The events in the Southern Mediterranean bring hope for a better life for millions of people in our neighbourhood, as well as for greater respect of human rights, pluralism, the rule of law and social justice. As is often the case for democratic uprisings, they may also entail, in the short and medium term, upheaval and uncertainty. Political unrest and military conflicts have led to the loss of human lives and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, not only from the countries directly concerned by the changes, for instance Tunisia and Libya, but also from other countries.
These recent events of historic proportion in the Southern Mediterranean have confirmed the need for a strong and common EU policy in the field of migration and asylum. Making substantial progress on legislation, operational cooperation and in our relations with third countries is more necessary than ever. The purpose of this Communication is to set recent and future policy proposals in a framework that takes account of all relevant aspects and allows the EU and its Member States to manage asylum, migration and mobility of third-country nationals in a secure environment.
Some Member States, such as Italy, Malta, Greece and Cyprus are more directly exposed to massive arrivals of irregular migrants and, to a limited extent, of persons in need of international protection. This is not a national problem alone, but needs also to be addressed at the EU level and requires true solidarity amongst Member States.
The EU must ensure quick assistance to all persons in need - as it has done notably at the Tunisian-Libyan border - and provide shelter to those in need of international protection.
Whilst the EU must maintain and consolidate its tradition of granting asylum and protection it should also foresee the appropriate tools in order to prevent large number of economic migrants crossing the borders irregularly. To reach these objectives effective management of the EU's borders is a condition of credibility inside and outside the Union.
The continuously evolving situation in our Southern Neighbourhood requires rapid responses.
Building upon the European Council Conclusions of 11 and 25 March, the European Parliament's Resolution of 5 April, and, the joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative of 8 March, the Commission will present on 24 May a package of proposals to ensure a coherent EU approach in the area of migration, mobility and security with the Southern Mediterranean countries.
However, the need to address this challenging and evolving situation should not lead to a short-term approach limited to border control without taking account of long-term issues.
Dialogue and cooperation with countries of origin and of transit of these migrants is essential.
Such collaboration needs to be built on security and good governance for the establishment of mutually beneficial policies in the field of legal migration. It also implies enhanced economic cooperation in order to develop the conditions for growth and employment in the countries of origin, to address the causes of irregular migration. Such cooperation should also build on the principle of conditionality applied to migration issues in order to encourage effective commitment by our partners in preventing irregular migration flows, in managing their borders efficiently and in cooperating on the return and readmission of irregular migrants.
A comprehensive migration policy for non_EU-nationals based on common admission procedures, which treats third-country nationals fairly, will moreover contribute to the EU's future prosperity. As underlined in the Europe 2020 Strategy, one of the most pressing economic challenges faced by Europe is the need to address the demographic decline in its working age population coupled with significant projected skills shortages in certain sectors.
To remain competitive and allow it to maintain its social model in a sustainable way, Europe needs to adopt measures to improve the employment rates of EU residents, but must at the same time take concrete steps to meet its projected labour needs via targeted immigration of third country nationals.
The EU should also ensure that it has in place safe and efficient asylum procedures for people in need of protection. Sixty years after the signature of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, it is time for the EU to reaffirm its commitment to offer protection to any persecuted third country national or stateless person arriving on its territory. A Common European Asylum System, offering a high level of protection and reducing the disparities among Member States' asylum systems, must be completed by 2012, as agreed by the European Council.
Migration issues are having an increasingly significant political impact in the EU. The October 2008 European Council adopted a European Pact on Immigration and Asylum to give an impulse to the development of an EU common policy with five commitments: organizing legal migration, fighting against irregular migration, strengthening the external borders, building an EU asylum system and creating a global partnership for migration and development. Its basic assumption remains valid and should continue to guide our action: whereas poorly managed immigration can affect social cohesion and the trust of citizens in an area of free movement without internal borders, well managed migration can be a positive asset for the EU. These commitments were reiterated and further detailed in the Stockholm Programme adopted by the Council in December 2009, and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which , has ensured a stable, comprehensive and more accountable legal framework for the development of EU migration policy, notably through a greater participation of the European Parliament in the decision-making process.
At the same time, as recent events have starkly illustrated, the EU continues to face serious challenges in the development of its migration policy. The vulnerability of some sections of the EU's external borders is a clear example, notably in the Southern Mediterranean and at the land border between Greece and Turkey. In particular, measures must be taken to prevent large numbers of irregular migrants, often exploited by unscrupulous criminal networks, from arriving in the EU. The EU should accordingly pursue a migration policy based on ensuring that inward migration is effectively managed and ensure that the need for enhanced mobility does not undermine the security of the Union's external borders. While this Communication naturally focuses on regions of most immediate concern, the EU’s migration policy follows a geographically comprehensive approach.