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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Opening Statement by Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos during the European Parliament plenary debate on Migration

Strasbourg, 25 November 2014

Mr. President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Migration was always part of the “Home Affairs” portfolio but was never before on the title. Now it is. For symbolic but also for pragmatic reasons.

I am honoured to be responsible for this portfolio.

We all listened to Pope Francis earlier today. This strong signal he sent us was received.

I know that there is no easy solution to address the important tasks ahead of us. But there is a strong political will.

Your extensive questions show the complexity of the challenges the EU faces on migration and asylum.

We are confronted with the highest migratory pressure at our external borders since the Balkan crisis. It requires an integrated approach covering all areas including foreign and security policy.   

It requires restoring and building more mutual trust to successfully face these challenges: trust between the Member States, and between the Member States and the EU.

Solidarity and responsibility sharing remain the foundation on which the Commission and the Member States are building a common European migration and asylum system, with common standards and rights for migrants.

Many tools for solidarity have been developed to put this into practice, such as:

Financial solidarity and support in kind provided by the relevant Agencies: the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex.

Relocation has been developed by the Commission, and we will continue to work on this. We have the early warning mechanism and the possibilities offered by Article 33 of the Dublin III Regulation. Some of these tools have already proven their worth. We need to further develop and use all of them, as appropriate.

Solidarity goes hand in hand with responsibility. All Member States must take full ownership of the proper functioning of the system.

The full and effective implementation of the Common European Asylum System is an absolute priority. The Commission will closely monitor implementation by the Member States and support their efforts.

The Commission will support Member States in practical cooperation, notably through EASO.

We count as well on the continued engagement of non-governmental organisations and international partners such as UNHCR.

The Qualification Directive and the Dublin III Regulation are already in force. But the other instruments will only be applied from next July. So I do not see an urgent need for major changes to the asylum system in the near future.

But this is not ruled out for the medium term after careful consideration.

Smuggling and trafficking have elements in common, but they are two separate criminal offences, which require tailored responses.

The EU's response to trafficking in human beings will remain victim-centred and human rights based.

We must ensure protection for all victims and a strong criminal response to the traffickers, working closely with all the Justice and Home Affairs Agencies who implement actions on anti-trafficking.

Prevention is key and the Member States are obliged to take legal action to reduce demand that fosters all forms of exploitation, whether this is by criminalising employers who use victims, by holding companies liable, or individuals who knowingly use victims.

Smuggling is steadily increasing. We need to increase our response capacity.

We need to build a stronger criminal justice response to stop this crime, investigating and prosecuting those in charge more severely.

The EU Plan that we intend to develop to counter migrant smuggling will focus both on dismantling of the criminal networks, through reinforced intelligence sharing, investigation capacities, and prosecution, and on prevention, through information campaigns about the dangers of being smuggled to the EU and enhanced cooperation with third countries.

The response to the migratory pressures at the borders and smuggling should include a strengthened role for Frontex.

To broaden the activities of Frontex, Member States must uphold their commitments to work with the Agency.

Only they have the border guards and equipment to carry out such activities.

Regarding Joint Operation Triton: it began on 1 November 2014, its duration will depend on the evolution of the situation.

The Commission follows it closely, but the decision will be made by the Agency and the Member States involved.

The estimated cost is €2.9 million per month. To launch and finance it in the short term, the Agency made internal re-allocations and the Commission provided € 3.9 million via direct transfer from resources available under the Internal Security Fund.  

The Commission is aware that Parliament has proposed an amendment to add a reserve of €20 million to the 2015 Frontex budget.

We look forward to the final joint decision on this by the Parliament and the Council.

Resettlement is, for the time being, effectively the only route of legal entry for a person in need of protection.

It is the most tangible expression of international solidarity with refugees in third countries, but also a tool to relieve some of the burden on host countries.

While the decision whether to resettle and if so, how many people, lies with Member States, the Commission will continue the efforts of encouraging them to increase quotas or, of course, to start resettling, for those not doing it yet.

But something is out of balance here: Member States that receive the highest numbers of spontaneous asylum requests are also the ones that resettle the most refugees. The Commission intends to address this situation.

Yesterday, my Services had a first orientation discussion with the Member States on a possible allocation or division mechanism.

The Commission is already committed to exploring new avenues, in particular the possibility of developing a common approach to issuing humanitarian visas to allow those in need to come to Europe and apply for protection. This was also discussed during the meeting yesterday. I do realise that it remains a sensitive issue.

On legal migration, for obvious demographic and economic reasons, Europe needs to address labour and skills shortages and address the challenges of an ageing continent. We will work closely on this with business and social partners.

Our first step will be looking at existing policies in place, such as the EU Blue Card, and see what can be done to increase their attractiveness and effectiveness.

Dear Members of Parliament,

The answer to many of the challenges in the area of home affairs lies in the relations with third countries.

We need to improve the link between the EU’s internal and external policies and putting emphasis on the need to adopt a long-term approach that addresses the root causes of migration.

In this vein, we should try not only to respond to immediate emergency situations but also to work on a comprehensive and structured approach to address the increasing migratory pressures.

More specifically, the EU approach should aim at integrating political and economic stability, development and security aspects, as well as both operational and political instruments.

Issues such as: migration, asylum, crisis management, humanitarian aid, development, trade, democratization and human rights should be addressed in a comprehensive and coherent way.

We must make sure that migration is embedded in all fields of EU external relations, including development cooperation, and security policy.

But we also need to be supportive and credible. We must support partner countries' efforts to ensure better migration and border management as well as improved protection and reception capacity with a view to helping these countries fulfil their international obligations.

Mobility Partnerships have been put in place to enable deeper and tailor-made policy dialogues and operational cooperation with partner countries, so far with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.  

For the long term, tackling irregular migration at its source is the best investment we can make.

I intend to coordinate with High Representative Federica Mogherini and work closely with my colleagues Commissioners responsible for the neighbourhood policy, development and humanitarian aid, as was set out in our mandate by the Commission President.

Finally, I turn to funding.

Under the Development and Cooperation Instrument, the Commission is currently implementing initiatives for around € 53 million focused on migration and international protection.

Out of these funds, around € 14 million supports the fight against trafficking and smuggling and tackles irregular migration, while €17 million are dedicated to actions focused on Regional Development and Protection Programme for refugees and host communities in the Middle East, Horn of Africa and North of Africa countries.

The European Neighbourhood Instrument mobilizes around €60 million for migration and international protection-related interventions in the Mediterranean countries.

In addition, around €200 million were allocated in 2014 to respond to the Syrian refugee’s crisis.

Under the 2014 – 2020 financial framework Member States and Schengen Associated countries will receive more than €4.4 billion under the two Funds combined: the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and Internal Security Fund Borders and Visa.

The frontline Mediterranean Member States (Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain) will receive a large share of these funds, totalling together around €1.4 billion over the whole financial cycle.

For emergency situations, we have set aside for 2014 (for all Member States together) €25 million under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and € 6.8 million under the Internal Security Fund Borders and Visa.

Honorable Members of Parliament,

I am looking forward to work closely with you to tackle these challenges using all means that are at our disposal.

Thank you.



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