Keynote speech, Henri Malosse, President of the European Economic and Social Committee Acropolis museum, Athens, 30 June 2014
If say "Famine at large scale, misery, civil wars" would you think about Africa in the 21st century? But I could actually refer to Europe in 18th and 19th.
Europe has in fact always experimented internal migrations. Inside the countries: from rural areas to the main cities, provoking the desertification of rural areas, mountains, islands. But also inside Europe: just remind the big migrations of Portuguese to France, Italians to Belgium, Greeks to Germany. The economic wonder of the 60 in France and Germany are also due to these “Gastarbeiter”.
The Immigration is seen today as a threat because of the economic crisis, but also the xenophobia which doesn’t concern just extra-UE people (see intolerance in the Netherlands towards Poles, the Roms issues illustrate it well). We need a shift in the perception of the migration in the EU – it should be considered as an opportunity, although a challenging one.
It is also absurd to refuse the talents to stay in the EU. The example of the recent case of the Nazif Mujic, the Berlinale Silver bear laureate, who was recently expelled with his family from Berlin, is a very good illustration of this absurdity.
Facing the demographic Decline, and taking into account our Values, the EU should handle this question with Common sense, Humanity and a Common EU approach (with opened borders, as there is no other option). The EESC has a long and rich background and some very acute recent opinions, as for example the one of Mr Mallia/Mr Gofcas on the Irregular immigration by sea in the Euromed region.
It’s crucial in this matter to make a clear distinction between internal EU migrants, extra EU regular migrants, irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Mixing all those categories together is the way for the populists, by amalgam, to create confusion and fears. We need to start discussing migration issues more responsibly in the EU on all levels, beginning by clarifying that all these different situations cannot be part of the same discussion.
I would also like to emphasise some more aspects reflected by the EESC. Intra-EU migration is a positive trend as long it’s a chosen migration which develops the skills. But we should fight against rural desertification, social dumping with the negative effects of the posted workers directives which bring to more wealthy states short time migrants with low rights.
As far as the regular immigrants concern – don't forget also that the immigration made an important contribution to Europe’s economic development and well-being. New immigrants would bring the skills and energy that Europe needs.
But coming to the irregular migrants, I would like to emphasise several important aspects.
First of all it is our duty to ensure respect for fundamental rights, there should be more EU solidarity with those Member States that, because of their geographical location, have to deal with large numbers of irregular migrants. The EU's borders, including the sea borders, are the borders of all EU Member States and as such, responsibility for guarding them properly should be shared among all Member States. This solidarity should also be reflected by strengthening the FRONTEX Agency and the MARENOSTRUM.
The human rights of irregular immigrants must be upheld at all times. For example closed retention camps should be banned as in contradiction with UN Conventions and a number of these "irregular migrants" could be just asylum seekers.
Every possible effort must be made to combat organised crime vigorously. No resources should be spared in tracking down and bringing to justice the "facilitators" of people smuggling. In this regard the assistance of third country governments is essential.
Cooperation with third countries is often essential as a precondition for effective implementation of repatriation procedures. At the same time assistance should be given to certain transit countries in order to enable them to manage their borders better and enable them to grant protection to those who need it.
Concerning the asylum seekers and refugees, the principle of non-expulsion at the border must be guaranteed, and all persons requiring international protection must be able to submit an application in the EU. The week migration policy of the EU make that people who are trying to arrive to Europe on a legal bases as refugees are forced to risk their lives while doing so, as there are not many other options open to them. The EU needs to create legal entry points around its borders nit only for the sake of better monitoring of the inflow of people but most importantly for the sake of human lives.
Finally, I would like to call the politicians and others with influence in society, together with the media, to make all the efforts for setting a clear political and social example in fighting rising intolerance, racism and xenophobia against immigrants in Europe. There is a need for increased harmonisation between Member States to address such tendencies.
For this a very clear definition is needed on the EU approach towards the inclusion of migrants into the EU countries' societies. We have to create a European model, in which each side would have to make efforts: locals to accept the differences and the benefits of new cultures and the migrants to respect the identity of the countries where they moved in.
The migration’s policy is not isolated from other key necessary EU policies. In internal affairs we should focus on the social and economic cohesion among the EU nations to avoid a "two speed Europe". In external affairs, a more integrated foreign policy is needed to insure more stability in our neighbouring countries and a stronger common Co-development policy in the sensible regions (Sahel and Sub Sahel's countries mainly).
As the new Commission will be established, why not having a European Commissioner dealing with Migrations, rather to associate Migrants with Justice and Home Affairs.