Archive for March, 2012
Around the world there are more than ten million people, who have fled their homeland because of war, persecution, natural disasters and famine, and that are in need of help and protection. Many were born and have lived their entire lives in refugee camps. Out of these ten million people, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, expects that about one percent will not be able to return to home because of the risk of persecution. They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. UNHCR has a so-called resettlement program in which countries can sign up to help these people find a new home and a life lived in dignity.
Today, the EU has taken a historically important step towards greater solidarity in asylum policy – we have finally agreed, after several years of negotiations, to merge the quotas that the countries participating in the resettlement program have set into a joint program. The initiative behind the joint programme was taken during the Swedish Presidency and I was very active in the negotiations to get this in place. A European resettlement program means that we can pool our resources and use them more effectively. It means we might be able to empty an entire refugee camp and offer asylum to the most vulnerable.
Unfortunately, only a few states participating in the UNHCR resettlement program today. The US is the country that receives the most, taking in 80,000 refugees per year. Sweden and other Nordic countries have also taken on a big responsibility but even if when adding all places that the EU Member States provide today we only manage to reach a measly 4 500 places for refugees. We have, however, received positive signals that more EU countries are interested in participating. For our part, we in the Commission continue to support and assist those countries that want to participate. I hope that with a common European program even more countries will be willing to help and we will thus we be standing up for one of the fundamental values of our Union – solidarity. More information about resettlement can be found on UNHCR’s website.
About one million people worldwide fall victim to some form of cybercrime every day. The worldwide cost of these crimes is estimated to be around 388 billion dollars. These figures should obviously be handled carefully as one problem with this type of crime is that all crimes are not reported, but the figures still say something about the extent of the problem.
There are skilled people around Europe who are working to combat cybercrime, but there is still no European centre that brings together this expertise in order to assist member countries in their work. The creation of a European Cybercrime Centre is something that I’ve worked to achieve for a long time and now finally, today, I am able to report that there will be a European Cybercrime Centre called ‘The EC3′ at Europol, in the Hague. The Centre will be up running by January 2013 and will start off with around thirty people. The Centre will warn EU member countries about major threats, assist in police investigations and coordinate efforts with a focus on online fraud, dissemination of sexual abuse images and large-scale cyber attacks on critical infrastructures in the EU. More information can be found here.
Another problem with cybercrime is the lack of information. It is understandable in the case of large-scale attacks that companies and governments focus their energy on restoring the systems. But in order to identify and prosecute the perpetrators behind the attacks, law enforcement authorities must be informed. Otherwise we can not stop new attacks from occurring. I therefore hope that with an established European Cybercrime Centre, there will be a greater willingness to report cybercrimes to national law enforcement authorities.
I have been in Tallinn today, where I have inaugurated the new IT Agency that will make sure that the EU IT systems, the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Visa Information System (VIS), operate properly. You can read my speech here.
During the day, I also had other meetings, with the Minister of Interior Ken Marti Vaher, for example, to discuss the IT Agency, asylum and the ongoing negotiations on Schengen. I also had a meeting with the Prime Minister and a lunch with an old friend of mine, Toomas Ilves, who is now President of Estonia. We were both Members of the European Parliament from 1999-2004 and we worked a lot together in the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Estonia is a highly digital country, 99 % of the Estonian citizens do their bank errands online. Already in 2000 the government had meetings without printed papers and when some of the Ministers could not be physically present, they held virtual meetings instead. Most of the community services are also online. The IT Agency is therefore very well placed.
The horrific killings in Toulouse once again demonstrate how vulnerable we are against extremists and how crucial it is to continue our fight against violent radicalisation. Once again, we see the huge problem with access to weapons in the EU. I grieve the deaths of the victims and my thoughts are with their families.
Yesterday I paid a short visit to Stockholm to speak at Conference on Security. The Conference brings together executives in the security sector and security managers from various companies, and they had invited me as a keynote speaker. I spoke about organised crime groups and how they operate in the EU, the prevalence of cyber crime and what the EU does to meet those challenges. I told them about the proposal for a European Cybercrime Centre at Europol, which I will present next week.
I also met with the employees from the Commission’s representation in Stockholm. We talked about current issues and in particular about the negotiations on the asylum package, which are slowly but surely moving forward. The Commission’s representations organise seminars and are responsible for the EU information offices. If you have general questions concerning the EU or if you want information material you can always contact the representation in your country. The representations do a very good job and it’s always nice to meet the people working there.
Early this morning, I went back to Brussels for this week’s Commission meeting. On today’s agenda was, among other things, the enforcement of the directive concerning the posting of workers.
The Posting of Workers Directive was adopted in 1996, and it establishes the rights of a ‘posted worker’ – a worker sent from one EU country to another to perform a job during a given period of time. The directive states, for example, that all workers should receive pay, vacation days, and includes safety requirements for the workplace. When the directive was adopted there had been several cases of abuse of posted workers and the new rules sought to protect them. Now, 18 years later, we see that not all Member States have implemented the directive correctly and there are still cases where the employees are not adequately protected. Today’s proposal aims to clarify the responsibilities of Member States. The Commission also reaffirmed that social rights such as the right to strike, are on a par with economic rights, such as the freedom of establishment.
Tonight, I will fly to Tallinn where I will meet, among others, the Prime Minister and where I will inaugurate the new European IT Agency. The Agency has nothing to do with cybercrime but will instead be responsible for running the Visa Information (VIS) and EURODAC systems – making sure that they function twenty four hours a day.
This morning I went to visit Interpol’s headquarter in Lyon. 190 countries are members of Interpol and it has been very interesting to hear how they work. We discussed issues such as organized crime, cybercrime, child abuse etc. In recent years, cooperation between Europol and Interpol has become increasingly better. The cooperation has also led to a couple of operations and arrests of international gangs involved in selling and disseminating images of children being sexually abused . We discussed how we could further develop this cooperation when it comes to for exemple, training of police in new democracies. Tunisia and Libya are exemples of two countries where the Commission is already engaged. A functioning police force, where the police is working for the public service and not the dictatorship, is of course central for a democratic transition.
Interpol is planning to establish a centre in Singapore to coordinate the fight against cybercrime. Within a few weeks’ time, I will present a Commission proposal to establish a European Cybercrime Centre. We of course discussed a future cooperation between the two centres.
My visit coincided with Interpol’s annual conference with responsible national authorities, so there were police officers from nearly 100 countries in Lyon today. I had the opportunity to listen to the conclusions of the conference and to talk about the ongoing activities within the EU and the work with our internal security strategy.
I am in Strasbourg for the monthly meeting session. It has been two busy days. The College meeting of Commissioners, which are held on Tuesdays when we are in Strasbourg, was all about the budget and the situation ahead of the coming negotiations. I have also had a variety of meetings with Members of the European Parliament to talk about cyber, the asylum package, PNR, etc. The sun is shining outside and the park is full of storks.
I had lunch with the Liberal Members of the LIBE Committee to discuss the near-term agenda and upcoming issues, such as the Schengen proposal and the asylum package, where the negotiations now are being intensified.
Earlier today we received a dreadful report from Amnesty International, which further demonstrates the Assad regime’s brutality in Syria. Media and other sources from Syria reveal unbearable images of civilians killed and mutilated children. The massacre must stop.
Today I also suffer with the Belgian people who mourn all the children who died in a bus accident in Switzerland yesterday evening. Among those who survived many are injured and were taken to hospital. My thoughts are with their families.
Organised crime is highly profitable, and at the moment there are hundreds of millions of euros invested by European organised criminal and mafia groups in gold, luxury villas, restaurants, etc. This is money that belongs to EU citizens but currently the police only succeeds in confiscating a fraction of the assets. Money is the driving force behind organised crime, and until we can get to the criminals where it hurts the most, it will continue to be profitable to embark on a criminal path. Today I presented a new proposal to make it easier for law enforcement authorities across Europe to access and confiscate criminal assets.
At the moment, rules on confiscation differ greatly between EU member states which makes the process of confiscating assets both complicated and inefficient. These differences in legislation are also being exploited by the criminals in order to hide their assets.
With more harmonized rules in place, criminal’s assets – especially money – will be frozen more quickly when prosecutors fear that they would otherwise disappear abroad. It should also be much easier to confiscate assets across Europe that are not necessarily linked to a specific crime, but can be linked to a person’s criminal activities. In addition, criminals should no longer be able to transfer assets to a friend or relative, so-called third-party confiscation, and get away with it. You can find more information here.
Today, as the previous two years, I spoke at a commemoration event ahead of the European Day for victims of terrorism, on Sunday, the 11th of March.
I spoke about the tragic events in Norway last year which led to the death of so many young people. These painful experiences remind us that the threat of terrorism remains very real and that we have to actively work to combat terrorism. We must not only undermine the efforts of terrorists to radicalise our youth and recruit new members, we must also counter their message of destruction and help those who, like Breivik, risk choosing a hateful, radical path.
This is one of the key priorities of my mandate as European Commissioner and is also the reason why I launched the Radicalisation Awareness Network last year. The Network is now working in different groups and I am hoping to already see recommendations and conclusions this summer, ahead of the big Ministerial Conference that I will host in October.
The participants today were survivors and people who have all lost someone due to terrorist activities. There were many very emotional stories told at the event that made a big impact. A young girl told us about the day when, on the way to school, she got her legs blown off by an ETA bomb. She told us about her life today and how she is competing as a skier in the Paralympics. There was also a young survivor form the bombs that went off in London, victims of the Red Brigade activities and a French journalist held hostage in Lebanon, who told us about their experiences.
The survivors will continue to play an important role in countering terrorism and spreading a message of non-violence and reconciliation to prevent others from suffering – it was therefore very important to meet with them today.
Today is not only the Council meeting with the 27 Interior Ministers it is also International Women’s Day and therefore a good occasion to take note of the lack of women who will sit around the negotiating table today. There are 6 women and 21 men amongst the Ministers of Interior in Europe. Among the Ministers of Justice, who will not meet today, the distribution is slightly better – 9 women.
Political representation is a very good indication of how far we have come in terms of gender equality. A review of my own house – the Commission – does not provide more uplifting figures. One third of the Commissioners are women, 9 out of 27. But the High Representative for Foreign Policy and First Vice President is a woman: Catherine Ashton and we also have a female Secretary-General, Catherine Day. Out of the heads of Cabinet, only five out of 27 are women, one of whom, Maria Åsenius works with me. At the Director General level it is even worse. There, we find only two women among 36 men. An underlying factor is the lack of labour flexibility and availability of parental leave for both sexes. The Commission has an internal strategy and action plans to improve the situation. The most recent evaluation shows that the number of women in middle management positions has increased in recent years. Even if progress is still far too slow, it is at least going in the right direction.
The Commission has a strategy to work with member states to increase women’s participation, by reconciling work with private life, promoting female entrepreneurship and encouraging access to quality child care. Women’s participation in the labour market is now up to 63 %, compared with 52 % in 1998. The Commission’s objective is to reach 75 % by 2020. This is, however, dependent on member countries actively engaging and doing something about it and, above all, recognising the worth of increasing women’s participation in the labour market. Some estimates suggest that GDP will increase with between 15 % and 45 % if the difference in employment rates between men and women disappears.
Within my own portfolio, I have made several proposals taking into account women’s specific situation, for example, when it comes to asylum and reception conditions, where it should go without saying that a woman who suffered abuse requires extra care. And when it comes to developing a strategy to combat human trafficking, you have take into account the fact that up to 80 % of trafficking victims are women.
Today in the Council we will not discuss women’s political participation or status on the labour market. Instead, we will discuss the common asylum policy, the situation in Greece and the Schengen proposals. The Council is also expected to adopt two very important proposals that I have very actively pushed for. The first is a tightening the rules on imports and exports of firearms and the other is the common resettlement program. After years of negotiations, finally, the three institutions agreed on the European resettlement program that allows us to better pool our resources and assist the world’s most vulnerable refugees.
Today the Commission discussed Hungary again. Some issues are now solved and the Hungarian authorities have shown a willingness to change some laws, which we had questions about. But there is still reason for concern and we decided today to proceed with the legal procedures regarding certain issues in Hungary. We will send a reasoned opinion about the age discrimination of judges and the data protection authority’s independence. As regard the central bank’s independence, we will ask for additional information. There is still much that is of particular concern in Hungary. Media freedom is one thing, as well as the independence of the judiciary. Within two weeks, we will also have the Council of Europe’s review of the judiciary’s independence. Hungary will most likely be on the agenda for quite a while.
I’ll be off soon to attend a seminar on labour migration here in Brussels organised by the Swedish Confederation of Enterprise. The Swedish Minister of Migration Tobias Billström and Stefano Scarpetta from the OECD will also participate. The focus of the discussion is the Swedish model, but I will mainly talk about the challenges facing the EU. In particular, I will talk about the importance of thinking in a long term perspective about how to emerge from the crisis and to make Europe more attractive. I am convinced that labour migration is one of many necessary measures, as is a pension reform and education initiatives. My speech will be published here later in the day.