Christmas is fast approaching and also hopefully the time to relax with loved ones. It is also high season for reflection and annual reviews. One year passes by quickly, but is still a long time when you think about how many things that are happening around us and how much work we get done. Everything cannot fit in one text, and this is therefore the first part of a longer review.
I am very proud that we during this year have managed to introduce the Common European Asylum System. It has been my highest priority for my term in office. After the decisions in the European Parliament and the Council in June 2013, the EU will at the latest by autumn 2015 have a common asylum system. This means that all Member States are obliged to and will have the capacity to ensure the fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers, wherever they may arrive. The EU will have modern, open, legally certain system with predictable rules on who should be defined as a refugee, how they are treated and common norms on legal rights. In all parts of the area of asylum, these new rules serve to raise the standards. The Common European Asylum System makes it possible for Europe to ensure better protection for persons fleeing war and prosecution. Hopefully this will also lead to more countries taking greater responsibility for people who flee. Today, it is only a few who receive asylum seekers.
The European Court of Justice has also clarified during the year that:
1) Homosexual asylum applicants can constitute a particular social group and thereby qualify for asylum in an EU Member State.
2) Unaccompanied minors should only be transferred according to the Dublin Regulation (that is, being sent to the country where their asylum application was first submitted) in the purpose of reunification with a family member or relative. The main rule is from now on is that the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application by an unaccompanied minor, is the State in which the minor is present after having lodged an application there
We have also ensured that the European Union Asylum Support Office (EASO) is assisting countries with difficulties in supplying supporting staff, as well as with analyses, opinions and economic support. The team of EASO has a key-role to play in the correct implementation of the common asylum policy.
Strong focus has also been on Greece during the year. I visit the country several times per year to support, pressure and assist in their work on asylum and migration. During my visit to Athens last week I also noted that the country, with our assistance, is making progress in building up a legally certain asylum system. At the same time, great challenges remain.
This year’s most emotional moment was in October on the island of Lampedusa, as I stood in front of the 280 coffins containing the bodies of the people that drowned while crossing the Mediterranean. It was tough, but it motivates me to continue fighting for a better policy to prevent similar accidents to happen in the future. It turned out that in total 350 persons drowned outside the coast of Lampedusa that time, but unfortunately these tragedies occur regularly. An estimation is that at least 2000 people drown every year, when trying to get to Europe for a better and more secure future. As long as there is dictatorship, oppression and poverty in the world, people will try to come to Europe. This is a challenge that will not go away. This is also why we are working to formulate a sustainable migration policy for the future. The Commission has, together with the Member States, created a strategy, which includes search and rescue at sea, enhanced cooperation with third countries, fight against migrant smuggling networks, more legal ways into the EU and emergency support for the countries facing greater pressures. The Commission is working daily with the UNHCR to try to get the Member States to take resettled refugees. All too few Member States are doing this today, but we are seeing a small change towards more openness in this area. Is this perhaps a break in the trend? To receive Syrian resettlement refugees is one way of helping the most vulnerable, and ensure their safe passage to Europe.
We have during the year seen an increase in support for xenophobic parties in Europe. This is a development that is of great concern to me.