Managing Migration: The time has come to deliver solutions to our citizens
Managing migration is one of our citizens’ main concerns. This is clear in the results of the European Parliament’s most recent Eurobarometer survey. This should come as no surprise. For more than a decade now, against the backdrop of the worsening situation in Syria and the instability besetting Libya, news reports have been painting a disastrous picture. We are all too familiar with the images of capsizing boats in the Mediterranean, corpses in the desert, lifeless children on beaches.
We have been taken back to the barbarous age of markets in which women and children are sold to the highest bidder. We have grown used to seeing vast crowds of asylum seekers jostling to be allowed into the European Union, or clambering out of boats on our shores; fathers who have lost all hope, who are prepared to risk everything, jeopardising the lives of their wives and children.
Europe is often perceived as being powerless, or sometimes even indifferent, in the face of this tragedy and the growing unease and fear felt by its citizens, who have the impression that they are being invaded.
The populists are sowing contempt and alarm, fostering the illusion that we can fortify Europe with walls and borders and simply shut the problems out.
In reality, the same Eurobarometer survey shows that the vast majority of our citizens are convinced that European unity is the key to the solution to manage migration. But we must face the facts. The task of coming up with real answers to this tragedy, after decades of inaction, cannot be put off any longer.
We need a bolder approach. We cannot leave people traffickers or terrorists to manage migration. There can be no compromise on the right of asylum, but we must be equally unwavering in countering illegal immigration.
The right of asylum, like solidarity or the obligation to save human lives at sea, forms part of our founding values. The current system of burden sharing plainly does not work, however. In the two-year period covering 2015 and 2016, some 2.5 million people applied for asylum in Europe. Under the current rules, Italy and Greece, the countries through which the asylum seekers mostly enter the Union, are required to deal with all these applications.
It is deeply unfair that a small number of Member States should be left to shoulder this responsibility, along with that of saving thousands of lives and patrolling vast areas of the Mediterranean.
Yet blaming all of Europe without distinction is equally unfair. The Commission has proposed a thoroughgoing reform of the asylum system which the European Parliament is due to approve - and improve - before the summer. We need to do two things: firstly, introduce an automatic mechanism for allocating asylum seekers to countries other than those currently forced to cope with an unmanageable number of applications; and secondly, draw up standard criteria for obtaining asylum which apply throughout the EU. In this way, migrants will be spared an endless odyssey from country to country in search of more favourable reception conditions. It is unacceptable, for example, that there should be no joint EU list of countries which are regarded as ‘safe’ and to which asylum seekers can be returned.
Pending this reform, a decision has been taken to introduce a temporary scheme to reallocate 160 000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece among all the other Member States. Faced with a refusal on the part of some Member States to honour their obligations, in a resolution adopted by a wide majority, the European Parliament called on the Commission to act. In response, a few days ago the Commission opened infringement proceedings against the Member States concerned.
But that is not enough. In the years ahead, we could face migration on a massive scale, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa. This may have many causes: desertification linked to climate change, famine, population growth, poverty, terrorism and instability.
A serious response calls for a comprehensive European strategy which goes to the root of the problem. We cannot confine ourselves to managing emergencies.
We must act on a wide range of fronts.
On the one hand, we must step up external border controls, which will require us to increase the resources made available to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. In addition to more vessels and helicopters, this means greater investment in security technologies, including those connected with the Galileo and Copernicus satellite systems. Training and exchanges of good practices are also fundamental.
On the other hand, we must build a new partnership with Africa which focuses not only on the challenges, but also on the major opportunities for growth on that continent. We cannot leave Africa to China.
We invited the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, to discuss this partnership with us at Parliament’s May and June part-sessions in Strasbourg.
We must base our action on robust economic diplomacy, increased investment in infrastructure, technology transfers, efficient use of resources and industrial know-how. We must see to training and lawful mobility, with quotas for African students, researchers and workers.
Against this background, it would be possible to frame more effective repatriation agreements and – together with the United Nations agencies – to establish reception centres south of the Sahara. The safety of migrants could be ensured, medical care and food aid provided, and the rules on the right of asylum or repatriation applied. In this way, we can spare thousands of people slavery or death.
This is one more reason why Europe needs a proper budget, so that funds are available for both border control efforts and the development fund for Africa. The European Parliament will shortly approve a fund which will be used to mobilise EUR 40 billion in investment.
On 25 March, in Rome, the leaders of the EU institutions and the Heads of State or Government of 27 countries signed a Solemn Declaration to revitalise political Europe. One of the priorities to be addressed without delay is immigration.
Tomorrow, the agenda for the European Council meeting will include items on immigration and asylum. Seated around the table will be the same people who signed the solemn declaration in Rome.
Today, the day after International Refugee Day, on my initiative the European Parliament is holding a high-level conference involving the leaders of the EU institutions and the other key players in the area of migration policy. Tomorrow, when I make my speech to the European Council, I intend to send out a clear, strong message: the time has come to take decisions, to provide the answers which our citizens expect from a Union which is strong enough to protect them and assert its values.