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Cecilia Malmstrom

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?

Cybercrime

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.

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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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Efforts for Roma

Amnesty poster

Amnesty poster

Between 10 and 12 million Roma live in Europe. They are often subject to discrimination and social rejection, they live in deep poverty and lack access to health care and decent living conditions. Reports on violence and abuse are unfortunately all too common. Studies have shown that one out of three Roma is unemployed, 20% are not included in any kind of health insurance, and as many as 90% live below the poverty line. Too many children do not attend school, and only 15% of Roma children finish compulsory school.

They have a higher level of unemployment, higher levels of ill-health, and lower levels of education than the average European. In too many countries, Roma are living in camps on garbage dumps in very simple houses, or perhaps shacks would be a better word. I have visited several camps like this myself, and it is not worthy of Europe. The situation is generally bad, and appalling at places.

In 2011, the EU Council of Ministers adapted a proposal put forward by the Commission on a plan of integration of Roma. This means that all 27 EU Member States are bound to establish national strategies for the integration of Roma. This is to be reviewed once a year, which we did today.

Each country has a national strategy that focuses on four priority areas: health care, homes, education and employment. We are now also putting forward areas that aim more at the societal structure: cooperation with civil society, with regional and local authorities, review and follow-up of goals and measures. The countries need to be active in ensuring that legislation on anti-discrimination is being followed, they must establish a national point of contact, and ensure that all of this is adequately financed.

The integration of Roma is first and foremost a national responsibility, but the European Commission cannot silently stand by when EU citizens are being treated badly. We need concrete measures; a strategy should not just be a document with fancy words, it need to also lead to actual results. The EU Member States need to do much more to ensure effective integration, such as making sure that Roma children go to pre-school and to school, as well as ensuring that these strategies are implemented on local and regional level. A country which has a large Roma population needs to make a greater effort.

The EU can also make sure that examples of good practice are showcased. In April this year, I visited the Roma preschool in Gothenburg that is being run by the Rescue Mission. It is an amazing project. Their work is aimed at giving the children a place to be during the day, as well as a functioning as a centre that can assist the adults. It is a lovely initiative that also has inspired ordinary people in Gothenburg to help out.

In times of economic crisis, it is important to not only talk about growth and competitiveness in Europe. We also have a responsibility of upholding the fundamental values of the EU. In this context, it is completely unacceptable that the largest minority of this continent is still being discriminated and marginalised.

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A Common European Asylum System is here

Somali refugees en route through Kenya, 2009. Photo: B.Heger/UNHCR

The EU will have a common European asylum system by the fall of 2015! We are now putting years of hard negotiations behind us after today’s positive vote by the European Parliament on the Asylum Package – the framework legislation that will give the EU a common system for asylum.

More than 330 000 people lodged an asylum application in the EU Member States last year, but asylum is not a matter of statistics. Behind every number there is a person who has been forced to leave her home and escape to a whole different continent. The reasons why a person has to flee can vary. It can be to escape from war, persecution or torture. Whatever the reasons might be, each person has a right to have her asylum application tried in a transparent process that respects her legal rights. With a common system, we will take a joint responsibility to ensure that those who have escaped from their home countries will be treated well and have their case tried.  This is a great success for the EU, and it deserves a longer blog entry.

The Qualifications Directive specifies the grounds for granting a person international protection and refugee status. The UN Refugee Convention is of course valid, but the Directive gives a common interpretation of the original definition of a refugee.

The Asylum Procedure Directive provides common rules for the EU, e.g. setting time limits on the handling of asylum applications that the Member States’ authorities must adhere to. We have set obligations for proper education for staff that handles asylum applications, and also special rules for unaccompanied minors as they have different needs than adults.

The Reception Conditions Directive sets a minimum standard on the reception of the asylum seeker, with rules on dignified material living conditions and early evaluation of the asylum seeker’s physical and mental health. The asylum seeker shall also be granted faster access to employment. This Directive is important considering the inadequate reception centres all over Europe today. I have earlier written about centres in Greece. We now have clear rules on the conditions of the reception centres, and a very limited list of exceptional cases in which an asylum seeker may be kept in detention. As a fundamental principle: refugees shall not be placed in locked detention centres, and children should never be locked up, unless in exceptional cases it is necessary for their own security.

The Dublin Regulation is already in place and contains rules that decide which Member State that should handle an asylum claim. This Regulation is now being updated, and according to the new rules, an asylum seeker may not be sent to a Member State where there is a risk of inhumane or degrading treatment. This update also creates a system to detect and address possible issues in the national asylum systems early, before these issues can develop into crises.

EURODAC is a database with fingerprints of all people above the age of 14 that have applied for asylum in one of the EU Member States. According to these new rules, law enforcement authorities will have access to this database in cases that relate to terrorism and serious crime. However, this access is guarded by very strict controls to ensure that refugees are not routinely treated as criminals.

A set of common rules is an incredibly important step to eliminate the large differences that exist between the Member States today, and to raise the standard. In addition, all 27 EU Member States, soon to be 28, have a fully functioning asylum system which will mean that more countries will be able to take responsibility for the people who come for protection in Europe. Today, ten Member States receive 90 % of all asylum seekers.

The next step is to make sure that all Member States will implement these rules. It is worth mentioning that the Commission have funding connected to this legislation package, enabling the Member States to seek funding to help them in the important task of establishing a fully functioning asylum system that respects the legal rights of asylum seekers. We will also assist with training and other support. Only when this system is implemented throughout the EU, we can truthfully say that we have a common asylum system that is characterised by dignity and legal certainty.

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Improvement of the Schengen cooperation

Closed border controle (Flickr CC Matt McNally)

Closed border controle (Flickr CC Matt McNally)

The Schengen cooperation is an incredibly important part of the fundamental idea behind the EU – the free movement and our economy. It gives the possibility to 420 million people within the area to move freely across the internal borders, and is one of the things that the EU citizens appreciate most in the EU. One year ago, Schengen was causing a bit of a storm in Brussels. I had put forward a proposal that aimed to improve the Schengen system, something which caused tension between the Council and the Parliament. We really had difficulties in reaching an agreement, but after the summer, the three EU institutions sat down to create a compromise that everyone are more or less satisfied with. I am sure that it is not easy to follow everything that happens in Brussels, but we have managed to find a solution. We now have tools that enable us to strengthen the Schengen cooperation.

There is already today a mechanism that makes it possible to evaluate how the Member States implement the Schengen framework. However, it has become evident that we need new methods. The EU needs a mechanism that guarantees the protection of a system without internal border controls. We need a system that is better equipped to identify deficiencies at an early stage, and that is able to propose measures to follow up on these deficiencies. The new Schengen governance will provide this, and at the same time open up the system to be more transparent.

The Commission will be given a central and coordinating role in the new system. The evaluation of the functioning of Schengen will be conducted by the Commission together with experts from the Member States. We will also be able to give recommendations of improvements if we discover areas that could be enhanced. And, although not very likely to happen, the new system also creates an emergency brake and a possibility to temporarily reinstate border controls in extraordinary circumstances. However, and this is very important, no Member State can close a border on its own, as was discussed a year ago when the tension between France and Italy was at its peak.

The Commission can also keep an eye on the internal borders of the EU, to make sure that the Member States do not carry out unjustified passport controls. We know that this occurs too often today.

The new system will also give the European Parliament increased possibilities of influencing Schengen. The European Parliament will be given all relevant information, and both the Commission and the Council have expressed their will to consult with the Parliament on the evaluation of Schengen. The Parliament will vote on the improvements of the Schengen cooperation today, and I am happy that we have succeeded in strengthening such an important part of the EU.

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