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Speech by President von der Leyen at the high-level conference on migration and asylum in Europe

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 19 november 2020.

Dear President of the European Parliament, dear David,

Dear President of the Bundestag, lieber Wolfgang Schäuble,

Dear Presidents of the Portuguese and Slovenian Parliaments, dear Eduardo, dear Igor,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Honourable Members of Parliaments,

Recently the Commission secured the first 300 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine from the European company BioNTech. At the same time, the story of the company's co-founder and CEO made headlines. Uğur Şahin came to Germany from Turkey with his mother when he was four years old. He passed his high school exam in Köln and went on to study medicine. Together with his wife, Özlem Türeci, the daughter of another immigrant from Turkey, he later founded the German company that developed a coronavirus vaccine in record time.

Only shortly after the vaccine announcement, another news broke. Sad news this time. A ship with over 120 migrants on board had sunk right off the coast of Libya. According to reports, 74 people died. In another incident, Spanish rescuers were able to save 110 refugees in the Mediterranean. But later - and David you mentioned it - later on board of their ship, a six-month-old baby, Joseph, died.

These two examples highlight just the two of the aspects we have to think about when we discuss the issue of migration. On the one hand, people coming from a migration background will contribute to growth, innovation and social dynamism in a country - and we speak too seldom about that. On the other hand, there are still far too many heartbreaking stories of migrants risking their lives on their way to Europe.

Both examples make clear why it is so important for the European Union to build a system that manages migration in the long term and which is fully grounded in European values. Indeed, this is why the European Commission, at the end of September, adopted its New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

Migration is a complex issue. David, you mentioned all the different pillars. And there are many genuine concerns that have to be brought into balance. We have to talk about the people seeking international protection or a better life, exploited by ruthless smugglers. We have to talk about the concerns of countries on the EU's external borders, such as Italy, Greece and Spain. They worry that the efforts needed to manage migration may exceed their capacities. They need the solidarity of others. And of course, we have to talk about those Member States that are concerned, that their own national systems for asylum or integration will not be able to cope in the event of large amounts of migrants.

The current system no longer works. Our New Pact on Migration and Asylum offers a fresh start. The first issue we are focusing on is a robust and fair management of external borders, including more efficient and faster procedures - I think this is crucial.

So it comprises pre-entry screening, an asylum procedure and, of course, where applicable, returns. With this procedure, simple cases will be managed much faster and more effectively than today. At the same time, it will guarantee appropriate treatment to everybody.

The second fundamental element is the fair sharing of responsibility on the one hand and solidarity on the other hand. Those countries that fulfil their legal and moral duties or those which are more exposed than others must be able to rely on the European Union to share responsibility in case of need. And each Member State, without exception, must support Member States under pressure. And they must ensure that the Union meets its humanitarian obligations.

The new system is based on cooperation and flexible forms of support. So this gives a choice to Member States on how they contribute. But it always guarantees that the required support is given - and that especially at times of pressure on individual Member States.

Thirdly, managing migration well starts - as you have said, David - in the home countries of those who come to Europe. People do not leave their homes easily and embark on such a dangerous journey. So it is poverty, it is the lack of perspectives that are these strong driving forces to leave their home country. The European Union will therefore look and work towards tailor-made and mutually beneficial - this is important - partnerships with third countries.

These will help to address shared challenges such as human trafficking. And, of course, they will help to develop legal pathways and they will tackle the effective implementation of readmission agreements. With our package, we also seek to boost a common EU system for returns to make EU migration rules more effective and credible.

And lastly, we are also proposing ways to better benefit from legal migration into Europe. People who come to Europe legally need clear rights and they need to feel welcomed. They need to be given all necessary opportunities to realise their potential in our societies. Therefore, next week the Commission will present an action plan on integration and inclusion for 2021 to 2027.

As you know, our proposal on the Pact was preceded by extensive consultations with Member States and the European Parliament. You know that Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson travelled from capital to capital to discuss ideas and proposals and were in the European Parliament. Well, after this, it is clear, and I must say it: A solution on migration that fully satisfies everyone does not exist.

We need to come together on this issue and we need to discuss and we need to find compromises: So national parliaments, the European Parliament, the national governments. We need to acknowledge our differences and we need to overcome them. But we need to move forward now. It should not get stuck.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2015, one of our co-hosts, you, Wolfgang Schäuble, spoke of our European societies having a ‘Rendezvous with globalisation'. And these words are still true today. Indeed, migration has always been a fact for Europe - and it always will be. It enriches our societies, it brings new talent to our countries, when well managed. But if not, and we know that by experience, it has the potential to divide us. So given the urgency of local situations in several Member States, there is no point in fighting the battles of yesterday.

We need a sustainable solution. And we need it now. We owe it to the migrants, we owe it to the refugees. And we owe it to our citizens.

Many thanks for listening to me and I look forward to the discussion.

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