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EESC hearing calls for fact-based debate on migration

The UN's Global Compact for Migration was on the agenda of the hearing held at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 2 May 2019, where a number of stakeholders met to discuss its implementation. EESC members José Antonio Moreno Díaz and Séamus Boland insisted that the complex topic of migration needed to be better explained to the public at large, underlining that civil society had an essential role to play.

The need for better management of migration

We need to open up a debate and discuss how the different attitudes on migration of the various EU Member States can come together, said José Antonio Moreno Díaz, rapporteur for the own-initiative opinion currently being drafted by the EESC on the "Implementation of the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration based on EU values". The Global Compact is very compatible with the European Treaties and reflects EU values such as solidarity, equality and respect for human rights. It should serve as a framework for policy-making in the EU.

The phenomenon of migration is very complex and not always perceived as positive. There will always be migration and it has to be managed properly; we have to deal with it in a realistic way, continued Mr Moreno Díaz. We have to improve the management of migration, and not use it as an ideological tool to fight against political opponents. Let's not forget that migratory flows change all the time: today's destination countries were maybe countries of emigration in the past.

The central role of EU civil society

With reference to the implementation of the agreement, Séamus Boland, president of the study group drawing up the EESC opinion, said that he was optimistic, and pointed out that, although it was a choice for the Member States, so much good work was being done by so many civil society organisations that it would be difficult for the political establishment to completely derail the entire process.

Ola Henrikson, from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stressed that, according to the text of the Global Compact, the Member States would play a leading role in its implementation, and added that it was unlikely that they would all take the same type of approach.

Populist and extreme-right movements use emotions, feelings and perceptions to manipulate public opinion in our Member States. It is therefore essential to downplay the emotional dimension of migration and treat this complex topic in an objective manner, said Maria Giovanna Manieri from the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament.

In this respect, Mr Boland encouraged participants to follow developments in the field on a regular basis, because to be informed is a major talent and also a major advantage in arguing. This is where civil society has a key role, he pointed out. Civil society has always been at the forefront of bringing forward change and reform. It's difficult and it can be threatening but it is possible.

Referring to the often-heard argument that migrant workers can help fill skills shortages in European labour markets, Chidi King, representing the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said that migrants should not be seen as a problem or a solution. In addition, this argument alone would not change the negative narrative on migration.

Looking back at the negotiation phase of the agreement, Stephane Jaquemet of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) underlined that a constructive debate did not happen in many Member States. Negotiations took place between experts behind closed doors and only global and high-level organisations were involved. The voice of migrants and grassroots NGOs should therefore be heard and prioritised now, as local organisations will be called upon to implement the agreement.

The ongoing EESC opinion

The document that the EESC is currently putting together aims to assess to what extent the EU and its Member States meet the 23 objectives of the Global Compact and to clarify which EU laws, policies and tools can be used to achieve its objectives. The final discussion and adoption of the opinion is scheduled for the EESC plenary session in July 2019.

Background

The UN's Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration was adopted in Marrakesh (Morocco) in December 2018. It addresses all aspects of international migration and provides a framework for extensive international cooperation with regard to migrants and human mobility on the basis of 23 objectives.

It is a non-binding agreement that aims to identify key issues relating to migration management both for countries of origin and transit and for destination countries. It is designed to launch a constructive practical global debate on the governance of migration.

Not all EU Member States have signed the Global Compact: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland voted against it; Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Latvia and Romania abstained; Slovakia did not attend the meeting. Belgium and the Netherlands signed the agreement but made clear in the explanatory memorandum its non-binding aspect.

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