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Brussels, 6 March 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to open our annual European Migration Forum, together with my good friend George Dassis.

I am also happy to see that my new Director-General Vivi Michou is with us today.

I am sure that those of you who haven't met her have certainly heard of her! She will be my strong, inspired and inspiring right hand from now onwards.

She takes over from Matthias Ruete, who I want to thank once again for his excellent leadership and support over the past three years, when Europe was faced with difficult times – on migration but also on security.

Now, coming back to today's Forum.This year we focus on the integration of migrants in the labour market.

The choice of integration in the labour market as the main topic for this year's Forum is particularly timely, at a moment when the migration situation at our external borders has started to stabilise, thanks to our collective efforts over the past years.

It is now time to go beyond the "crisis discourse" about migration we hear every day, and to focus instead on how to turn migration into a real opportunity, for all of us. Now and in the long term.

For those who have obtained a legal right to stay into the European Union it is essential, and even urgent, that we now focus on their integration into our societies.

Failing to do so will not only create discrepancies in our social fabric and our economies, but also further feed populism, with the risk of destabilising and further dividing our societies.

Effectively integrating all those who have a legal right to stay, including refugees, is also beneficial for our ageing societies, as well as for our labour markets, contributing to address skills and labour shortages in many sectors.   

Some might fear that we prioritise migrants over those who are vulnerable in our existing labour force.

This is not true.

All these efforts go hand in hand, to create stronger and more cohesive societies, for everyone.

Where each and every one participates fully. This is why integration has been a priority for the Commission from the beginning –  and for me personally.

Let me recall that in May 2017 we launched the initiative "Employers together for Integration", to give visibility to employers active in the area of integration in Europe, and to encourage more to engage.

Recently, in December 2017, I have signed, together with my colleague Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, a "European Partnership for Integration" with the European social and economic partners to encourage a truly multi-stakeholder approach in this area.

Public authorities at national, regional and local level, social and economic partners and of course civil society organisations have to join forces to make integration happen, starting from the labour market.

Today, you will have the possibility to exchange, discuss and share your experiences on this issue.

In our discussions with all of you today, we want to explore:

- how to strengthen cooperation amongst different stakeholders

- how to improve skills matching;

- and how to promote regular employment and decent work as well as diversity in the labour market.

Many migrants come with their own talents, competences and skills – these should not be wasted!

Integration is therefore as much about empowerment, as it is about smart economics!

There is already much engagement at different levels in Europe, by social and economic partners, by civil society, by the public and private sectors.

It is important that we all talk to each other and work together.

That we don't work in silos.

And most importantly: that we are effective and concrete, making a difference on the ground.

This is what this Forum is about: not just to talk and exchange, but to bring those ideas back home.

To develop and put them into practice.

Whether it is in Athens or in Stockholm: migrants want to work, participate and be involved.

Let us join our forces to address some of those obstacles that are recurring everywhere: whether it is learning the language, recognising qualifications, or getting into that first full-time job.

I wish you very fruitful discussions today and tomorrow,and we look forward to hearing your suggestions and ideas for the future.

Integration is not only our shared and common responsibility.

It is vital for the cohesion of our societies as a whole – one that we cannot underestimate.

Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my friend and colleague, President George Dassis, whose mandate will come to an end at the end of April.

I would like to praise his commitment in defending and promoting the European values and principles at a very crucial time for Europe.

The European Migration Forum is one such important example.

Mr Dassis leaves behind a great legacy, which has been devoted to the European citizen and worker, and has also been critical in forging a closer relationship between our two European institutions.

George my dear friend,

your European spirit and your legacy will continue to inspire us all in our daily work.

Thank you for your attention.