The incident in the Mediterranean with the Aquarius vessel yesterday has reminded us once again that migration is not just a theoretical discussion.
Migration is very real and tangible – and above all: it concerns people. What is more: European citizens are deeply concerned about this issue. I have followed reactions in the press and on social media recently too.
No one believes this is an Italian responsibility, or a Maltese or a Spanish one. This is also a European issue, requiring a European response – in all aspects, and involving all Member States. This is precisely what we have been doing over the past three years through our common approach at all levels, achieving:
- significantly less arrivals overall;
- fewer deaths at sea;
- stronger external borders;
- protection for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people; and
- closer cooperation with third countries.
But as the incident yesterday reminds us also: our work is not over, and it will not be any time soon. Whilst the situation is a lot more stable now, what the past three years have taught us is that we have to be prepared – because we cannot afford a repetition of 2015. Neither politically nor financially. We need structural solutions.
This too was demonstrated by yesterday's incident. We need a common, structural approach, whereby we have sustainably fewer people arriving irregularly, whereby we effectively break the smuggling networks, whereby we facilitate legal pathways and resettlements, and whereby solidarity and responsibility are truly shared between Member States.
But all these bigger challenges also require bigger resources. This is why we propose today to almost triple funding for migration and border management: to almost €35 billion for 2021-2027, compared to €13 billion in the previous period.
Our policy and our budget for migration, asylum and borders needs to be flexible and effective, but equally fair and proportionate. We have our European fundamental values to defend and uphold – but not at the expense of our security or our cohesion.
Our budgetary reinforcement will be divided over two new funds: an Asylum and Migration Fund and an Integrated Border Management Fund.
Under the Asylum and Migration Fund, we want to support Member States in three critical areas in the comings years:
Firstly, a more streamlined and efficient asylum system. Secondly, more investments in integration, particularly in the short term – to be complemented by our cohesion funds for long-term integration measures. Finally, a more effective and enforceable return policy, more cooperation with third countries on readmission and to combat irregular migration.
These three priorities go hand in hand with another overarching and shared goal of the European Union: stronger external borders. Better managing our external borders is crucial to better managing migration overall and to ensuring internal security.
This is also essential to allow our citizens to continue enjoying a Schengen area without internal border controls. This is why we propose to allocate €21.3 billion to border management overall and create a new Integrated Border Management Fund worth more than €9.3 billion.
This new fund will build on the work of the past years to better protect the EU's external borders together with a stronger European Border and Coast Guard, systematic checks at the borders, and the development of new large-scale IT systems like the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, Entry Exit, the Schengen Information System and their interoperability.
This fund will also further support Member States for search and rescue at sea, to purchase technical equipment, to tackle migrant smuggling and trafficking of human beings, as well as to intercept and stop those who pose a threat. As you may remember, we also plan to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard Agency with up to 10,000 staff by 2027 with an additional €12 billion approximately.
The Integrated Border Management Fund will equally ensure that the EU's visa policy continues to evolve, whilst strengthening security and mitigating irregular migration risks.
However, better managing borders is not just about better managing migration or preventing security threats.
Another key aspect of the Fund will be the new Customs Control Equipment Instrument. €1.3 billion will support Member States to buy, upgrade and maintain new customs control equipment.
This means that 115,000 customs officials around the EU can do their job better: keeping us safe from dangerous goods such as weapons and drugs. They also help to stop fake goods from flooding the market in EU countries.
The Customs Control Equipment will also help us better manage and facilitate EU trade with the rest of the world, at a time when global commerce is growing exponentially.
The migration and refugee crisis has taught us two things:
- That we need enough resources to support our actions, in line with our political priorities and in complementarity with all EU funds.
- That things can change and evolve – and that our funding has to be flexible, simplified and adaptable.
This is why our new funds will take into account the actual needs of Member States and have a built-in flexibility, while at the same time providing enough up-front funding to allow Member States to support actions quickly and plan long-term investments.
I want to finish where I started.
We cannot continue the political ping-pong of who is finally responsible for shouldering the responsibility of migration or protecting external borders. Because we all are – the EU as a whole is responsible, with all Member States.
Our citizens demand sustainable and effective solutions.
Our citizens want to offer help and protection to those who need it – but this hospitality should be shared and should not be abused.
Our citizens want safer and stronger external borders – but without limiting their own mobility.
And our citizens want a safer, more secure and resilient Europe – while maintaining its openness and freedom. This is why we must continue working on all fronts, both inside the European Union, but also outside.
We need to comprehensively address the reasons why people flee in the first place, putting themselves in dangerous and precarious situations.
At the same time, we need to fight more forcefully the criminal smuggling networks who take advantage of the vulnerability of these people.
Only this way can we avoid a repetition of incidents like with the Aquarius.
We are not Fortress Europe.
We want to build a humane, but fair and strict migration and borders policy.
All our measures are important and interlinked: including all our efforts on creating a safer and more secure Europe and its neighbourhood.
Tomorrow and in the coming days we will present how we see the future of the Internal Security Fund as well as of our external funds more generally.
Ultimately, this is about turning our priorities into reality.