Speech by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the 6th Summit of Speakers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean PA-UfM, Strasbourg 13/2/2019

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13 Feb 2019
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Dear President Tajani,

Dear Speakers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean,

Dear Friends,

While the lands flanking the Mediterranean Sea  – the sea between lands – have changed owners and rulers many times over the course of history, the Mediterranean Sea has remained its own master.

But while remaining its own master, it has always remained open and welcoming.

For centuries, the Mediterranean region has been a cradle of trade, mobility, cultural exchanges and a variety of opportunities.

Today is no different. In times of geopolitical instabilities, our concerns, worries and challenges are shared.

It is only through strong cooperation, reciprocal commitments and equal partnerships that we can ensure stability and prosperity for the benefit of our citizens on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Not only cooperation among the governments, but also of those who represent our citizens directly  – the parliaments.

We all know that around 70 million people around the world are forcibly displaced because of conflict and violence, and more than 250 million are on the move, including because of poverty as well as the growing impact of climate change.   

The Mediterranean region is very much affected by this, representing one of the most important areas of origin, transit or destination for them.

But as I said earlier: this is not new. Migration and mobility are inherent to the Mediterranean region.  These phenomena have known peaks and lows. And in recent years we have experienced a peak indeed.

We need to see and understand these movements – not to stop them, because we cannot, but to better manage them.

We need a system that is based on the principles of shared responsibility and solidarity towards the migratory challenges, and that at the same time is sustainable in the long run.

Such a system has to be developed in all partner countries as well as at global level, and the adoption of the UN Global Compacts on Refugees and on Migration last December can certainly contribute to this.

The EU has been taking important steps forward in developing a comprehensive and balanced system to address the migration and asylum challenges, in line with international law and in cooperation with its partner countries.  Substantial progress in particular has been made in the last years: let me refer to some important milestones that we have achieved together since 2015.  

I would like to start with the EU-Turkey Statement agreed upon in March 2016.

A game changer with immediate effects.

Thanks notably to the cooperation with the Turkish authorities, not only did irregular arrivals to Europe decrease significantly, but also the situation of Syrians in Turkey improved dramatically.

For hundreds of thousands of them, support to self-maintenance, education, health care, training and employment was made possible through the mobilisation by the EU of 6 billion EUR under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.  

A similarly large number of Syrian refugees also has access to these forms of support in Lebanon and Jordan, thanks to the EU Trust Fund for the Syrian crisis, called “Madad”.

In these countries, the EU took care of increasing resettlement pathways the refugees use to come safely and orderly to Europe: from Turkey alone 12,575 Syrian refugees were resettled to EU Member States so far.

However, we are not only focusing on one of the many  Mediterranean routes.

This is why I underlined earlier that we all need to work together hand in hand on a comprehensive solution.  

For this reason, we also need to work on stopping the increased migratory arrivals to Cyprus and ensure efficient cooperation from both shores of our common sea to stop irregular departures.

And we also all need to work together with our sub-Saharan partners, to fight the root causes of migration and the smugglers networks.

The Joint Valletta Action Plan has generated the creation of the EU Trust Fund for Africa with an important envelope of about €4.2 billion.

This fund plays a critical role in addressing root causes and providing protection to migrants and refugees along the route and fighting migrants smuggling and trafficking, with now 187 programmes for a total of €3.6 billion approved across the Sahel and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and North Africa.

The collaboration and the trust we managed to build has yielded concrete deliverables, in all the strands of cooperation we jointly set up through the Valletta Declaration and Action Plan.

Not only did we provide key partners with support to strengthen border management and fight against migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.

We also supported actions addressing root causes of migration, stabilizing communities, facilitating reintegration and return of migrants in countries of origin and transit.

Over 5.3 million vulnerable people benefitted from basic services and nutrition programmes. We also placed specific attention on Libya.

From there, over 40 000  stranded migrants   were helped to return and reintegrate safely home, and over 2800 vulnerable persons in need of international protection were evacuated to neighbouring countries, in view of their resettlement, mostly in EU countries.

Furthermore, thousands of migrants stranded in Libya, in particular in detention centres, have received medical care, legal and psychological assistance, food, clothing.

Together with the African Union and with our key partners the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)  through the Joint Taskforce set up in November 2017, we have built a common vision to improve the lives of those stranded in Libya and along the Central Mediterranean route.

Our objective is not only to stop irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings, but also to ensure a dignified treatment of migrants and refugees, in line with international standards and respectful of human rights.

This is why our key priority is to continue saving migrants’ lives at sea and in the desert. EU operations have helped rescuing over 690,000 people at sea since 2015.

The support EU and its Member States have given to the Libyan Coast Guard in terms of training and equipment has also enhanced considerably its operational capability in this area which resulted in 2018 in about 120 operations and almost 15, 000 persons safely rescued.

It is unacceptable that lives continue to be lost in the Mediterranean. We need to ensure with all partners in the Mediterranean that persons rescued can be disembarked in a safe and predictable way.

In addition to all these achievements, we have also taken substantial steps to address in a more robust manner the root causes of migration by launching the EU External Investment Plan and the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.  

The External Investment Plan launched in 2017 is expected to leverage €44 billion of investment. The plan is designed to attract investment from private investors, into the EU Neighbourhood and in Africa.   

The new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs was launched in September 2018, with the objective to give a follow up to the 5th African Union – EU Summit  held in September 2017 and create a multilayers partnership between Africa and Europe, and to lead to the creation of up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next 5 years.

 But we need to do more to promote pathways for legal migration: both for those in need of protection, though resettlement, as well as those coming to contribute to the EU’s economies. I have recently called on Member States to deliver on their commitments of 50,000 resettlements this year.

We also continue to discuss and cooperate with a number of Member States, in view of developing pilot projects for labour migration with selected partner countries.

Honourable Speakers,

Dear friends,

you have an important role to play. As elected representatives of your countries, you can ensure that people’s needs are addressed in the policy orientation as well as in the technical identification of programmes. I will continue to stress that when it comes to security, migration and mobility, the challenges we face are common  – and so our response, to be effective, can only be common too.

The Mediterranean is the sea between the lands, an equilibrium point between two continents.

The solution cannot be found on the African continent alone, and neither can it be on the European one.

We need our Member States to cooperate and support our frontline Member States, we need the Northern African countries to cooperate with us and all together with the Sub-Saharan ones.

And the EU should continue supporting these countries in their development and progress.

Our efforts cannot concentrate on Eastern, Central or Western Mediterranean. They need to converge in this equilibrium point.

Without concerted action from both sides of the Mediterranean, this point cannot be reached. The Mediterranean Sea is the cradle of close cooperation and partnership, connecting the historical past with a prosperous future. Our cooperation and trustful relationship is key.

Meetings, like the one today, contribute to reinforcing our partnership, our unity and the confidence in each other.

Let's ensure the continuity of our common sea, Mare Nostrum, as a wider space of peace, stability cultural respect, and cooperation.

The Mediterranean Sea is defined by history, geography and economy  as a wide and hospitable space, vital for our common future. A future that we have to build together.

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