Migration has defined our societies for centuries, enriched our cultures and shaped our lives. So said President von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech and I think this is very crucial. 

Migration is normal- migration has always been here, migration will always be here.

Sometimes in a debate we try to make a link between migration and crisis. But most of the migrants that come to the European Union come here legally. Last year 2.4 million migrants got a residence permit in the Europe Union.  Most of them because they fell in love with an EU citizen and they marry.  But also for other family reasons. To work here, to study here and also some that got asylum.

Last year around one million left the European Union, and that means we have an extra one, one and a half million coming to the European Union every year and we need them because we are an aging society.

And many of those are becoming European citizens.  Last year almost 700,000 new European citizenships were issued.

So this works quite well I should say, And we need migration.

But in the headlines, in the news is what doesn’t work so well.  And that is the situation with the irregular arrivals.

Last year we had 140,000 irregular arrivals to the European Union. This is really what we are addressing now in our proposal – to manage in a much better way.

And I think that when we are discussing the proposal that we now have put on the table – I understand a lot of people are still in the mood of the situation in 2015. But we are not there.  In 2015 we had 1.8 million irregular arrivals to the European Union – almost all of them were refugees.  As I said last year there were 140,000 irregular arrivals and a minority of them (one third) were refugees. 

The others are not refugees and they will have a negative asylum decision and a return decision – and that shows also what we need to address better. The effectiveness on return and readmissions to the countries of origin.

We need fewer irregular arrivals and instead have more regular arrivals.  That’s why we have the focus on legal pathways both for migrants to come to contribute to our economy and for refugees that need international protection. And I am very proud that the European Union is doing so much when it comes to the resettlement of refugees. And we are also in our proposal stepping up on that with a new community sponsored resettlement.

To be able to have fewer irregular arrivals we need to fight thehuman smugglers- these are well organised criminal networks, that are earning a lot of money by smuggling people into the European Union and at the same time a lot of people are risking their lives.  This is not how it should be done and as Margaritis just pointed out the importance of working closely together with third countries and with partner countries to fight the smuggling together.

We also need to focus more on returns and that you can see in our package today – there are a lot of new initiatives when it comes to being more effective on return. And I am coming back to that.

It is important to have good readmission agreements with third countries and that’s going to be prioritised.

I will go through how we should address the problems and the challenges we are facing. As Margaritis rightly said we have had a lot of dialogue with Member States, with the Parliament, with other stakeholders to listen: where are the shortcomings are without a common European migration and asylum system. And these we are addressing in our proposal to be able to manage migration better.

Of course it is fundamental to defend the right to apply for asylum and that means that it is also fundamental how we protect our borders.  That we do it in a way that is in compliance with the Geneva Convention and the right to apply for asylum.

We will propose a new  independent monitoring mechanism for all Member Stateas to implement in guidance with the European Agency for Fundamental Rights to make sure that there are no push backs at the borders.

When irregular arrivals come to the European Union there will be a mandatory screening process.  This will take a maximum of five days.  There you will do the registration into Eurodac. In Eurodac we will have much more information as a result of our new proposal than in the current one. You can find out also whether this person has been in Europe before for example and already have a decision maybe.


There will also be security checks, health checks and a decision on which country is responsible for this application and which kind of procedures should this person go through.

If these asylum applicants have a connection to another Member State, like having a sibling there, working there, studying there, then the other Member State is responsible for the application, and to process that.

If a person has come from a country with a very low recognition rate, under 20 per cent, and is not a family with small children, is not an unaccompanied minor, is not a person with medical needs, then this person should go through a border procedure.

And this border procedure has the same rights for the person to have his or her application processed in a proper and fair way. But it has to be done very quickly. And I think that many of those will have a negative decision, but not all of them. Some will have a positive and then of course they have asylum in the country.

Why do we do this?
We do this, because it would make it easier, for voluntary returns.

I think when a person has been living in country for years, having relations, falling in love, then it’s much more difficult, both for the individual and for the authorities to do the return to the country of origins. It’s important that we can have a decision on returns very quickly – in twelve weeks. And then also be able to do the returns. This is also an important message, that you will be returned, if you are coming to the European Union and do not have the  right to stay. And I think this is what European citizens ask from us.

I think they say: we are ready to welcome those in need of international protection. We are ready to welcome those that have the legal right to work or study in our union.

But those who do not have the legal right to stay, they have to go back. And this is what we are really focussing on n our proposal. If, as Margaritis said, it is also important that we have a solidarity mechanism. Of course all Member States have to deal with migration, it’s a normal thing. But there could be a situation where the migration pressure is high, or a risk of being high. And then there is a possibility to activate the solidarity mechanism.

And as President von der Leyen just said a few minutes ago, solidarity Is not optional. Everyone has to contribute to this  solidarity. But there are some possibilities to choose in what way, to show your solidarity. The two main ways to show solidarity are: Either via relocation, of those probably in need of international protection, or with a new return sponsorship, where Member States are helping each other, to actually do the returns of those not eligible to stay, and make sure that they are reintegrated in the country of origin. This solidarity mechanism will also work for search and rescue cases.

Search and rescue is the responsibility for the Member States – or the coastal states. Saving lives is always essential and always our obligation. But we must always make sure that when persons that have been saved by search and rescue and saved at sea, are being disembarked in the European Union. They are being disembarked n the European Union, not only in a Member State.

And that’s why we need this solidarity. Showing that also other Member States must help with the relocation of people that are being disembarked through search and rescue, or in other ways supporting the Member State, where they are being disembarked.

I will end with what’s also important here. That we should have also more predictability.

Today, one of our colleagues in college told the story if 13 unaccompanid minors, coming to her country, being relocated from Lesvos, and being welcomed.

And I think it is such a huge difference, when you have the names of those coming. When you know what flight, they are coming with. It’s so much easier, for a country to welcome these, and have a swift integration. The unpredictability, is much more difficult, to deal with. And this our aim, to have more of a Europeanised system, where we help each other, to have a more predictability in the system, so that we should not be surprised, so we can deal with the situation, before it becomes a crisis.

Thank you.