Address to the high-level conference on migration and asylum 

Speech by the European Parliament President


It is a great pleasure to welcome the authorities, speakers and of course the Members of the European Parliament and national parliaments who will participate today in our second high-level interparliamentary conference on immigration and asylum.

I do it together with my colleague Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, president of the Portuguese Assembleia da República, who with us promoted and organized this conference, in collaboration with the other 2 presidents of the national parliaments of the presidency trio, my colleagues Wolfgang Schäuble, president of the German Bundestag, and Igor Zorčič, president of the Slovenian National Assembly.

I would also like to thank Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission, for having accepted our invitation to open the conference today with a speech.

With this conference, the second during the period of the pandemic, we want to continue to promote a broad dialogue on the management of migration and asylum in Europe. And we want to do this today by turning our gaze to the external dimension of migration, to the world around us, to the reasons why millions of people around the world set out and often see Europe as the goal for a better life.

This reflection of the European Union, as a land of opportunity, must make us reflect on our strength and our responsibility in the world. And it must also serve to make us more aware of the economic and political tools we have at our disposal to manage human mobility with our partners in the world in a coordinated way, while being attentive to people's rights.

I therefore believe that this meeting can help us reflect on the choices to be made to contribute to a global and sustainable approach to the management of migratory movements and the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on them in this year and a half.

I am convinced that, by listening to each other's points of view, in this high-level Interparliamentary Conference we can begin to find common ground for courageous and innovative choices that can finally give the European Union a common policy on asylum and migration, starting from the opinions of parliamentarians democratically elected by our citizens.

External dimension of migration and asylum policies

We have chosen to discuss today the external dimension of migration and asylum policies because we know that only by looking up at the instability, crises, poverty, human rights violations that occur beyond our borders, will we be able to attack the root causes that push millions of people to make the decision to leave, to manage this global phenomenon in a human way, to welcome with dignity and respect the people and the stories that knock on our doors every day.

Today we see how the Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on migration patterns locally and worldwide and a multiplier effect on the forced movement of people around the world, especially where access to treatment and healthcare is not guaranteed. The pandemic has disrupted migration pathways, blocked immigration, destroyed jobs and income, reduced remittances, and pushed millions of migrants and vulnerable populations into poverty.

Migration and asylum are already in fact an integral part of the external action of the European Union. But they must become part of a stronger and more cohesive foreign policy of the European Union.

We are the largest donor to the Syrian crisis since its tragic beginning ten years ago. This year at the fifth conference on the future of Syria and the region - promoted by the European Union and the United Nations - the European Union and the Member States have allocated EUR 3.7 billion of the total 5.3 billion - and the Union remains the world's largest donor in the Syrian crisis, with 24.9 billion euros that we have put in support of humanitarian aid to refugees and displaced persons in Syria and the region, stabilization and assistance to local communities and the defenseless population.

But this important economic effort to help people will remain a drop in the ocean if we do not know how to put it at the service of political and diplomatic action so that Syrians have the right to decide their future and their country, as it should be. To support a path of true stabilization, which allows Syria to be a safe country again and Syrian refugees to return to safety.

Today Syria is not a safe country and none of our member countries can consider it safe.

Also in Libya, the European Union has been working for years with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, to provide assistance to people held in government detention centers and to guarantee protection to those who are entitled to it and support for those who want to return. We supported Niger in the effort to welcome people who arrive every day from the long and terrible journey in the desert, which often comes before imprisonment in Libya and then the often-fatal embarkation in the Mediterranean towards Italy. We assisted migrants in transit and helped those who wanted to return home.

But all this must go hand-in-hand with a common policy to bring stability to Libya, to stabilize and secure the Sahel - together with our African allies and partners. These are not separate actions - migration policies are a component of a foreign policy and diplomatic action that the Union must now implement. We must overcome divisions, and be not only a global donor, but also a leading political actor.

A foreign policy that puts people, human development, democracy, rights, collective security and the fight against climate change at the center.

In this context, the new pact on asylum and migration, proposed by the Commission last September, placed a strong emphasis on cooperation with countries of origin and transit of migratory flows - on the basis of comprehensive bilateral partnerships for development, that have at the center the management of the regular mobility of people.

And we need comprehensive, transparent and democratically controlled partnerships within which our parliaments can exercise our powers as budgetary and executive control authorities.

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

Even in the last few days we are witnessing the arrival of hundreds of people in boats in the Mediterranean - desperate people who arrive by swimming around the Spanish coast, but also through the Balkans or the Italian and French Alps.

I believe it is our duty first of all to save lives. It is no longer acceptable to leave this responsibility only to NGOs, which perform a substitute function in the Mediterranean. We must go back to thinking about joint action by the European Union in the Mediterranean that saves lives and tackles traffickers. We need a European search and rescue mechanism at sea, which uses the expertise of all actors involved, from Member States to civil society to European agencies.

Second, we must ensure that people in need of protection can arrive in the European Union safely and without risking their lives. We need humanitarian channels to be defined together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We must work together on a European resettlement system based common responsibility. We are talking about people who can also make an important contribution to the recovery of our societies affected by the pandemic and demographic decline, thanks to their work and their skills.

And we have to put in place a European migration reception policy. Together we define the criteria for a single entry and residence permit, we assess the needs of our labor markets at national level. During the pandemic, entire economic sectors came to a halt due to the absence of immigrant workers. We need regulated immigration for the recovery of our societies and for the maintenance of our social protection systems.

The European Parliament has always been committed to a holistic and comprehensive approach to asylum and migration policies, combining the internal and external dimensions.

We will work together for this objective on all the proposals of the Pact for Immigration and Asylum, in particular we will work to overcome the Dublin system, for genuine cooperation between Member States based on a permanent mechanism of solidarity and sharing of responsibility. We must ensure that frontline Member States are not left alone and guarantee migrants and asylum seekers in the EU receive dignified treatment and humane living conditions throughout the asylum procedure.

I am convinced that this strategic approach can help us move to a sustainable migration system, with a positive approach to this ancient and structural phenomenon, which is not a new occurrence or an emergency.

Concluding remarks

I am sure that today's meeting will contribute to the successful collaboration between national parliaments and the European Parliament in the area of ​​migration and asylum, which while strengthening our interinstitutional cooperation, also respects our respective competences.

Allow me to conclude this opening speech by thanking you again for your participation in this meeting and wishing you a productive day in today's work and panels.

I will pass the floor to my dear Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, president of the Portuguese Assembleia da República.

Thanks for your attention.