We were greeted by a cold winter’s day in Moscow as large parts of the Commission arrived in Russia yesterday. The purpose of this visit was to discuss a range of topics with the Russian government. Thursday was dedicated to bilateral meetings, and I had a long meeting with Minister for Justice Alexander Konovalov. We have met many times before and know each other pretty well by now. The main topic of our conversation was the issue of visa regimes. In a long term perspective, EU and Russia are looking at agreeing on visa free access for our respective citizens. One part of that process is a dialogue on the so-called common steps, which include security of documents, border control, migration, asylum, combating corruption, rule of law and human rights. We discussed where we are in the negotiations right now.
In a shorter perspective, we are also hoping to agree on further facilitation of visa procedures, meaning a more simplified process, that visa fees are reduced or entirely lifted for certain groups, and that it will be easier to obtain a long-stay visa. We are very close to an agreement on this issue. Such an agreement would mean a lot for ordinary citizens wishing to travel to the EU or to Russia as tourists, to see friends, participate in events or do business. We also talked about the need for cooperation as regards smuggling of narcotics and trafficking, as well as the combat against corruption. Corruption is an important issue for many EU Member States, but it is a very large problem in Russia.
Finally, I also expressed my concerns regarding the human rights situation in Russia. Our discussion was focused on the Magnitsky case. I deeply regret that the investigation regarding his death has not been pursued. The Magnitsky case is unfortunately a tragic symbol of the deficits of the Russian judiciary system.
Today, the Commission met with the Russian government. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Medvedev and President of the Commission Barroso. The topics discussed were trade, energy, visa issues, rule of law, transport, etc. We have a good cooperation with our Russian partners in many areas, but we discussed also the issues which are troublesome and where we do not agree.
It is cold and rainy in the charming capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. The political debate is however hot. 24 intensive hours are coming to an end. The reason behind this travel was our negotiations on visa liberalisation and on the criteria that should apply for Georgian citizens travelling to the EU without a visa. The action plan with specific requirements is now finished and Georgia will thus take the next step towards visa liberalisation and increasing contacts and opportunities for ordinary people to travel and meet.
The negotiations on visa liberalisation are an important part of the EU’s work on acloser cooperation with the neighbouring regions. Legislation areas relevant to the negotiations is for example legislation against corruption and organised crime, protection of human rights and minorities’ rights, as well as immigration and asylum legislation. The respect for fundamental rights and an independent judiciary are also key components.
During the day I have met President Saakashvili, the Prime Minister Ivanishvili, the Minister of Interior Affairs Garibashivili, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Panjikidze and the Minister for European-Asian Integration Petriashvili. We have talked about the efforts that have been made so far through various reforms, but we have also discussed EU-Georgian relations in general.
The situation in Georgia is extremely polarised between the government and the President and the opposition that lost the elections in October last year. “Cohabitation” is not easy but both sides of Georgian politics have to make significant efforts in order to find a constructive way of coexisting. It is like a democratic maturity test for Georgia.
I will not only meet with representatives of the government, tonight I will have dinner with representatives from the civil society, different Georgian NGOs that will be given the opportunity to talk about their view of migration, human rights and security issues.
The words of the American feminist Margaret Meads, are encouraging and worth to be repeated “Never doubt that a thoughtful group of responsible citizens can change the world. On the contrary, this is the only thing that has happened”. We are hoping for change when we see thousands of people demonstrating for women’s rights in India during several days. The brutal rape of a young woman on a bus in New Dehli was the last straw. The objective is change, change of legislation and change of attitudes – both of how women are seen, but it is also a call for moral courage to stop abuses and rapes that are being witnessed.
Today, women and men are dancing in places all over the world. A worldwide manifestation which is part of the campaign One Billion Rising, and which message is that “one billion women being violated is unforgiveable and an atrocity. One billion women – and men – dancing against that violence is a revolution.” It is a good initiative that inspires to change and that encourages us to continue fighting the violence against women.
The Internet is a remarkable phenomenon that dramatically has changed and simplified our lives. In addition, it can be a powerful tool in the service of democracy. Just think about the role of the web and various social media during the Arab spring. We need to stand up for a free, open and safe Internet, everywhere. Unfortunately, the amount of cyber incidents increases every day, estimations are indicating that at least one million people become victims of cybercrimes daily. This obviously influences the reliance of the Internet and constrains us in our digital lives. At the same time it is devastating for the economy.
In Europe, we need to better coordinate the fight against these IT-criminals and improve the protection of our daily lives and our freedom on the Internet. The society today is highly computerised and therefore very vulnerable, and we are not sufficiently prepared to protect ourselves against major IT-attacks. We need to protect our critical infrastructures against these cyber-attacks, and defend the internet freedom, even in countries outside of the European Union. Together with my colleagues, Catherine Ashton and Neelie Kroes, I presented today the EU cybersecurity strategy.
In the strategy we are underlining, among other things, the significance of ensuring the establishment of a national police unit against cybercrime in each EU Member State. Together with the EC3, the new European cybercrime centre at Europol, which coordinates European police in the fight against criminals on the Internet, we would be able to better solve crimes and improve the fight against organised criminality.
It is crucial to take a holistic approach on this question. The EU has already taken the initiative to improve the security on the Internet – the cybercrime directive and the Global Alliance against persons who are sexually abusing children and disseminating films on-line, are two examples. Today, we present the complete vision and the common overall action plan. We need improved legislation, more resources and better coordination of the activities. We need to strengthen and modernise both authorities’ and private actors’ preparedness, the preventive work, and we need to get an overview of the security threat by sharing information.
Cybercrime is a cross-border issue and it is obvious that separate countries are not capable of fighting this threat on their own. The EU is a good venue, but we also need an international and global cooperation.
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The Commission is strengthening the measures to combat money laundering after a proposal of Commissioner Barnier and myself. We propose an increased transparency concerning the ownership of companies. This makes it more difficult for the organised crime groups to infiltrate companies and in that way launder the money from e.g. smuggling in drugs and weapons, and human trafficking. It will also become more difficult to laundering money through gambling online, since the companies will control all deposits over 2000 euros. The same rules will apply to casinos. The flow of black money can damage the financial sector.
Making it harder for criminals to launder money from the illegal activity, is another way of to fight organised crime in Europe today. We have previously proposed e.g. better rules on confiscation of criminal assets, and of course stronger police cooperation through Europol is an additional way. We plan to adopt proposals on further measures against corruption and organised crime in the coming months.
There is also a connection between money laundering and the financing of terrorism, which motivates the supervision and strengthening of the rules, which also imply a clearer harmonisation of the different national rules that exist today and stricter sanctioning power, The Commission proposal will now go to the Parliament and the Council for negotiations.
The drug market is becoming increasingly complex. What we elsewhere may count as indicators of progress, also have effects on the drug ravage – globalisation, internet and innovation affect and contribute to development and more flexibility. Locally produced is also a new trend. This is indicated by a common report prepared by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol, and presented today together with me. These two agencies that I, as a Commissioner, am responsible for, have joined forces and combined information about drugs in Europe with the police’s knowledge about organised crime. Through this cooperation, a unique report has been prepared, providing an important picture and analysis of the drug market – from production to addiction.
Europe stands out as a global player when it comes to knowledge and development of new synthetic drugs and efficient cannabis cultivation. At the same time as the globalisation has brought new smuggling routes and an increasing number of transit- and production countries, one of the strong trends is locally produced, where the manufacturing takes place closer to the consumers. The latest is mobile drug factories in barrows transported by cars (see image).
The report shows a rapidly changing and dynamic type of organised crime. The developments described in the report indicate that we need new ways of working, that national efforts are insufficient. We need the European cooperation to effectively combat organised crime together. Together with Europol, we need to launch more joint investigations and cross-border crackdowns. National police authorities also need to improve the identification of the real drug magnates – the criminals and the networks being at the top of the food chain. Additionally, we need to create systems within the EU enabling the authorities to give cross-border early warnings to each other about new dangerous substances on the market.
In September of 2011, I launched the Radicalisation Awareness Network, or RAN, as a response to the ever-growing prevalence of violent extremism in Europe. Individuals such as Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, Mohamed Merah in France or the Stockholm suicide bomber are all examples of violent extremists who committed acts of terrorism. These isolated individuals base their actions on extreme right or left-wing convictions, or religiously motivated extremism, and they exist within our societies. However, around Europe, there is a wealth of knowledge about how to discover such individuals, and hopefully halt them before they can commit acts of violence.
The network, which meets today and tomorrow for a high-level conference in Brussels, consists of people engaged at the local level – teachers, social workers, police officers, religious leaders, researchers, civil society representatives and others. Tomorrow, on the 29th of January, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers from several EU countries will join our discussions. The aim of the network is to improve our exchange of experiences across borders. Eight working groups are working since a year back with concrete recommendations, to give EU members better tools for preventing and fighting violent extremism.
Among the policy proposals that we have discussed today are to set up exit strategies or de-radicalisation programmes in all EU countries, to help individuals leave violent extremist groups. Local police all over Europe should also be trained in how to spot signs of radicalisation among suspects, and we aim to make it easier for the mental health care sector to sound the alarm if they receive credible terror threats. We have also discussed how defectors as well as terror victims can contribute by deglorifying the armed struggle.
Our discussions today have also revolved around how violent extremism is fuelled by a growing wave of xenophobia in many EU countries. Today, extremism is crawling into the mainstream. The growing right-wing extremist and xenophobic movements in Europe are a springboard for violence, but around the EU there are countries who do not take this development as seriously as they should. Now, we bring together policymakers with those who work in the field – because we want to effect real change.
Today, we honour the memory of the holocaust by an important ceremony at the European Parliament. In connection to this event, Raoul Wallenberg is assigned a room in the European Parliament named after him, and I am very proud to inaugurate this room. The room is named after him to honour his memory and his life-saving contributions by the end of the Second World War, when saving thousands of Jews from deportation to the concentration camps. Olle Wästberg, responsible for the Raoul Wallenberg Year in Sweden during 2012, came up with this idea which was then brought to the Parliament by the MEP Olle Schmidt (ALDE).
In the beginning of the 1940s, Raoul Wallenberg worked for a company exporting food between Hungary and Sweden. Through his good contacts he had the opportunity to carry out a rescue action as Swedish representative for an American rescue project which aimed at providing Hungarian Jews with protective passports and safe accommodation, in order to save them from the deportation to the camps. It is difficult to grasp the scale of the deportations during these years. The situation was critical when Raoul Wallenberg started in July 1944. During only two months, from May to June 1944, more than 400 000 Jews had been deported. In his work as a Swedish diplomat, he saved heroically tens of thousands of Jews from a certain death. In January 1945, he was captured by Soviet troops and was held prisoner until his death, probably in 1947.
Why is it so important that we commemorate and honour Raoul Wallenberg? Because of his efforts in Hungary, because of the lives he saved, but also because of his courage to stand up for democracy, freedom and human rights. He used his power as a diplomat in a flexible and innovative way in order to save as many lives as possible. He worked against the dictatorship and had to pay with his life for this. He is a true role model and source of inspiration, which demonstrates that one person actually can make a difference. By taking our own personal responsibility and by working in our daily life towards the values that Raoul Wallenberg represented, we are honouring his contributions. We do this, by continuing to speak against any form of suppression and persecution, any form of intolerance and anti-democratic movements.
I am back in Dublin again for an informal meeting of ministers for justice and home affairs. Except all the ministers from the EU-countries, the ministers from the candidate countries and the associated countries are present at this informal meeting. No decisions are made, but the meeting gives an opportunity for a more open discussion on various issues. It is also an opportunity for shorter meetings in the corridors. The Irish presidency has growth as their main theme and they want to discuss all questions from this perspective. Yesterday, we therefore discussed labour migration as well as crime prevention, from an economic perspective.
Despite the high unemployment, we paradoxically also have a problem finding qualified labour within some areas. Hundreds of thousands educated Europeans have left our continent to work in Africa, Latin America etc. The long-term demographic development is also worrying.
Many efforts are of course required here – we need more women on the labour market, we need to invest more in education as well as in integration of immigrants that already live in Europe. Labour migration is not the solution to all our problems, but it can be a crucial factor and we need to do more to make Europe more attractive and accessible for people outside of the EU. The Commission has claimed this since a long time, however, in practice it has become increasingly difficult to enter Europe legally, and immigration has actually decreased. We had a good and constructive discussion, more and more Member States are now realising the need for labour. Still, the focus on keeping people away from the EU is great, which is regrettable.
Concerning the fighting of crime, it is clear that a crime is a major violation of the individual victim, but organised crime is also an extremely lucrative economic activity. The money should, to a greater extent, be taken back to the legal economy. We discussed various current law proposals concerning corruption, confiscation of criminal assets and money laundering.
Among the other questions on the agenda was the situation in Syria. We discussed the terrible situation with UNHCR and the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres. About 25 000 Syrians have fled to the EU so far and 700 000 are being given protection in the neighbouring area, in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Most of them get to stay but some Member States are still sending back Syrian asylum seekers, something which is not acceptable. UNHCR urges EU countries to take responsibility and resettle some of the 500 persons on the UNHCR list for people with special needs. I hope that the Member States can make a difference here; it would be an important signal!
Greece presented their updated action plan on how to get a functioning asylum policy in place. Progress is being made, but there are still many things to do.
Throughout the meeting, everyone obviously felt a great concern for the hostage crisis in Algeria.
Today the EU Cybercrime Centre EC3 was officially opened. EC3 will coordinate the European Police in the chasing of criminals on the Internet. The center is located in The Hague and is a part of Europol. Now, 30 IT-experts are employed and will mainly assist the national police forces with analyzes and the coordination of information to dismantle and disrupt more cybercrime networks. It is important to coordinate resources, expertise and information to get an overview of cybercrimes in the EU and to become more efficient. It is also an economic issue. We get more efficient if we coordinate the for criminals who ignore national borders. The EC3 will focus on transnational organized crime, credit card identity theft and child sexual abuse.
We use new technologies as important tools of our everyday lives, meeting friends, connect to our bank account and shoping. It has become an attractive space for criminals – identities get stolen and bank accounts are hijacked. Visiting the EC3 was like a visit to the television series CSI. The idea is that EC3 should be at the forefront with great technical expertise and modern tools to fight cybercriminals, who so far have been ahead of the law enforcement authorities in imagination and cooperation. As of today the EC3 will strive to be the European focal point in the fight for our security in cyberspace.