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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
An Open and Safe Europe –What’s next?
29 January 2014
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends
In June this year the European Council will provide us with its view on where the European Union needs to move in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.
It will adopt the strategic guidelines that will indicate the way forward in this area.
So, now is the moment to ask ourselves 'What should the European Area of Freedom and Security look like in the future? And what do we need to do to get there?'
These are certainly no easy questions. In answering them, we have to look at our achievements but also at the challenges that we will be facing.
We must anticipate what the world will look like, to see the challenges of tomorrow. We need to analyse how we can build on our past, on the progress already made, to take the next steps.
So, let me give you a brief outline of the main achievements since Tampere and tell you what I consider to be some of the main challenges ahead of us. And, as we are at the start of our conference, allow me to put some questions to you for the particular areas that you will be discussing during these two days.
So, let me start with the achievements. 15 years have passed since the conclusions of Tampere. They laid the foundations for our work in this area. Looking back, we can be proud of what we have achieved.
A Common European Asylum System is now in place and we have agreed on second generation legislation, providing harmonisation and an overall improvement in standards for those who need protection.
We have managed to reinforce the governance of the Schengen area of free movement of persons. This is one of the most tangible achievements of the European Union and one of those most cherished by European citizens.
We have a substantial body of European Union law on legal migration (covering family reunification, long term residents, the single permit, the Blue card…), creating a common foundation for the admission and rights of third-country nationals.
We have a common visa policy which simplifies the entry of tourists, businesspeople and family visitors to the European Union, while safeguarding internal security. We are abolishing the visa requirements for ever more countries in our neighbourhood, thus bringing our citizens closer to each other. We now stand very close to visa liberalisation with Moldova. We have also managed to deeply strengthen the relations with countries of origins and transit.
We have done a lot to develop common tools to improve protection of European societies and economies from serious and organised crime. Law enforcement cooperation at European level has proved essential for responding to the common threats which are not going away, as well as those that are evolving rapidly: terrorism, cybercrime, trafficking in human beings, money laundering, to name just some.
So yes, we can be proud of our achievements. But we all agree that there is a need to consolidate the existing JHA-framework. And we know that the work is by no means finished.
The European Union and its Member States are constantly confronted with new challenges. We do not know what the future has in store for us, but some things are very likely to happen.
We will have to deal with a world where more and more people want to come to Europe, as tourists, to study, to work, or to seek protection.
We have to recognise that such movements can be beneficial to Europe and its economy. We need to see migration as an ASSET, not a burden. We will need to compete in attracting the rights skills and talents. And North America, Asia and Australia will be strong competitors.
We will have to deal with continued instability in our immediate neighbourhood. This is likely to persist for quite some time. Events like the Arab Spring, in our Eastern neighbour and the present crisis in Syria, will force us to formulate adequate answers.
We will need to step up our efforts to avoid last year's tragedy in Lampedusa from happening again.
Technology is moving fast, providing new opportunities for economic growth and fundamentally changing the way we connect and relate to each other. But these changes also bring new security challenges.
The widespread use of computer and mobile electronic devices in our daily life has opened new avenues for criminal activities. Cybercrime is a matter of increasing concern.
Practically all traditional crimes can be committed in cyber space and new challenges, like 3-D printing of weapons, are already emerging.
These developments concern us all. And to address them successfully we need to work together to develop a strategic vision to guide our policies. We must be visionary but pragmatic at the same time. We need to focus on of the key challenges and policy priorities and look for the added value that European level can bring.
The key to success is cooperation. Cooperation with Member States, cooperation with and strong involvement of the European Parliament, cooperation with Home Affairs Agencies, cooperation with the private sector and cooperation with civil society. But we also need to better use the tools we already have at our disposal and make the maximum out of them.
Debating future priorities
Today’s conference offers an opportunity to work together to address these challenges. We will therefore start with two broad sessions, one on the vision of the future of Home Affairs, and the other Home Affairs from an international context.
Tomorrow we will go into more detail in parallel workshop sessions with specific themes. The Commission will listen carefully to all your views and suggestions and take these into account when forming its views; but allow me to start the debate by raising some questions for the particular areas:
We all know about the demographic challenges that Europe will face in the coming decades.
Despite high unemployment, we already start to feel the impact of our ageing population and declining labour force. How can we deal with these demographic developments in Europe?
We will need to fill millions of jobs, but how will we ensure the attractiveness of Europe as a destination for highly-qualified labour migration?
Migrants can make very powerful contributions to our societies. But these contributions can only be made if we are ready to recognise and use their potential. So what can we do to make better use of the skills offered by the third-country nationals already legally resident in the Member States? What role could business and social partners play in this process?
Finally, on those who do not fulfil the requirements to stay in the European Union: how do we ensure a sound return policy, which is an essential part of the credibility of a common asylum and migration policy?
The implementation of the Common European Asylum System will remain one of the key priorities for us. It must be until it is fully and coherently applied across the Union. The European Union must ensure equal treatment of asylum seekers no matter where they apply. But how do we ensure that this will be done in a way that reflects both solidarity and sharing of responsibilities by all Member States, two basic principles on which the Union is built?
We must ALL do more to help Member States confronted with excessive pressures. This can be done by reinforcing the support of our agencies, but it also needs to be done by each and every Member State. Together we can do more and help more.
We need a Europe that is open to the world, a Europe that ensures the human rights of any individual fleeing conflict and persecution. Today asylum seekers have to rely far too often on traffickers in order to reach Europe. There are basically no legal ways to get to Europe. We need to reflect on how we can ensure a more orderly arrival of those third-country nationals who have strong claims to reach Europe safely.
With increasing mobility, our societies will become increasingly diverse. We need to recognise that our societies are changing and that the question of integration is also a question of what societies we want in an era of global mobility.
A number of common instruments exist to support the integration of third country nationals in receiving societies But how can we improve our ability to recognise and capture the asset that is cultural diversity?
How can Europe build cohesive, inclusive societies in which everyone can participate?
Turning to security, our responsibility is to ensure an open and secure Europe. But the threats are evolving.
Serious and organised crime is becoming more complex. This is affecting the European economy and the functioning of the internal market, and threatening citizens’ security.
We have made progress in recent years to enhance cross-border operational cooperation between all European law enforcement services. Customs services have proven that they can work in close cooperation with police forces and the judiciary. But there is more to do.
Ever increasing globalisation and the expansion of international trade allows organised crime to expand its activities.
This facilitates the diversification of the range of activities from drug trafficking to counterfeiting, human trafficking, firearms, irregular migration or environmental crime.
We need to think about how we can be more efficient to prevent the expansion of these organised crime groups and their penetration of the legal market.
Fighting cybercrime will certainly be a priority. While many results have been achieved, including the setting up of a European Cybercrime centre, the problem continues to grow. Are our actions enough or do we need to up our game even further?
The trend with rising extremism is very worrying. This can have dire consequences for many citizens and lead to violence and terrorism. While some Member States do a lot, others have done less to prevent this threat. How can we ensure that governments address this properly, including working more with civil society?
Finally, we should realise that a lot of our success will depend on our dialogue and cooperation with third countries and international organisations. Ensuring coherence between internal and external policies requires mainstreaming of Home Affairs into other relevant European Union policies.
Increasing mobility is an important component of strengthening ties with our neighbours and strategic partners. Mobility Partnerships, visa liberalisation coupled with readmission agreements and the common visa policy are important policy instruments in this respect. Maybe we can do even more to get the best out of these.
Our economy would profit from a more open Europe that allows for facilitated access for bona fide travellers.
But the granting of a visa is still largely dependent on which country a person is from. In granting access to the EU, would it not make more sense to focus on the person instead of her nationality?
In the area of international protection, we should ask ourselves what more we could do to boost international protection closer to where it is needed. Should we, perhaps, strengthen our Regional Protection Programs?
Let me conclude. We are now at the start of two interesting days. I am delighted that we have so many high-level speakers and well-qualified participants. This really is a unique setting in which to launch our work. You all have an important role to play.
I am counting on you to help us find the answers to the questions I put forward earlier. We are here to listen to you, to listen to what you think is important for the future of Home Affairs.
So, thank you all for giving your time, your energy and your thoughts to this conference. Over the past few years we have taken a number of important steps on the road towards a more open and safe Europe. Our discussions here should now help us define the next steps.