We have both stories and statistics proving that LGBT people’s fundamental rights are not respected, that discrimination and violence exist in the EU today. Actually, we have enough proof and knowledge not to wait and further investigate before measures are presented. Today, on the International Day against Homophobia and transphobia (IDAHO), the Fundamental Rights Agency, presented a report with more statistics, combined with proposals on further measures, both on European and national level. For example, 47% of the 39 000 LGBT respondents in the agency’s survey, answered that they had experienced discrimination or harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation in the year preceding the survey. Hopefully, this report will convince more people that we need the use the information we have got already.
Yesterday, ILGA Europe published the annual review and map of the human rights situation for LGBT people in Europe. It indicates some progress in Europe, but also clearly shows the huge differences between countries, also within the EU. In several countries, gays and lesbians enjoy the right to get married. Recently such a law has been adopted in France. The degree of violence and harassments varies between Member states, but exist everywhere. A lot remains to be done. None of the EU Member States are “done”, all of them can do more, including the European institutions.
It is totally unacceptable and incompatible with the fundamental values that the European Union are built upon, that citizens are subject to discrimination, violence and harassment and excluded from legislation that would protect them and their families. We do not need to get bogged down in statistics, but rather thoroughly examine what we can do to improve the situation.
I am in Greece for a couple of days, it is my fifth visit here as Commissioner. The rain is pouring down, and the situation here is still very troubling. Many Greeks are facing a difficult time, but there are also some small bright spots on the horizon. Tourism is expected to reach record levels this summer, and the Eurogroup has cautiously pointed towards signs of progress.
I am of course here to discuss the situation for refugees and migrants. There has been some progress since I was here last time. While the worst of the detention centres have now been closed, the conditions are still unacceptable for those who are kept in detention. Greece needs to do more in this area to fulfil European rules and international standards, and needs to build several open reception centres.
On a more positive note: an asylum centre will finally open in Athens, as well as on a few of the islands. Processing of asylum applications have so far been managed by the police authorities, which of course is unacceptable. This new centre has educated staff that will register applications, conduct interviews and handle appeals.
I had long discussions with Minister Nikos Dendias on the remaining issues in the Action Plan on Migration that the government has adopted. It is of course the responsibility of Greece itself to put a system in place, but the Commission, our Agencies, the Member States and a large number of NGOs are here to help. Greece is still having difficulties in fully using the funds available, and there is a need for better coordination between ministries.
I met with Prime Minister Samaras, who is deeply engaged in these migration issues. I visited the new asylum centre, met with UNHCR, and also visited the police unit that up until now has been responsible for asylum applications, which is now being phased out.
An important issue that we discussed is the racist violence which unfortunately is very much apparent in a country where a party such as Golden Dawn is on the rise, and where the financial crisis is creating a breeding ground for simplistic solutions and scape goats in politics. A proposal for a law that will criminalise agitation against ethnic groups, as well as making racist violence a serious offence, is now being prepared.
I spent Monday in Stockholm, where this week’s Europe day was celebrated with seminars and events at the House of Europe in the centre of town. For me, Europe day (9 may) is a day to reflect on our European project, and to remind ourselves and others why the EU was once founded. Especially in these times of economic and social turmoil in many EU Member States, it is important to remember that our continent would be far worse off without our European cooperation.
I participated in two seminars yesterday, one on organised crime and security issues with Swedish Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask, and the other about the future of Europe, together with Anna Stellinger, head of the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies. For those who speak Swedish, you can watch the seminars recorded by Sveriges Television at their website.
The celebrations continue on Europe day proper, on Thursday of this week, when I’m heading to Florence, Italy for the State of the Union event organised by the European University Institute. It brings together representatives from European institutions and national governments, academics and business leaders to discuss the development and the future of the EU. I will be speaking at around mid-day about Europe’s need for migration, and our attitudes towards it. Watch the event live from 9 AM CET on Thursday here.
An issue that has been in the spotlight around social media this week is the Commission’s proposed package of legislation to modernise and strengthen the food import and production chain. Along with my colleagues in the Commission, I have received several questions on this subject through Twitter and email. Many of them, however, appear to be based on misunderstandings of what the legislation is about, when it comes to the commercial use of seed. Let’s make sure this doesn’t snowball into another euro-myth right around Europe day, so here are the facts: Seed in private gardens is not covered by EU legislation. Private gardeners can continue to buy any plant material they want, and sell their seed in small quantities. The Commission foresees no registration rules at all for micro enterprises.
A longer Q&A on the subject can be found here.
After three days of pouring rain, the sun finally came out in a green and spring-like Washington where I have spent some days now this week.
We have a well-established cooperation with the US on many issues. My main cooperation partners, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, remain in the new Obama administration which creates a clear continuity.
The discussions with them here in Washington are of course characterized by the atrocious act of terror in Boston, and the following investigations. We also spoke about the work that the US is doing to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism. I shared information about our RAN network, which was established 18 months ago and which gathers local actors, researchers, volunteer organisations, police, teachers, etc. from across the EU. The purpose of the network is to exchange thoughts and experiences on radicalisation and violent extremism, exit strategies, the role of the Internet, etc.
We also spoke about cyber-crime, our common work to fight sexual abuse of children online, and the planned migration reform in the US. It is interesting to compare the debate on migration here, versus the debate in Europe. Here in the US, there is a growing political consensus on the notion that migration is necessary, and that it is mainly something positive for the US. In Europe, where we despite high levels of unemployment will need labour migration, it is instead largely seen as a problem.
Other meetings have revolved around trafficking, cooperation before the UN’s conference on migration and development in the autumn, and quite a lot on cyber-crime. An important part of the visit has also been my meetings with people outside of the administration. I had an interesting discussion with students and researchers at Georgetown University, where we discussed migration and asylum issues. At the University of Washington, I participated in a panel debate on cyber-crime where I, among other things, presented the EU Cyber Security Strategy.
Everyone here is also very positive as regards the coming negotiations on a free trade agreement between the EU and the US. It would be of great importance to reach such an agreement.
From 25 March to 17 June, you can give the commission your opinion on what you think the EU should do to reduce the harm caused by firearms in Europe. Everyone is welcome to contribute. You as an individual or organisations like local, regional and national authorities, academic institutions and intergovernmental, non-governmental or international organisations, are very much welcome to send us good ideas.
Despite repeated political declarations, at international, EU and national level, calling for ‘less guns’ and ‘more security’ over the last decade, despite the adoption of new legal frameworks and despite the hard work of law enforcement authorities, firearms continue to cause severe harm. In 2011, in the EU alone more than 5000 murders were committed with firearms. According to information from Europol, among others, there are about 4 million unregistered arms only in the Balkan countries. The global underground weapon market is estimated to have a turnover of between 170 and 320 million dollars a year. Trafficking in arms is a true cross-border activity and a considerable crime. We need a stronger EU policy in this area.
The Commission is working on a common approach and the aim of the consultation is to collect opinions about action needed at EU level to reduce the threat of firearms to people living in the EU. Responses to the questionnaire will give us valuable input for a communication which the Commission is preparing for adoption later this year, as well as possible future legislative and other initiatives. Help us identify what needs to be done!
You find the consultation here: http://j.mp/11R4LLB
Today, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) voted on the two outstanding pieces of the asylum package. An overwhelming majority voted for the proposals. As EU Member States have already informally approved the package in its entirety (six directives in total), we are now only awaiting the vote in the European Parliament plenary before we have a decision on a Common European Asylum System. This is a milestone for European cooperation, something that we have negotiated for many, many years. It will lead to better quality and conditions in the asylum systems of EU Member States, guaranteeing that the person who applies for asylum will have the right to things like interpretation, legal counsel, and a reply to his of her application within a certain timeframe. Additional support will be directed to the most vulnerable refugees, such as unaccompanied children, women who have been sexually violated, and victims of torture. The common asylum system raises the standard in all areas, compared to the legal framework in place today.
Reaching an agreement on this legislation has been one of the most important goals for me as Commissioner, if not the most important. The countries of the EU have been discussing this since 1999, and the difference between Member States in receiving refugees is unacceptable. A small number of countries are taking a great share of the responsibility, whilst others should be able to do a lot more.
Our European cooperation is founded on the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, and human rights. This is something that we can all agree upon. The European asylum system will strengthen the rights of those who are fleeing persecution or conflict. The EU is thereby demonstrating that all Member States are willing to help those in need, and that we will do so in a dignified manner.
However, we cannot celebrate quite yet. The agreement between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament must be formally endorsed in the plenary of the European Parliament. This will most likely happen in June of this year.
Common rules and standards for the reception of refugees are enormously important. It should not matter to which country you flee – an asylum seeker should know that his or her application will be treated correctly everywhere. If all EU Member States have a fully functioning reception system, we can also help more people in need. Through today’s decision in the LIBE committee, the standards of protection and reception will be raised, and rules will become clearer.
According to the Lisbon Treaty, in the areas of justice and – my portfolio – home affairs, the UK has the right to opt-out of EU co-operation. Today, I will speak at a conference in London to explain in some more detail the main elements of the procedures that are open to the UK under the Treaty. The final decision on what to do of course rests with the British government, as elected by the British people.
But I take the opportunity to stress how important co-operation is at European level in Home Affairs. One of the best examples is in the fight against cross-border crime.
Europol, the European Police Office, plays a key role here. I recommend you take a look at their web-site to see some of the great work that they do against credit card fraud, on-line child sex abuse images and drug smuggling. I have also pushed them during my mandate to boost their work against cyber-crime by setting up the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3).
Europol is not a federal police force and has no competence over national police forces. Europol is there to assist the EU Member States in the fight against serious crime and to facilitate the exchange of information between the national authorities, as well as to present reports and analyses on crime in Europe. Europol has been particularly successful in the coordination of “joint actions” with simultaneous crack-downs in several countries by the national police forces. The UK supports Europol’s work (Europol even has a British Director) but it also benefits from it by making life harder for organised criminals that want to penetrate the UK economy as well as continental Europe.
And that seems to me just one example of how important it is that the UK continues to be a part of European co-operation in the Home Affairs area. International organised criminals disregard borders wherever possible. So our national police forces need to co-operate across borders. The European Union is an important vector for this.
The English poet John Donne wrote in the early 17th Century (so well before the creation of the EU…) that “No man is an island”. The internet makes this literally true when it comes to cyber-crime, in particular. Just before Easter, the EC3 assisted in dismantling a European crime group specialised in credit card fraud. Crack-downs in countries like Romania and the UK led to the arrest of 44 people who have been involved in credit card fraud, manipulations of points of sale terminals and on-line fraud. This is an excellent example of what co-operation at EU level can deliver.
And I think it is something for British politicians and voters to reflect on when they make their sovereign choice about how much they wish to co-operate with European partners in my policy area.
My proposal on improving the European Law Enforcement Agency Europol was today approved by the Commission. Serious organised crime is becoming more and more advanced, as well as increasingly cross-border, something which the new SOCTA-report clearly shows. The EU needs a well-functioning and cost-efficient agency that is able to support the national authorities in the fight against transnational organised crime, in order to protect the citizens’ safety and the economy. At the same time, it is important to have a thorough parliamentary scrutiny and tough rules on data protection.
This proposal is aimed at making the Europol more efficient, more democratic and also at further raising the security for personal data. We also needed to adapt Europol to the Lisbon Treaty, taking the opportunity to place Europol and the European Police Academy CEPOL under one roof, thereby preventing parallel structures. The democracy will increase by giving the European Parliament and national parliaments a greater oversight of the activities of the Europol, with the possibility to review the practices. How this oversight will be designed is up to the European Parliament to decide on.
I was just now in the European Parliament to present this proposal to the LIBE Committee, and to answer questions. Our hope is that the decision on these reforms will be taken before the end of the mandate for the Parliament in spring 2014.
Statement by EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on the endorsement by Coreper of the Asylum procedures Directive and the EURODAC regulation:
“An agreement on these two texts means that we are now heading towards the formal adoption of all the proposals presented by the European Commission. This would represent a remarkable achievement for the whole European Union.
The Common European Asylum System has been my top priority since the beginning of my mandate and I have been involved in negotiations since the first day. Getting the CEAS in place will be historic, something the EU Member States and the Parliament have been aiming at since Tampere 1998.
Having been formally endorsed by the Home Affairs Council and the European Parliament, the CEAS will provide better access to the asylum procedure for those who request protection; will lead to fairer, quicker and better quality asylum decisions; will ensure that people in fear of persecution will not be returned to danger; and will provide dignified and decent conditions for both those who apply for asylum and those who are granted international protection within the EU.
It will also better equip Member States with the necessary tools to detect and prevent abuses and will introduce more consistent and robust quality standards all around the European Union. I welcome the constructive attitude shown by the European Parliament and the Council in negotiating these very sensitive proposals. We have travelled a tough road to get here. The negotiations have not always been easy and it has taken several years, but I am confident that formal adoption of the whole asylum package will soon be possible.”
The statement and background information is also available on RAPID: MEMO/13/293
Today, I presented a proposal aimed at facilitating the access to the EU for students and researchers from third countries. I was accompanied by Fatma Abidi and Bellarminus Kakpovi, two guest researchers in the EU, who shared their experiences on the difficulties of reaching to where they are now.
Approximately 200.000 foreign students and researchers come to the EU each year. They are often very talented people, who enrich their own education through this exchange, but also contribute positively to the EU through their knowledge and experiences. There is now an unfortunate trend in the decrease of the number of students and researchers arriving in the EU. The bureaucratic obstacles are a problem for the competitiveness of the EU, causing gifted researchers to look for opportunities elsewhere. As a consequence, we are missing people who could have contributed to development, growth and innovation after having finished their studies. In the EU today, despite the financial crisis and high levels of unemployment, there is already a shortage of people within e.g. engineering, health care, biotech and IT.
The proposal that I presented on behalf of the Commission today, contains proposals on how the EU could better appeal to students and researchers. No one should have to wait more than two months on a decision on residence permit or visa. Foreign students shall have the right to work in parallel to their studies, which is now forbidden in e.g. Luxembourg and Lithuania. After having completed their education, students and researchers shall have the right to remain in Europe for a year to look for jobs or start their own company. As the situation is today, these accomplished students leave almost the same day as they graduate.
We need well-educated people, no matter if they are European or third country nationals. They can start new companies, or enter into key positions in already existing companies, and thereby creating new investments and new jobs. We need strategic people in the development towards growth and competitiveness. I am proud that the EU Commission is showing leadership on this matter with this proposal to attract more students and researchers. Fatma Abidi from Tunisia shared her story on how her exchange has led to a collaboration on the issue of research on agriculture between the ULB University of Brussels and the University of Carthage in Tunisia. These kinds of initiatives can create jobs, further exchange of knowledge, and new research in both countries.
To strengthen the competitiveness of the EU, we have earlier assessed how to raise the quality of education in Europe. This is not within the competence of the EU to control, but we have made recommendations on how to improve the 4 000 universities throughout Europe. One important aspect is also to further improve the compulsory school, so that students have the knowledge and the tools necessary to continue their studies at university level. The Erasmus programme is also being evaluated and improved, to further increase the mobility of students within the EU.