A turning point for EU migration policy

A year ago, our government determined that European immigration policy must be one of our Presidency’s highest priorities. We realized we were at a turning point in migration policy for the European Union. With 10 new members and expanded borders, the challenge of managing migration to the benefit of all calls for a coordinated effort – we have to take into account all the experience and advice we can gather. We need to make the debate on our migration policy more central in our discussions with the wider public. We need to place the issue of secure borders in a wider context. As you can imagine, the issue of secure borders is vital to Greece. We have several thousand kilometers of coastline and, like our Mediterranean neighbors Italy and Spain, we believe the Union must invest more in patrolling our shores and borders. Illegal migration undermines the faith our citizens have in the rule of law; it enriches criminal syndicates whose actions subvert our democracies; and it challenges our systems of social protection, while turning desperate immigrants into indentured servants. Every EU member state has a responsibility to work individually and collectively to attack organized people trafficking by collecting and sharing intelligence, by resisting illegal entries through greater cooperation on land and sea border controls, and by regulating more adroitly the employment of unauthorized immigrants. But by allowing the debate to become monopolized by illegal immigration by placing all of our collective energy in devising ways to keep immigrants out, we have failed our publics. And we have failed to live up to our Union’s defining principle as a community of values that celebrates diversity, promotes tolerance and respect for equal human rights. We must explain to our publics that immigration can help European economies if we manage migration flows well. We must explain that immigrants can enrich our societies if we invest in programs to integrate them into our societies. We must explain that immigrants come to Europe not only to improve their lives, but to contribute to the improvement of ours as well. They come, for the most part, because our economies offer them jobs that too many of our fellow Europeans are not willing or able to do. And we must reach out to countries in the developing world as true partners in managing migration. We must see both sides of the coin. There is the problem of illegal migration. But there are also very positive aspects of regulated migration. We need a more balanced debate and more balanced policy. I believe this conference will go a long way in promoting the ideas that can underpin a balanced EU migration policy. Secure, smart borders The sense of balance we seek is captured in a single notion: that we not only need secure borders, we need smart borders. Borders that welcome the economic immigrants that our societies need, as well as the refugees that our legal obligations and humanitarian instincts oblige us to care for. For too long now, too many among us in the EU have been denying both the reality of the current situation and economic contributions of immigration to our societies. In that conspiracy of silence, too many of our citizens have been left without responsible guidance about this vital issue. They have become easy prey to the proponents of racial prejudice and hate, who have painted immigrants as lawbreakers and parasites, as social and economic burdens, and as the source of too many of our societies’ ills. Our government is seeking to bring balance back to the debate for the benefit of all of Europe. Immigration can help Europe. Immigration may not be the answer to all our demographic and economic challenges, but there is no answer to these issues that does not include immigration. And we cannot succeed with immigration without investing diligently in integration. Three basic principles Three principles form the core of our thinking: First, that a thoughtful, balanced and comprehensive migration policy regime underpins the growth, prosperity, and competitiveness aims of the Union. Second, that well-managed immigrant selection systems allow a government to acknowledge an economy’s demand for immigrant labor, and to address this demand by creating legal routes for foreign migrants. Just this week, the Institute Francais des Relations Internationales released a report predicting that Europe’s active population will decline from 331 million today to 243 million in 2050, a drop of 30 percent. Europe’s share of the world economy will fall from 22 percent to 12 percent. The report advocates allowing entry to 30 million immigrants by 2020 to sustain Europe’s economy. By opening up such legal channels to immigration, the EU can then begin to enlist the cooperation of both countries of origin and transit in a common front against migrant traffickers and illegal immigration networks. This approach stands the only real chance for the migration control initiatives of Seville to have more than a nominal opportunity to succeed. Third, that by giving third-country nationals the tools to be full economic and social contributors to host societies, and thus «converting» immigrants into social and economic assets rather than liabilities, two critical goals are achieved: i) Social cohesion becomes more attainable. ii) Governments buy badly needed breathing space to set up intelligent and thoughtful frontier control and interior enforcement policies and to build public consensus in support of them. Greek presidency’s goals Beyond broadening the European immigration debate, we set several concrete goals for our Presidency: First and foremost, we are intent on passing legislation that will create the legal framework for managed migration into Europe. Establishing legal channels of migration that are within our control is an essential means to begin subverting the ability of traffickers to exploit our borders. I am very pleased that we achieved agreement on the Commission Directive regulating family reunification in Europe – a directive that had been delayed for three years. I am also hopeful that the Council will meet another deadline imposed in Seville last year: the passage of the Commission Directive on the status of long-term residents before the Thessaloniki Summit [next month]. With these two pieces of legislation under our belts, we can feel confident that Europe has the beginnings of a legislative foundation to regulate legal migration. Also during our Presidency, we have seen a lively debate regarding the European asylum system, another focal point of this conference. The way we treat refugees reflects the European values we hold in such high regard. And improving our asylum systems is central to winning public trust that we are managing migration flows. Over the past several years, most European countries have seen a decline in numbers of asylum seekers, as they work to improve the means by which they evaluate and absorb asylum claims. We must all strike a fine balance between our obligation to support refugees and our public’s sense of what is fair and just. But our broader goals and aspirations on the issues of migration and asylum cannot be achieved in six months, nor even in six years. So one of the aims of our Presidency has been to seek ideas that can have a long-term impact, ideas we can seed during our Presidency and watch flower in the years to come. The Athens Migration Policy Initiative is one such venture. Another is a new proposal that we have developed to create an Annual Report on Migration and Integration in Europe. I am told frequently that the European debate on migration policy is hampered by statistics that are inaccurate or non-existent, and by too little exchange of best practices. The Annual Report is designed to address these shortcomings. The report will be the first ever, completely independent and systematic mapping of EU-wide migration data, policies and administrative practices on immigrant admissions, border and interior controls, and integration policies. In addition to accurate and objective description, the report will develop and promote policy initiatives for more effective management of migration in Europe. It will offer practical policy alternatives, providing opportunities for member states to learn from each other’s experiences. It will also set the stage for creating a clearinghouse of information on migration policies and programs in which «best practices» from around the world will be identified and evaluated. This last component of the effort will be of particular interest to the 10 accession countries as they work to develop and coordinate their policies with those of the 15 current member states. The notion of such an annual report has already won the endorsement of experts and other migration investors throughout Europe. We hope that other public and private organizations will assist that effort. Next month in Thessaloniki, the Greek Presidency will ask the Council to endorse this proposal that I have just outlined today. Finally, thank you for coming to Athens to join in what I hope was a constructive and fruitful meeting, whose conclusions will lay the groundwork for a common European migration policy in the months and years ahead. This is an adaptation of Foreign Minister Papandreou’s address to the conference on Managing Migration for the Benefit of Europe, which he delivered on Thursday, May 15, 2003. The conference was organized by the Foreign Ministry as part of the EU presidency in the context of the Athens Migration Policy Initiative – which is a joint project of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Migration Policy Institute.

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