Good morning. I thank the committee for the invitation to speak today. I hope members have received the slides I sent yesterday because I will be speaking to them this morning. By way of introduction and with reference to the first of those slides, in September the Commission brought forward a new pact on the subject of migration and asylum with the objective of building long-term and stable migration policy and translating European values into its management. The first thing I would like to underline is that it is a new pact. Back in 2016 following the migration crisis of 2015-2016, we had tabled a reform of the common European asylum system but as committee members will be aware, we have not been able to close a number of proposals that we put on the table at that time. The idea was to come with a new pact to break through the deadlock and to create a stable system to ensure a future-proofed system. The starting point for our new pact is to acknowledge the reality of migration, including the fact that it has enriched our countries, both economically and socially. In terms of regular migration pathways, this side of our migration policy works pretty well but in terms of irregular migration, we must accept and admit that our system does not work so well.
What Europe has to do now is better manage the challenges that we face with migration because the system we have in place now has a number of shortcomings. That is why we have tabled this comprehensive approach which is built on an integrated policy-making methodology. It is built on four main pillars, the first of which concerns the external environment and the importance of good, strong co-operation with non-EU countries and of building win-win external partnerships. In order for this to be achievable, investment is required and the process involved is long term. We need to get stuck into that right now and to do so on the basis of tailor-made and mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries. These partnerships aim to address the shared challenges we face with regard to migration. Migration is not just a phenomenon that involves people coming to Europe. If one looks at the figures for Africa, for example, there is migration going on all over the place within the continent itself. We have common challenges and the partnerships are predicated on the basis of working together on those challenges, such as in the areas of migrant smuggling, developing legal migrant pathways and tackling the effective implementation of readmission agreements and arrangements.
The second pillar I want to mention in this comprehensive approach concerns more efficient and faster procedures vis-à-vis border management. The Commission proposes to introduce integrated asylum and return border procedures. This is an innovation of the pact of September. It will also include a pre-entry phase for screening, which is not a procedure in itself but relates to certain activities that should be carried out, including for example, the identification of all people crossing the EU's external borders without meeting the entry conditions or having disembarked after a search and rescue operation.
It seems common sense that we should have an identification of each person arriving, and health checks and security checks. That is what is meant by screening. We need to also to ensure registration in the EURODAC database. This screening phase will also allow individuals to be rapidly and effectively channelled towards the right procedure. That could be the border procedure, which we would make mandatory under certain circumstances, for example, for people coming from a country with a recognition rate of below 20%, or it could be the normal asylum procedure, or, if a person is not applying for asylum, it could be straight into a return channel.
By the way, I should mention that the border procedure is an accelerated procedure which is aimed at providing quick decisions but always respecting the fundamental rights requirements. We have to have an individual assessment of every applicant making an asylum application, and whether or not they are in the border procedure, we always need an individual assessment. At the same time, we would also envisage strengthening all of the other procedures and subjecting these procedures and the way member states carry these out to stronger monitoring and operational support from EU agencies.
I should also mention the EU’s digital infrastructure for migration management and I have already mentioned the EURODAC database. It is proposed to modernise this so it is more effective at covering, for example, individual applicants rather than applications. For example, if a person applied for asylum in one member state, it would be able to track that more effectively by being able to see whether that person then applies for asylum in another member state. The present database is not so efficient at covering that kind of situation and we need to fix these deficiencies.
The third pillar mentioned on the first slide concerns the fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity, which is one of the core issues that we need to get right in the pact. I will come back to that shortly on a separate slide.
The fourth pillar I set out on the opening slide is about legal pathways and integration. The pact is not about creating a fortress Europe. A credible legal migration and integration policy is essential for benefiting European societies and economies, and also for building those external partnerships that I mentioned earlier. The Commission proposes, therefore, to launch talent partnerships with the key non-EU countries that will match labour and skills needs in the EU. I would like to make a distinction within these legal pathways in that there can be economic legal pathways but there can also be humanitarian legal pathways, which are, of course, of great importance. The pact intends to strengthen resettlement and promote other complementary pathways to protection, seeking to develop a European approach to community sponsorship to give civil society a stronger and more structured role in the reception and integration of newcomers. We have set out these objectives in the recommendation on legal pathways to protection in the EU.
Last week, the Commission came forward with and adopted a new comprehensive action plan on integration and inclusion. This action plan promotes inclusion for all, recognising the essential role of integration in a stable asylum and migration policy. We need to get that right, and there is an important local dimension of that in terms of working in partnership with different stakeholders and also with local and regional authorities.
I will now move to the next slide. It is important to ensure the sharing of responsibility and solidarity, and this is a principle set out and enshrined in the treaty itself. What we would do is elaborate on this principle, in particular through a new proposal, which is the asylum and migration management regulation that will replace the Dublin regulation. This sets out a common framework, sets out rules on responsibility and also sets out a solidarity mechanism. Member states, by this solidarity mechanism, will be bound to show solidarity to each other. Solidarity is not optional; it is compulsory. In particular, we focus this on situations of pressure because we must make sure that member states contribute in times of need to help stabilise the overall system, support member states under pressure and ensure the Union fulfils its humanitarian obligations. That is a very important point and I want to emphasise this mandatory solidarity component.
As I mentioned earlier, the 2016 proposal was also aimed at putting in place a solidarity mechanism and, of course, it proved very difficult to find a way through with our earlier proposal. We have tried to learn from this earlier experience and Commissioner Johansson and Vice President Schinas were mandated by the President to carry out a series of exchanges with stakeholders, but in particular with member states, to try to find a way by which we can come together on this very important point, which is to find the right balance between responsibility and solidarity. That has involved an acceptance in our proposals of the need to have a flexible system in place. We cannot have an unduly rigid system but we cannot compromise either on the objective we want to achieve here, which is to provide effective support to the member states that need that support. That will most likely be the member states that are geographically exposed and, as we have seen, that are constantly under pressure due to their geographical position.
On this basis, we need to reconcile the fact we need a compulsory system, we need it to be flexible and we also need it to be effective. These are the key objectives we have integrated into the design of our system. This involves, for example, recognising that solidarity should be provided, and that could be in terms of location but it also could be in terms of providing support in the area of return. That is an innovation in our new proposal. We call this "return sponsorship" and it is a rather important additional way of offering solidarity. However, we do not confine it to those people solidarity options. There are also various other options like capacity building and also providing support in the external dimension, along the route which impacts the member state under pressure. The mechanism, as I said, needs to always help the member state that is under pressure so this flexibility needs to be counterbalanced by certain guarantees. This is, in the first place, ensured by the Commission working with the member state that will be under pressure to identify its real needs. It is not for the Commission just to say to a member state: “Take this, it is something that is useful for you.” It has to be something that really is useful to the member state that is under pressure. At the same time, given the balance we need to strike between responsibility and solidarity, we need to ensure that those rules on responsibility are more effective and address the issues relating to unauthorised secondary movement. This is the other side of the coin, in a sense, and we need to get that right and acknowledge that the system does not work as it should in that area either. Therefore, we have proposed some improvements in that area as well.
As I mentioned, return is of fundamental importance. We acknowledge this in the solidarity mechanism but we also acknowledge that we need to step up with EU-level support to member states in this area because we need to have a more efficient system. We need to give protection to those who need protection, but for that system to work well, we also need to acknowledge there are those who, having been assessed after application, have been found not to need protection.
For those who applied and are found not to require protection, we need to find dignified ways of ensuring that the return system, which is linked with readmission to third countries and so there is an external dimension that also works well.
Members will see on the slide a reference to common governance of migration and better governance. It is important that each member state has in place a strong and robust system of its own at national level. We depend on that. It is the European way to build on good, strong, national systems. That is essential for another nucleant of the European way, which is that we can ensure mutual trust between member states. In this area that is at a premium. We need to make sure that each member state has a robust system in place which ensures better strategic planning, both at national and European level, and also enhanced monitoring of migration management on the ground with annual reports, etc.
The final slide shows the pact in the form of a completed puzzle. The puzzle is intended to depict that this is not an easy area. It is a challenging area but we need to get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit together. The internal and external dimensions both need to work. We cannot have one piece and not the other. They both need to fit together; the one supports the other. All of this is essential to ensure full communication in terms of an overall comprehensive approach.
I mentioned the effective border management through the screening regulation, the asylum procedures regulation, known as the EURODAC regulation.
I will make a brief comment on crisis. We are not in a permanent state of crisis. There was a crisis in 2015-2016 provoked by the situation in Syria but it is not the normal functioning and we should not design a system exclusively for situations of crisis. We need to prevent crises and put in place stable systems to avoid these crises. We cannot always avoid crises. They come from outside, therefore, we need to have better rules in place for when a crisis occurs. The starting point is a stable system working in a more normal setting, which is able to respond also to pressure without breaking. That is the reason we have this pressure mechanism for dealing with solidarity.
I should also mention the special status that we recognise for search and rescue operations and disembarkations. It has to be acknowledged that it is an obligation under international law to rescue people in distress at sea and, where they have been rescued, to disembark them in the nearest place of safety. If a person is disembarked on that basis, it is in a rather different setting from someone otherwise disembarking across the border in an irregular manner.
I mentioned the legal pathway. That is the resettlement recommendation. The asylum and migration management regulation is the centrepiece in a way because it is where we find this common approach.
Finally, the grey pieces of the puzzle are those which discussed last time around. While we have not completed these proposals there has been a lot of progress in the co-decision procedure. There is no point reinventing the wheel. We would encourage the swift adoption of these proposals, for example, setting up of an EU asylum agency. It is very important to get that done quickly. I am very happy to answer members' questions.