Dear Colleagues, dear friends,
It is the first time I am addressing this committee in its new composition after the European elections, and it is also the last time.
But I consider today’s occasion more than just a “hello and goodbye”.
Our discussion today is a good opportunity to recognize how far we have come the last five years but also to acknowledge the challenges ahead.
I am very happy to see you, Juan-Fernando, taking up your duties, once again, as the Chair of the LIBE Committee – I am sure your experience will prove invaluable.
I would also like to thank once again Claude for the excellent cooperation and commitment to deliver on ambitious proposals during the previous legislative term.
I feel confident that our cooperation will continue until the end of my mandate as Commissioner.
And more importantly, I am sure that the friendship that I had the chance to create with many of you here, will continue for much longer.
LIBE has a crucial role to play in completing a truly European strategy to face the migration and security challenges that can only be effectively addressed through a joint European effort.
A lot has been achieved in the last five years with the help of the Parliament and in particular this dynamic Committee.
Since 2015, we have been confronted with huge challenges in the area of migration and of security.
By persevering, we managed in just a few years to provide all the necessary tools and formulate a solid policy map for the future. This work must continue.
We proposed immediate measures to quickly and effectively respond to the crisis, as well as long-term solutions to better manage migration in all its aspects, internal as well as external:
- saving lives: More than 700,000 lives were saved in the Mediterranean since 2015.
-supporting Member States under high pressure in receiving and hosting migrants in an appropriate manner
by providing financial, technical and operational assistance on the ground.
-making relocation and resettlement a reality:
in total, more than 34,000 people in need of international protection were relocated both from Greece and Italy, and more than 60,000 refugees have been resettled to Europe from outside the EU since 2015.
-reducing the incentives for irregular migration,
by more effectively fighting criminal smuggling networks and by developing cooperation with origin and transit countries on all aspects of migration management.
Today, the numbers of irregular arrivals are back to and even below pre-crisis levels.
-strengthening and modernising our border management while making sure that bona fide travellers are facilitated.
And of course, we proposed to establish:a strong common asylum policy,to strengthen the EU return policy and
to foster legal migration and integration –which are the points I will come back to later.
These are the results of the joint efforts between the Member States, the European Parliament and the Commission.
An essential element of our migration policy has been enhancing legal pathways for both people in need of international protection and for the migrants that our economy needs.
This is essential to discourage the use of irregular routes and to breach the business model of migrant smuggling,
as well as helping to attract the people with the necessary talents and skills that our economies need.
Regrettably, it was not possible to agree on a better and more attractive EU Blue Card, in spite of the Parliament's, yours, strong support and the excellent team of rapporteurs and shadows.
But the need for an attractive EU scheme for the most highly skilled and talented to improve the competitiveness of our economy – and to better regulate legal migration in general – does remain, and should be addressed in the future.
I therefore trust that the new Parliament will keep the same level of ambition regarding this issue. A central part of our policies has also been our synergies with non EU countries.
We believe in the need to foster long-term partnerships with key countries of origin and transit: to address the root causes of irregular migration, to save lives, to assist refugees and stranded migrants, to fight against migrant smuggling, to facilitate return and reintegration,to prevent and prosecute trafficking in human beings and to also enhance legal migration pathways.
Several labour migration pilot projects with key partner countries are under way, and I welcome that some Member States are engaged in this.
The EU-Turkey Statement contributed to a considerable reduction in migration flows,especially along the East Mediterranean route.
The EU’s support through the Facility for Refugees in Turkey is a key part of our cooperation.
The funding provided contribute to improving the living conditions and protection standards of Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey.
We have for example provided access to education for hundreds of thousands of Syrian children and over one million refugees have received cash assistance to cover their everyday needs.
Our support has also helped building reception facilities and funded health care.
Regarding visas, we managed to find an agreement on the revision of the Visa Code,which will enter into force as of 1 February.
Our new Visa policy will make the EU stronger in front of external security and migratory risks, but will equally facilitate people-to-people contacts for all bona fide travellers.
For example, citizens of Georgia and Ukraine can now travel visa free to the Schengen area - an important step to strengthen ties between citizens.
At the same time, the Commission continues to monitor that visa liberalisation benchmarks remain fulfilled.
Let me now turn to one of the most critical files aiming to bring a real change for migration in the future:
the establishment of a common European asylum system.
I would like to commend the Members of the previous European Parliament for having adopted a position on all 7 legislatives files and for their willingness to engage with the Council to negotiate all our proposals.
We urgently need an in-depth reform of the asylum policy.
We must build trust so we can build a genuinely common asylum system – because this is in everyone’s interest.
We can also not continue to look on a case by case basis for a port of disembarkation and solidarity for those in need each time a vessel is in front of the EU coasts.
I count on all of you to engage with the new Commission in this debate and continue to work towards sustainable solutions, in particular as regards the forthcoming Pact on Migration and Asylum,as announced by the President-elect.
Relocation is a sustainable solidarity mechanism, which should form a part of a permanent solidarity tool in the reformed Common European Asylum System, namely in the new Dublin Regulation.
In the meantime and again during this Summer, the Commission has repeatedly called upon Member States to continue relocating on a voluntary basis, with European financial support, to bridge the end of the relocation scheme and the adoption of the new Dublin Regulation.
Several, - but in general always the same - Member States answered these calls positively by relocating voluntarily from Italy, Malta and Spain after the ad-hoc disembarkations throughout 2018 and 2019.
Following disembarkation incidents in Italy and Malta between 27 June 2018 and 2 September 2019, 1 000 persons have been transferred to other Member States and to Norway, in line with the voluntary commitments undertaken by these countries.
760 persons have been transferred from Malta and 240 from Italy. For up to 850 persons, the transfers in line with pledges made remain to be fulfilled At the moment, discussions are ongoing to streamline these voluntary relocations by the concept of temporary arrangements providing a coordinated and more predictable approach to disembarkation.
The Commission has worked tirelessly over the past months to put in place temporary arrangements.
We will continue our efforts until the last minute of our mandate to put these arrangements in place.
However, the Commission firmly maintains its position that a structural and permanent solution, embedded in the Common European Asylum System, should be found as swiftly as possible.
In addition, a key component of a credible and balanced migration policy is a system that ensures effective returns for those who have no right to stay in the EU.
We are doing our utmost to intervene as early as possible to deter irregular migration and address its root causes, but in case a person stays irregularly on EU territory he or she is to be returned as swiftly as possible, in accordance with the EU’s legal framework and fundamental rights.
To equip Member States’ return systems with efficient mechanisms, I urge the new LIBE Committee to relaunch work on the reformed Return Directive as soon as possible.
Another prerequisite for an effective common asylum system is a well functioning Schengen area.
Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the EU. We should return to the full normal functioning of the Schengen area as soon as possible.
Therefore, we need to have clear rules for Member States regarding controls at their internal borders,built on trust as mentioned earlier.
We need to continue working in this direction – Ms Fajon remains equally determined I am sure.
The protection of the EU’s external borders and the functioning of Schengen will now be strengthened by the new European Border and Coast Guard with a standing corps of 10,000 and real powers to support Member States.
I am looking forward for the swift formal adoption of the Regulation so that the work agreed by the co-legislators starts immediately, to be able to respect the ambition of the legislative text.
Our external borders are the nexus between all our common work on migration and security.
Thanks to the achievements during the previous legislature, all persons crossing our external borders are now subject to checks through advanced information systems, such as the Schengen Information System, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System and the Entry Exit System
The previous Parliament was instrumental in establishing and modernising the legislation governing these systems.
Interoperability, which will connect all these dots, is our latest accomplishment that will help: Break silos, connect our information, and close blind spots.
The Commission is now working closely together with eu-LISA and Member States to ensure the full and timely implementation of the new and updated systems and make them talk to each other.
We also need to get an agreement by early next year on the Visa Information System proposal to enable its implementation in a timely manner with the rest of the interoperability platform.
I am not going to mention one by one all the work done and the legislation adopted in the field of security, as you have already welcomed Commissioner King in the LIBE Committee who gave you a complete overview of recent developments in this field.
I would only like to stress the need to swiftly finalise the file on terrorist content online.
Recent events, such as the attacks in Christchurch, have shown the need for a legal framework to step up our collective response to the continued abuse of online space by terrorists. I count on the dedication of Mr Jaki on this issue.
I would also like to highlight the need for swift progress on the proposals to improve cross-border access to e-evidence.
Its Rapporteur, Ms Sippel, has already provided a comprehensive assessment of the proposal.
With more than half of all criminal investigations requiring cross-border access to e-evidence, our authorities are in dire need of appropriate measures to obtain e-evidence.
Last but not least, some words on funding.
The Commission has proposed to increase the long term funding for 2021-2027 on migration and asylum, on external border management and on security.
This is a strong political signal that the EU wants to deliver on the ambitious objectives with a sufficient level of funding.
I hope that the new Parliament will keep alive this level of aspiration.
These are some of our concrete actions and achievements from previous years, which provide solid foundations for the work that still needs to be done.
Now it is time to hand over the baton to the next Commissioner but there is still much to be done.
The work and the commitment of the Commission will and should continue at the same pace.
I can assure you that from our side we gave it our all – even under difficult circumstances.
I think that we can be proud leaving behind a legacy: both migration and security were very much considered as matters of national competence.
We achieved a big change of this mentality, as we worked on truly European solutions.
We have also achieved a more coherent way and approach in our external policy.
As I said earlier, a lot remains to be done, still.
I would like to express my sincere thanks once again to all of you for your cooperation in delivering these concrete policies responding to the needs of the citizens’ on the basis of our EU values.
I look forward to working with you until the very end of my mandate to make as much progress on outstanding legislation as possible.
I remain at your disposal for any questions you may have.