Yesterday, the committee on International Trade in the European Parliament held the hearing of commissioner Malmström. Today, they confirmed her nomination to become commissioner for Trade. Her opening remarks are available here. If you are interested in learning more about the hearings, you can find information from the Parliament here.
More pictures from the hearings are available here.
I am very honoured and proud to have been nominated to be responsible for trade issues in the new European Commission.
Trade is a vital part of Europe’s economic recovery, and a cornerstone of our prosperity. Prosperity is built by people and nations that are able to trade and exchange knowledge with each other. Trade is also about bringing people closer to each other and spreading new ideas.
We have much to gain from getting rid of barriers and opening new markets. This will be to the benefit of the European workforce, European consumers and companies as well as our foreign partners.
The trade portfolio is full of exciting challenges and I will now focus on preparing for the European parliament hearings.
“Happy and honoured to have been nominated as Commissioner for a second term”, commissioner Cecilia Malmström writes on twitter this morning as a comment to the Swedish government decision to nominate her as EU commissioner for another five years. Commissioner Malmström’s own comments:
Today, the Swedish government nominated me to continue as European Commissioner for another mandate. It is very honouring to receive this confidence and provided the approval of the European Parliament, I look forward continuing to work for a better Europe. It is not settled which areas of responsibility the nominated Commissioners will be suggested to take over. It is for the future Commission President Jean-Claude Junker to select his team and appoint the different political areas of responsibility. He will not be able to do so until the summit at the end of August, when the Heads of States have agreed upon who will take over the responsibility for EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy after Catherine Ashton.
The current Commission still has a couple of months left and with my areas of responsibility there are always things to do. But it will also be exciting to be part of the new Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker, who will be leading the team is a dedicated European, a capable and clear politician and an experienced negotiator. Furthermore, he seems to have a great deal of humour.
As a whole, the new Commission will have an important task when leading Europe in the right direction during difficult times. With wars and conflicts in our close neighbourhood and in the aftermath of the economic crisis, the task will require hard, coordinated and committed efforts. After the elections to the European Parliament in May, and the successes of the xenophobic and nationalist movements, it feels even more important to continue to strive for an open, united and outlooking Union and to stand up against intolerance.
I just came back from Milan, Italy, where the first informal JAI Council meeting during the Italian Presidency was held. In the Justice and Home Affairs area we have been working intensively the last five years to implement the Stockholm agenda. We have put in place new asylum laws, worked on legal migration and strengthening of Schengen cooperation, increasing our fight against organised crime, corruption, terrorism etc. It is now time to look forward and the Strategic Guidelines for the area of Freedom, Security and Justice the European Council adopted at their June meeting identify the main priorities. This shows the importance that the European union is giving to this field of cooperation. These new strategic guidelines were part of the Agenda at the meeting with ministers in Milan.
There is an overall agreement that the main focus must be on implementing what we have agreed and make sure it works in practice. We need to consolidate and make the best use of our existing tools while being flexible for challenges that will always arise when we talk about asylum, migration or organised crime. Ministers discussed the issue of labour migration, how we can make sure that our union is open to skills and talents that we need in a recovering economy and gloomy demographic figures. We must make the case that migration and mobility is an asset and not a burden, especially in this difficult political climate with emerging racism and populism. Ministers reflected on what the EU can do to attract talent in key sectors affected by skills mismatch and labour shortages, how to improve labour mobility of regular migrants across the EU and how to address negative perceptions in the public opinion about migration. I was pleased to see that the suggestion, advocated by the Commission, to establish a platform to identify skill shortages and needs and promote, benchmarking of successful integration policies got a good reception.
We also discussed how we can become better in bridging the internal and external dimensions of migration working more closely with the countries in our neighbourhood.
Part of the strategic guidelines is the area of security. The Internal Security Strategy (ISS) will be updated to take into account new challenges, such as cyber crime, new forms of organized crimes and adapted to fight smuggling and trafficking. The focus also here, should be, according to the ministers, on actual implementation and operational cooperation. We also discussed how to further enhance respect for fundamental rights in the development and implementation of the internal security policies and how to improve synergies between EU internal security policies and other policy areas.
The European Council’s guidelines on the future on freedom, security and justice will be adopted in June. This will be done during a time when EU-scepticism is loud and we are seeing indications on growing nationalism, intolerance and xenophobia. My message to the Heads of State or Government is a plea to demonstrate political leadership and to give a clear signal that the EU will not compromise its core values.
Today, the Commission presented its view and its proposal of ideas for the future in the area of justice and home affairs. Since I took office as EU Commissioner for Home Affairs in 2009 I have worked according to the ambitious agenda stated in the Stockholm programme. Now, almost five years later, we can be proud of what has been achieved. We have agreed upon a Common European Asylum System with high standards and rule of law for those seeking protection. We have reinforced the governance of the Schengen zone and we have abolished visa requirements for a number of countries in our close neighbourhood (Balkans) but also in other countries such as e.g. Brazil and Taiwan. We have opened more legal ways of accessing Europe. In the area of security, the European cooperation has been strengthened and deepened. We have created EU legislation and strategies against trafficking in human beings, a new European Cybercrime Center (EC3), a global alliance against pedopornography on the internet as well as a network to prevent radicalisation and extremism (RAN). But the work is not over. The proposal presented today is based on the experience and knowledge we have acquired in our work.
The Europe I want is a Europe that is open to the world, that welcomes students, researchers and others and that brings skills and talents that we need to ensure our levels of prosperity. It is a Europe that offers protection for those in need of it. My Europe is the Europe that provides security to its citizens.
We have to continue to uphold our core values and principles on which our cooperation is built upon. Democracy, the rule of law and respect of human rights have to be the foundation on which we develop our policy during the coming years. The notions of solidarity and responsibility sharing have to be translated into concrete measures and actions. The Member States and the EU-institutions need to work together in order to live up to this.
With regard to the future it is also of utmost importance to consolidate and implement all legislation we have agreed upon. It has to work in reality. The operational cooperation has to increase and the trust within e.g. police and prosecutors must be developed and strengthened every day throughout daily concrete practical cooperation. The EU and its Member States will be confronted with new challenges that we cannot predict today, but looking back at the experience we have gained we now have to look forward. For instance, more people will want to come to Europe to work, visit, study or to seek protection. We need to use the possibilities migration implies in a globalized world to a further extent. We also need to implement our new common European asylum policy in a responsible manner based on solidarity. We need to increase our efforts to avoid future tragedies in the Mediterranean. Therefore we need to deepen our cooperation with countries of origin as well as transit countries. We need to open new ways for migration. We need to continue to develop solutions to challenges as e.g. cybercrime, to continue to build upon our report on corruption that we presented recently and to deepen our work in combatting the uprising extremism in Europe. The challenges are many and important.
Read the proposal here: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/basic-documents/docs/an_open_and_secure_europe_-_making_it_happen_en.pdf
Spring has now definitely come to Brussels. The cherry-trees have bloomed for some time, and more flowers and leaves come every day. The sun is shining and the terraces of the cafés are filled up. The elections to the European Parliament are getting closer and thereby focus is shifting. Due to the campaigns for the elections and the end of the Commission’s mandate, the work of the Commission is somewhat shifting in character. We still have time to present yet a few legislative proposals to the Parliament before they disappear on their different campaigns, and some important proposals are still to be voted on. But it is also time to look back at what we have achieved under this past term and think about what challenges remain to be addressed.
An experience we have acquired is that the EU does not have enough tools today to address its internal lack of respect for the rule of law and the threat against fundamental values on which the EU is built upon, after a state has become a member of the Union. This could lead to problems of credibility since the EU always stresses human rights, respect for the rule of law etc in e.g. its negotiations for membership with third countries. Then we also need to have credible politics towards ourselves. For example in Hungary, the freedom of media and the judicial systems independence have been threatened. The EU and the Council of Europe have reacted strongly, and thanks to political persuasion and legal tools we have managed to make changes on this path. Meanwhile, it remains clear that we do not have enough tools at our disposal. There are not enough efficient tools that we can use before it goes as far as the EU having to exclude a Member State (Article 7 of the Treaty).
For many years, I have argued that the EU needs a mechanism applicable after a state has joined the Union; and a middle way between an infringement-procedure and the “nuclear alternative” of Article 7. This feels even more pressing considering the uprising of extreme parties. The EU was founded after Europe’s atrocious experiences from WWII. It is our task to ensure that no one is discriminated, or that the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law are threatened. It is therefore welcomed and pleasing that we, at today’s meeting with the Commissioners, decided upon a proposal against serious and systemic cases of crimes against the rule of law to implemented within the Treaties. It is better to prevent than to cure. Through dialogue, we want to deal with issues before they go out of control and before the prevention and sanction mechanisms of Article 7 have to be applied. This new instrument confirms that the rule of law is the core of our European community and that the Commission will play its part to defend it. (Link to more information)
The world has watched the actions of Russia against Ukraine in the past days with growing anger and incredulousness. It is a flagrant breach of international law and a policy of aggression that we have not seen the like of since the Cold War. Contrary to what the Russian leadership seems to believe, these actions reduce the international credibility of Russia towards zero. And by organising an unconstitutional “referendum” with a week’s notice, on whether to break the Crimean region off from the Ukrainian state – at gunpoint, quite literally – does not invoke any great deal of confidence in that the process will be a proper one.
Now, international and European efforts are needed to support economic and political reform in Ukraine. The events of Maidan Square was a popular uprising against corruption and political stagnation, a call for reforms and stronger ties to Europe. With bullets raining down from the rooftops, many had to pay with their lives.
This week, the European Commission adopted an ambitious package of support to Ukraine, totalling over 11 billion euros, with 5 billion from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. These resources will go towards economic stabilisation and supporting well-functioning public authorities. We are also offering to examine how visa procedures towards Ukraine can be simplified, and the possibility of a partnership to help strengthen the judicial system and the rule of law, as well as fighting corruption.
Yesterday, EU Heads of State and Government met in the European Council. They gave their backing to the support package, and voiced their commitment to signing the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine before 25 May. Furthermore, the European Council decided to suspend the negotiations on visa liberalisation with Russia. This is fair and just. Other sanctions will be carried out – among them, travel bans and freezing of assets – if Russia does not enter into negotiations with the Ukrainian government.
Ukraine is a vastly important and proud European country. After the previous president Viktor Yanukovych left office, the new government is facing a host of challenges – weathering out corruption, safeguarding the integrity of public authorities and getting the economy back on its feet. The EU has a key role to play in contributing to making that happen. The Ukrainian people deserve a democratic and European future in freedom.
Many persons come to Europe, not fleeing war and persecution. Poverty exists close to the borders of Europe and many people seek employment and a future in other countries – for example in the EU. Today there are very few possibilities to legally enter the Union, leaving people to take risks through smuggler networks and dangerous vessels. We know that all too many people die on their way to Europe.
Therefore, I am very happy that the European Parliament today voted yes to the Commission’s proposal on seasonal workers. The new rules will harmonise the conditions of entry and residence, as well as the rights of the migrant workers. I presented the proposal already in 2010, but the negotiations have taken a long time. All that remains now is a confirmation of the Council. Member States will then be required to implement the Directive within their national legislation within two and a half years.
Seasonal workers that come to the EU are often exploited, as they are in a vulnerable situation, often without a work permit. According to the new Directive, the non-EU workers will benefit from equal treatment with EU nationals in e.g. working conditions, minimum wage, leave and holidays, as well as health and safety requirements at the workplace. Moreover, there are requirements that the seasonal worker shall benefit from accommodation, ensuring an adequate standard of living. The new rules will also facilitate the procedure for employers who need workers during the busy seasons. The Directive proposes the first EU scheme on circular migration: these workers keep their residence outside the EU and some of them come every year for the same season.
This is a very important step in opening up legal ways for migrants and ensuring that they will not get exploited.
The new rules were adopted with overwhelming support, 498 votes to 56.
Once a year, the EU presidency and I meet with the Russian ministers of interior and justice for talks and deliberations on issues of mutual interest. These issues include cooperation against organized crime, especially trafficking in drugs and human beings, and terrorism. We also talk about migration, rule of law, corruption and visa issues. In recent years I have also made sure that human rights have been put on the agenda. This year’s meeting was held together with the Greek ministers, as well as the Italian Minister of Justice, since Italy is the incoming presidency after Greece.
We met in a cold and snowy Moscow, with the background setting of the current tense relations between the EU and Russia. We had an open exchange of views, but did not really make any progress in our cooperation. For a long time, we have been negotiating essential areas for moving towards a visa free regime with the EU and we should soon be able to agree on further measures to facilitate travelling to the EU for Russian citizens. To entirely abolish the visa requirement is a mutual aim, but a lot of work is yet to be done on the Russian side before this can become a reality. The remaining issues concern, for example, anti-corruption policy, document security, asylum issues and fighting discrimination and xenophobia.
The discussion on human rights took the most time. We are deeply concerned about the situation in Russia with regards to human rights. There are several examples of this situation, such as the new law requiring NGOs to register as “foreign agents”, the law banning homosexual “propaganda”, problems with the rule of law and arbitrary judicial processes, and court rulings against the opposition. I also brought up the Magnitsky case and repeated the demand for an independent investigation on the circumstances of his death.
Yesterday, I had dinner with a large number of representatives of various NGOs, who expressed their concerns about the new legislation and the risk of a significant weakening of the civil society in the country.
Today started with a media breakfast together with Björn van Roozendaal from ILGA-Europe in Brussels and Igor Kochetkov, president of the Russian LGBT network. We talked about Russia’s human rights situation in general and the situation for LGBT people in particular. They are worried about the new legislation in itself, but also about the general stigmatization of LGBT persons that it leads to. There is an alarming increase of violence and harassment against gay people, something that is being legitimized by the regime as they brand homosexuality as something abnormal and dangerous to children.
At the press breakfast, ILGA-Europe’s latest report was also presented. More on Russia here.
It is a new year and it is time for a new Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And as we do every 6 months, the entire College of Commissioners travels to the new Presidency-country for deliberations and to participate in the formal opening ceremony. This week, Athens was our destination.
Greece is currently holding their fifth presidency, so they have developed some experience by now. They explained that they will keep it fairly modest (they have for example chosen not to distribute presidency ties, to the great despair of all collectors) but that they would like to show Europe that they are back on track and that all the talk about ‘Grexit’ is now definitely outdated. Although the crisis is not yet over, unemployment is still extremely high and many Greeks are still experiencing great difficulties – the numbers are indeed pointing towards the right direction. Hopefully soon ordinary Greeks will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Presidency will be somewhat brief, as the European Parliament election is coming up in May. The actual possibility to make decisions is therefore limited to the first three months of this year.
Yet, this does not stop the Greeks from having high ambitions and their priorities are:
1. Growth, fighting unemployment
2. Better coordination and governance in the Euro Zone. Banking Union in place.
4. The ’blue growth’ – the sea as a resource for growth, transport, culture, energy, environment etc. The Greeks want to adopt a cross-sectoral maritime strategy in June.
During the day I also had bilateral meetings with “my ministers” to see how we best can cooperate and what is on the agenda. After all the cooperation with Greece in the past, we know each other well and it will most likely be fine. The opening ceremony at the Concert Hall consisted of a speech by Prime Minister Samaras, Foreign Minister Venizelos, José Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy. This was followed by dance and a concert, where the audience enthusiastically sang along to Mikos Teodorakis.
We were the next morning given the opportunity to have an early guided tour at the Akropolis Museum and it was absolutely fantastic. I never cease to be amazed by the incredibly rich cultural heritage of Greece!