICTs, with simple and workable rules on intra EU mobility so that these persons may become additional assets for the EU economy.
The same goes for the seasonal workers proposal, where we are the last stages of negotiations. This proposal is important not only because the EU economies undeniably need seasonal workers, but also because seasonal workers are a particularly vulnerable group of migrants. It is necessary to ensure that they have secure legal status in order to prevent exploitation and to protect their health and safety.
In conclusion, our work on legal migration shows that much can still be done to improve migration governance and tackle its challenges.
In practice, we need to develop a more holistic and strategic approach, if we are to maximize the opportunities that migration offer and at the same time reduce possible future social conflicts. But how is this done?
Firstly, we need to increase synergies between on one hand our employment and growth policies, and on the other on migration policies. We need to increase migrants' participation on the labour market.
Secondly, it also means making much better use of the skills and talents we already have here in Europe. Migrants and refugees have a pool of skills and talents which is untapped and we need to make use of it. This is just common sense and decency in a welcoming society.
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 movements. This requires political courage and leadership and we all have to stand up against easy solutions and avoid that migrants become the scapegoats in this situation.
The integration process goes two-ways: to be part of the new society migrants must of course do their part in society like all other citizens, including learning the language. At the same time, governments and other responsible entities have to make sure that migrants are treated as full members of our society with both the rights and obligations that follow.
We also need to focus on legislation in two ways. On one hand, we need to give priority to effective implementation and enforcement of the rules, if not we only have a system on paper. We the Commission are ready to fully play our role as guardian of the Treaties in that respect.
On the other hand, we have to consider whether and how to further develop this acquis, in particular as regards legal migration. We need to consider where we could improve even further and find common solutions for the union. That will indeed be a project for the coming years following the Stockholm Programme.
But of course legislation is only one aspect: 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 explain why Europe needs migrants and how migration can help our economies without affecting the social cohesion of our societies, but on the contrary reinforcing Europe's richness and cultural diversity.
But we also need to hear other voices than the politicians in this debate, and I am the first one to say that. The business sector plays for instance a very important role in explaining the situation of labour shortages.
Academics have also an important role to play to help us think outside the box and support policy making through the evidence.
The external dimension: GAMM
Let me complete the picture by mentioning our considerable achievement in reinforcing the external dimension of migration, which is an essential component in the development of a comprehensive immigration policy.
The Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) is the overarching framework of the EU’s external migration policy and focuses on four objectives: better organising legal migration and fostering well-managed mobility; preventing and combating irregular migration, and eradicating trafficking in human beings; maximising the development impact of migration and mobility; and promoting international protection.
The EU is currently engaged in structured bilateral dialogues and cooperation on migration and mobility with more than 25 countries, also involving strategic and priority partners further afield (such as India & China), and in seven regional migration dialogue processes involving more than 130 countries.
In this context, let me mention the UN second General Assembly High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (New York, 3-4 October 2013) as an important occasion for Member States to harness the benefits of migration, to address migration challenges, and to improve the global governance of migration.
14 years ago, the EU heads of states and governments met here in Tampere and adopted a number of principles that set the course of what has proved to be a very dynamic area. Today, Tampere is once again hosting an important reflection of the past developments and the challenges ahead in the field of asylum and migration.
The European Commission is working to set the political direction for the future. We need a Europe open to the world, a Europe that protects people and gives them the opportunities they deserve.
I look forward to the outcomes of your reflections as an important input to the next decade in the area of migration and asylum.