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Cecilia Malmstrom

Annual review part II – Mobility

High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, 25th plenary meeting of the General Assembly. UN photo: Ryan Brown

High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, 25th plenary meeting of the General Assembly. UN photo: Ryan Brown

One of the cornerstones of the EU – the free movement – has been questioned during the year. This is a right that we in the Commission will always defend. All EU citizens have the right to move and reside in any Member State of their choice. Apart from the freedom for the individual, the free movement of workers has a positive effect on the European economy and the labour market. As an example, thousands of unemployed Spanish engineers are now employed in Germany.

At the same time as the free movement generates benefits to the EU and its economy, when people are moving this is also posing challenges to cities in Europe. The economic and financial crisis has sparked a debate in certain Member States on the impact of free movement on national social systems and local services.  One response to this concern was that we published a report showing that mobile EU-Citizens on average are more likely to be in employment than nationals of the host country. The report also proposes five measures for local authorities in improving and clarifying the rules.

Connected to the free movement is also the Schengen Agreement. During this year we have agreed to strengthen the Schengen cooperation. In the new system, the Commission will be given a central and coordinating role. No Member State will be able to close their borders on their own authority. The Commission will also keep a watchful eye on the EU’s internal borders, to make sure that no Member State abuses border controlling possibilities, such as unjustified passport controls. We know that this is occurring all too often.

We know that mobility and migration is important for economic growth and development. Therefore, we are working with visa liberalization and visa facilitation. This is an important part in the EU’s cooperation with its neighbours. This week I was in Turkey to sign an agreement on the start of negotiations on visa liberalization with them. It is an important development of our relationship. In November, the Commission also proposed that the citizens of the Republic of Moldova should be granted visa freedom. Negotiations on the same topic are ongoing with Ukraine and Georgia. It is central for the daily exchange between countries, that ordinary citizens easily can travel and visit friends and family, that businessmen can do business, that tourists do not have to wait for weeks to be granted a visa.

Despite high unemployment in Europe, we paradoxically have troubles finding qualified labour within several areas. The demographic challenge is also great in several countries – quite simply, too few babies are born in Europe today. More efforts are of course needed here: more women should access the labour market, we also need to step up our efforts on education and on integrating the immigrants already residing in Europe. Labour migration is not the solution to all problems, but it is an important factor. We must therefore do more to make Europe more attractive and accessible for people outside the EU.

In March I presented a proposal to reduce the bureaucratic obstacles and give better conditions for students and researchers from third countries, to make the EU more appealing for them. For this proposal, the final decision in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers has not yet been made. However, a good solution has been found in the discussion around entry, residence and rights for migrant seasonal workers. The new rules will facilitate the visa-procedures and the seasonal workers will also benefit from the same rules as EU nationals on e.g. working hours, minimum wage, leave and holidays, as well as health and safety requirements. The issue of labour migration will indeed be a central one in the coming years.

The EU is facing an important election in May. We must continue to defend the free movement, stand up against intolerance and recall that migration is both an asset and a success factor.

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Annual review part I Asylum

Kids in Refugee camp. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

Kids in Refugee camp. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

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.

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Ministerial meeting in Washington

Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States.

Meeting w Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States (May 2013)

Twice a year my colleague Viviane Reding and I meet our US-counterparts, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Acting Secretary for Homeland Security, Rand Beers (the new Minister has not yet been approved by Congress). Also in the delegation is the Presidency, at the moment the Ministers of Justice and Interior of Lithuania, and the Minister(s) of the next Presidency, which in this case is the Greek Minister of Justice.

It was a beautiful sunny autumn day in Washington and we talked about important areas of EU-US cooperation such as cybercrime, Syria, the fight against trafficking and sexual child abuse online, terrorism and data protection.  Our conversations were of course marked by the Snowden allegations, something that indeed has had a negative effect on the climate of cooperation with the US.

The anger and frustration that many of us Europeans are feeling about the alleged surveillance activities by the NSA, are feelings shared with many Americans. We had a long discussion about the reforms currently debated in Congress, something that Obama has expressed his support for. However, it is still not clear what implications these reforms will have for Europeans.  An important element in enhancing the confidence building in our relations would be to agree on a comprehensive data protection agreement. Our hope is that this framework, negotiated for several years now, can be presented next summer.

In connection to our meeting I also continued with consultations on the TFTP-agreement. I met with David Cohen, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, and later Caroline Atkinson, who is the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs.


Crimes against the foundation of society

Hate crime speech

Hate crime speech

Violence motivated by racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance or homo/transphobia – what we call hate crimes, are not just terrible offences against the individual, but also against our democracy. Violence and hate crimes are crimes against the foundation of our society: the equal value of all human beings. I am in Vilnius today to participate in a conference on hate crimes organised by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The conference brings together over 300 participants with various backgrounds: politicians from the national and European level, representatives of international organisations, agencies and NGOs. The Lithuanian Presidency has put the issue of hate crimes onto the agenda for the next JHA-Council meeting in December and this conference is a run-up to that discussion.

Data from the FRA shows that a large number of victims of hate crimes either do not report the crime, or if they do, do not receive sufficient support from the authorities. Furthermore, FRA and others report about a high frequency of hate crimes. For example, in 2011 almost one out of five sub-Saharan Africans were physically assaulted, harassed or threatened on account of their ethnic origin. Roma populations in EU-Member States suffer similar levels of abuse. During the last five years, approximately one in four lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans- or intersex people state that they have been attacked or threatened with violence. Also responding to a recent survey, anti-Semitic hate crime was experienced by one in every four Jewish persons, and about every second Jewish person responding feared becoming the victim of one.

The EU was founded after Europe having lived through the atrocities during World War II. All of us have a duty in ensuring that no one is discriminated against, or being subject to violence because of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender or sexual orientation. Too few are standing up against intolerance today. We need political leaders who do not flirt with populism and xenophobia. Within my area of responsibility, we have started the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) – a network of experts working against radicalisation, including hate on the internet. Building on the work performed by RAN, the Commission will soon present an EU Programme on Countering Violent Extremism with a Toolbox to help Member States in their efforts to prevent hate crimes at an early stage.

You can read my speech here.

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Protection of homosexual asylum applicants

Protection of homosexual asylum applicants

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice came out with a positive and clarifying judgement, concluding that homosexuals can constitute a “particular social group” and thereby qualify for asylum in a EU Member State. The case concerned three persons having applied for asylum in the Netherlands, fleeing from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal respectively. In all these countries, homosexuality is a criminal offence and can be punished with everything from fines to life imprisonment. There are 76 (!) countries today, in which homosexuality is prohibited.

The EU-rules for determining who is a refugee is found in the Qualification Directive. The rules are based on the Geneva Convention, defining refugees as any person who ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’. According to the Convention, refugee status qualifies for granting asylum.

The judgement of the ECJ is an important and welcomed one, since not all countries interpret the Geneva Convention in a way that includes persecution of homosexuals (despite the UNHCR handbook already since a long time suggesting such an interpretation). For countries such as Sweden and Belgium, nothing will change as they already grant protection to persecuted homosexual individuals – but the Court’s decision will provide guidance to the whole Union.

However, the court added that the mere existence of legislation criminalizing homosexual acts is not sufficient to constitute persecution, but there needs to be a serious risk for sanctions, such as imprisonment. The judgement also clarified that it is not acceptable to require homosexual individuals to conceal their sexual orientation to avoid persecution, as it is so fundamental to a person’s identity and thus, the persons concerned cannot be required to renounce it. It is an important clarification as there have actually been cases where authorities have rejected asylum applications on the basis that one can hide their sexual orientation and thereby avoid persecution.

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What should the EU do in the areas of migration and security?


Keyboard crime scene. Photo: European Parliament

During the Swedish EU Presidency in 2009, the Union adopted a five-year work plan: the Stockholm Programme. This has been the basis of the work performed by my colleague Viviane Reding and me during our terms in office. The Stockholm Programme establishes guidelines for deepened EU cooperation in the areas of law enforcement, asylum issues and migration. In addition, terrorism, cyber security, visa policy and the control of the Union’s external borders are some of the areas which are also included.

The purpose of the programme is to pin-point priorities, structured by work area and adapted to current challenges within and outside the EU. Thereby, the Union gets a common agenda for how policies should be developed and how new legislation should be shaped. For instance, the Common European Asylum System which was decided upon earlier this year, was one of the priorities within the Stockholm Programme. Moreover, it has contributed to the fight against trafficking in human beings and drug smuggling – with the aim of creating a more secure and more open Europe.

However, as time passes, things change. Having five-year programmes started when the areas covered were mainly intergovernmental. The Lisbon Treaty strengthened the European dimension substantially, creating the basis for an area of freedom, security and justice with  respect for fundamental rights. Furthermore, there is no reason for having highly detailed policy programmes, since this is not the case for other work areas of the EU. There should also be a focus on ensuring the functioning of all of our previously adopted decisions.

Nonetheless, as the Stockholm Programme expires in 2014, it is time to start thinking about the challenges and priority areas of the the next term. To do this in the best possible manner, the Commission has initiated a so-called reflection process and we want as many people as possible to make their voices heard. This process will run until the 12th of January 2014 and more information on how you submit your proposal is available on the website of DG HOME. I hope that you use this opportunity to speak your mind!

More legal ways of entering the EU

Photo: cherry picking Chucknado CC

Photo: cherry picking Chucknado CC

Employers in the EU are increasingly dependent on hiring workers from outside the Union, for example within the sectors of agriculture, gardening and tourism, as fewer and fewer EU-citizens are available for this type of seasonal work. These seasonal workers, who are often more vulnerable and exposed, must see their working conditions improved and be granted a secure legal status to protect them from exploitation.  After three years of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Member States are now on the road to agreeing on new rules for seasonal workers. On Tuesday, a compromise was found at the level of officials and as a next step this agreement will be formally adopted by both co-legislators.

A good solution has been found, harmonizing the conditions of entry and residence, as well as the rights of the migrant workers. Non-EU seasonal workers make an important contribution to the European economy and with this new Directive they will be granted a secure legal status during the entirety of their stay. The new rules will facilitate the visa-procedures for workers who were admitted for seasonal employment at least once in the last five years. The non-EU workers will also 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, and that the rent is not excessive or automatically deducted from the wage.

The Directive will be an important element in the Union’s common migration policy. It opens a legal and secure path into the Union for persons wanting to earn money during a limited period of time, instead of risking their lives crossing the border in dangerous ways and being abused on the black market.

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280 coffins

By the coffins in Lampedusa. Photo: European Commission

By the coffins in Lampedusa. Photo: European Commission

Today, I visited Lampedusa together with Italy’s Prime Minister Letta, Interior Minister Alfano and Commission President Barroso. I spoke to Minister Alfano on Thursday morning, right after the terrible tragedy, and he asked me to come to the island.

Lampedusa is a very small island, situated closer to Tunisia than Sicily. 6000 people live on 20 square kilometres. Far too often, those who live here have to watch as drowned refugees are being carried ashore.

It is an unspeakable tragedy that hundreds of people, who were fleeing dictatorship and oppression in Eritrea and Somalia, drowned just off the shores of Europe. To stand in front of 280 coffins, some of them for small children, was horrible. On top of the children’s coffins, there were teddy bears. This is a terrible reminder of how difficult it is to come to Europe in a legal and safe way.

We also had a long discussion about Lampedusa at the Council meeting yesterday. All EU Member States expressed their concern and solidarity. Perhaps this can be the turning point towards another kind of migration policy, with a focus on cooperation and more open paths to Europe? I can’t say for sure.

From the Commission’s side I have proposed several measures. First, we need to re-organise the efforts of Frontex in the Mediterranean, into one comprehensive coast-to-coast operation from Spain to Cyprus. It should be focused on search and rescue, as in discovering vessels in time, so that more lives can be saved. Furthermore, we need to continue our cooperation with countries on the other side of the Mediterranean, and have them step up their efforts in preventing ruthless smuggling networks who earn their money by smuggling people in despair. Countries such as Morocco and Tunisia can also do more to develop their asylum reception standards in accordance with international norms.

We also need more legal ways to come to Europe, for example through the resettlement of refugees from Syria in cooperation with the United Nations. Far too few EU Member States are accepting resettled refugees today. All 28 countries should make an effort! Still, the reason for the shipwreck disaster last week is that it is so difficult to enter the European Union legally. Therefore, we should seriously consider other options to make it safer to come to Europe for those who flee their home countries. Humanitarian visas could be a solution in this regard.

Regarding the urgent needs of Italy, we need to make sure that the reception centre in Lampedusa, as well as reception centres in other parts of Italy, are renovated to ensure dignified reception conditions. Commission President Barroso announced that the Commission can contribute with up to 30 million Euros for efforts in asylum centres, humanitarian relief efforts, integration projects etcetera.

During our short and intense visit, we also managed to meet the Mayor as well as people on the island who worked on rescue operations, as well as volunteer organisations and not least refugees from several countries. We had the opportunity to talk to a young boy from Eritrea who was on the sunken ship. His parents had given everything they had to give him a future outside of Eritrea, in freedom.

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European Refugee Relocation

Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, during the war, 1993. Phto by Mikhail Evstafiev

Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, during the war, 1993. Phto by Mikhail Evstafiev CC

The first Relocation Forum took place in Brussels on the 25 September organised by the European Commission. Among the participants were Member States, Associated Countries, representatives from the European Parliament, European Asylum Support Office (EASO), UNHCR and International Organization for Migration.

I attach my speech below if you are interested to read it.

Speech by commissioner Malmström at the Relocation Forum

We are here today to discuss a very important topic – the relocation of beneficiaries of international protection and also of asylum seekers from one Member State to another. I know that there are lots of different views about relocation. These views range from some in the European Parliament calling for compulsory relocation and an EU-wide distribution key where responsibility is shared more evenly within the Union.

Other views as you know come from Member States that are against relocation as a concept as they view it as a pull-factor and think that it is a disincentive to other Member States from improving the quality of their asylum systems. Most countries think it can be an important tool of solidarity but not a compulsory one. Against this background and in the light of the discussion I had with Home Affairs ministers during lunch in October 2012, I took the decision that there could be no Commission proposal in the foreseeable future for a permanent legal mechanism for relocation – either voluntary or compulsory. Instead, today, we are holding our first Relocation Forum.

I am conscious that it is very easy to talk about solidarity, but then fail to act on one’s words. Relocation is a very tangible form of solidarity – it provides immediate relief to a pressurised asylum system. Relocation efforts to date have had a real effect. That is why the Commission is organising this relocation forum and why financial assistance is provided for relocation in the Asylum and Migration Fund. The events of the summer show that there is still a lot of pressure on certain states, especially due to the terrible crisis in Syria. The future is very uncertain and could bring new pressures regardless of the political developments.

We are now also faced with the possibility that there could be significant increases in applications for asylum to countries within easy reach of Syria like Bulgaria, Malta, Cyprus, Italy and Greece. The situation in Egypt remains unstable and could have implications for migratory flows. We have a problematic situation in the Horn of Africa. And so on.

I think it is worth considering the historical perspective. In the 1990s the Western Balkan wars provoked an asylum crisis. Several Member States were affected by this crisis and would have at the time welcomed relief from the pressure on their asylum systems, if only relocation had been available as a tool. So, relocation is a tool that can be adapted to different circumstances over the years, and it is worth remembering that it may be somebody else’s crisis today, but tomorrow it could be yours.

Today’s relocation forum is therefore a good opportunity for us to discuss relocation, not only from Malta, but also from other Member States in case asylum applications increase in such a way that their systems are overwhelmed. I should say that participation in relocation efforts now or in the past in no way binds your hands concerning your future relocation intentions.

We do however need to start reflecting more on what we really mean with solidarity and a true Common European Asylum System. We know that it for many reasons might not be suitable to create a distribution key within the Union, but is it really a fair and common system to have 5 Member States taking 70 % of all the asylum seekers?

The instrument of relocation could give a very good opportunity for those Members States who have few asylum seekers to take more responsibility in our common system. It is also an opportunity to gradually build up a fully functioning reception system. Some of the Member States today are truly in need of help and others can therefore make an important contribution by alleviating others. Lesser pressured Member States can show solidarity. It is perhaps only fair at this point if I state the obvious in reminding Member States that, however tough the situation gets, push-backs are illegal and contrary to the principle of non-refoulement. Access to the asylum procedure must be guaranteed.  There is a responsibility to give decent conditions and to integrate people.

The Relocation forum is a totally flexible approach. The Commission and Member States should define together how to use it. From my perspective, the forum is an opportunity to discuss current pressures and lessons learned on relocation. I see us discussing relocation in two contexts.

First, as a measure to be applied concerning current pressures in Member States like Malta for instance;

Second, concerning future crises, such as a potential increase in the number of Syrian asylum applicants to Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece or other Member States.

I hope that the relocation forum will be useful in a number of ways. For those Member States interested in pledging places for AMF funding or for using national funds, it is a useful indicator as to what the needs are across the EU. For those considering asking for assistance, it is a useful opportunity to do so. For those not planning on relocating, it is useful to find out what others are doing. For those Member States that have pledged in the past but found difficulties in practice, it is an opportunity to share information on the practicalities of relocation. And for the Commission it is an opportunity to coordinate relocation activities across the EU. It is also an opportunity to talk about the concept of relocation as such and its inter-linkages with other forms of solidarity.

As far as the Syrian crisis is concerned, we follow it very closely, relocation needs to be a central part of our toolbox in the framework of contingency planning. Relocation can assist Member States that have a specific geographical reason for needing assistance, such as Cyprus, Greece and Bulgaria.

I want to look now to the lessons from the EUREMA projects. We understand that Member States don’t necessarily want EU project-managed relocation with rigid administrative requirements – that is why we will no longer have a EUREMA project, but instead we will have money available under the Asylum and Migration Fund for relocation activities that will be much easier to implement. I was most interested by the replies I received from some Member States concerning the letter I wrote in May to Ministers confirming that we would hold a relocation forum. In some cases I was told that relocation risked being a pull factor and therefore was undesirable. I have to say that so far we have no evidence at all that relocation is a pull factor. If any real evidence of this comes to light, please share it with us.

We have no desire to create pull factors and no desire for people to undertake unnecessarily hazardous journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. But we should not refuse to show solidarity to another Member State because we decide that relocation creates a pull factor when we have no evidence to substantiate that claim.

Again, several of your Ministers wrote to me to say that you don’t object to relocation per se, but that you would like all relocation to remain ad hoc. We are doing our best to accommodate your preferences, but I am sure that you can understand that for the purposes of running a budget we need to set aside a sum of money for relocation activities and we will do that on the basis of your pledges for relocation. That means that you are encouraged to think in advance about what relocation activities you are able to foresee for the following year.

However, where there is a crisis that needs addressing rapidly, we will also reserve some of the budget so that it can be used retrospectively. In other words, if you relocate more people than you initially anticipated in any given year, we will do what we can to compensate you from the AMF even if the decision is retrospective. But the more that is planned, the more likely we are to be able to finance you.

There is still an opportunity to relocate via EUREMA II as well until the end of this year, before the AMF comes into force. We encourage Member States that have not fulfilled their full pledges through EUREMA II to do so. If a Member State wishes to relocate before the end of this year, it is possible for them to do so via EUREMA II even if they were not previously part of the project. We will be happy to provide you with explanations as to how this can be done.

I would like to thank those Member States that were generous enough to pledge places under the EUREMA projects in the knowledge that it would be tough to relocate. The statistics may be disappointing, but I am aware of the significant efforts by Member States to change their internal processes to make it more likely that relocation will be successful in the future.

I would like to thank Denmark and the Associated Countries for your participation – you do not have access to EU funds for relocation and therefore your actions are especially welcome as a demonstration of genuine solidarity. Relocation is not a quick fix, it will not solve all the problems. It is one of many tools to alleviate and assist a Member State under pressure and in severe difficulties. Other types of assistance include funding, technical and human resources, training, contingency planning, EASO etc. Relocation is also not an alternative to get your house in order. It is however a true expression of solidarity and I do hope that many Member States can take part.


Pride threatened in Belgrade

photo: Tatiana Sapateiro cc

Belgrade Pride begins this Friday, 20 September, with a Pride March planned for Saturday the 28th. Unfortunately, I am not able to participate in the march to show my support for the Serbian LGBT movement, due to other commitments. Instead, I have chosen to show my support to the organisers and participants through a letter (see below). The organisers fear that the Pride March will be banned once again. In another letter, to prime minister Dačić, have I expressed my worries for the safety of the participants, but also pointed to the importance of defending human rights, such as the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

Already in 2001, the first Pride march was organised in Belgrade. The authorities gave the right to organise the march, but participants were attacked by violent hooligans and many were injured. In 2009, there was a new attempt to organise a march, but the authorities banned it. Since then, small steps forward were taken – the 2010 Pride march was allowed and police provided security against aggressors threatening the parade.

However, there were backlashes in 2011 and 2012, when the planned marches were banned by authorities due to “threats to national security”. It is worrying when authorities give in to such threats of violence. Freedom of assembly is a fundamental component of a democracy, and the task of the Government is to ensure the rights of its citizens.

I express my support, since Belgrade Pride is about the right for everyone to love the one you love, without being deprived of your rights, being discriminated against, or to risk threats and violence. I want to express my support and admiration of the organisers – do not lose faith in that society can be changed. It has been done in other European countries.

There is a need for systematic action in Europe to strengthen awareness of LGBT rights at all levels of society.  It’s not about special rights – it’s about equal rights. There is a great need to counter tendencies to discriminate LGBT people, through legislation and campaigns. That is how we take steps forward together in Europe.

Letter to organisers and participants in Belgrade Pride week:

Dear friends,

You are giving many people hope for the future by organising and participating at the Belgrade Pride. You show a great courage, and admirable personal conviction, standing up for human rights and defending the right to love.

Thank you for your invitation to take part in the Belgrade Pride events! Unfortunately, due to my previous commitments, I will not be able to join you. Nevertheless, I would like to extend my warm support to your undertakings and express my admiration for you and your battle -a battle that in other countries has led to progress we see today in Europe with equal rights for LGBT people.

As you are well aware, the European Commission is strongly attached to the values enshrined in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and non-discrimination. 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.

It is of vital importance that Serbia, a country aspiring to become a member of the European Union fully embraces these values which are amongst the core foundations on which the Union project is built upon. I have sent a letter to Prime Minister Dačić in which I point out the necessity of his government to fulfil its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for all of its citizens, including LGBT persons – the rights enshrined in Serbia’s constitution. In my letter I stressed that the 2013 Belgrade Pride will be an important step for Serbia’s advancement in the EU path, through ensuring the core principles of equality and non-discrimination. I expressed my expectation that the Serbian authorities will take all necessary measures to facilitate a peaceful Pride march.

The European Commission will continue to monitor carefully developments in this area. It will also continue providing its strong support to the LGBT community in Serbia to enjoy their constitutional rights.

I wish you a successful and peaceful Belgrade Pride 2013!

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