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Welcome to my blog where you can follow my work as Commissioner for Home Affairs.
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    The results from the 2010 Eurobarometer survey were presented today. I was pleased to see that the EU is still seen as the most effective level for tackling the effects of the economic crisis. The economic crises have yet again reminded us how interlinked we are and that cooperation is the way forward.

    It is evident that there are issues where EU cooperation is really necessary. But it is also interesting to see that the opinion on what these issues are differ from country to country. For my part, I hope of course that we will reach an EU agreement in the following months and years on a common asylum and migration policy, as we see more and more proof that this issue cannot be dealt with in 27 different ways.

    Today I met with Sweden’s Minister for Environment Andreas Carlgren. He represents a country where environment and climate are high on citizens’ wishlist as the most important priorities for EU. We talked about environment and climate policies and about the importance for the EU to continue to lead the way in international negotiations with ambitious emission reduction targets.

    Number of Views: 755

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  • 05/27/11--09:14: Visit to Ljubljana
  • 2011-05-27 Today I have been in Ljubljana in Slovenia. I met with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Justice. The discussions mainly focused on visa regulation, Schengen, the Common European Asylum System and the situation in Northern Africa. Prime Minister Borut Pahor and I know each other from the European Parliament where we both were members of the EU-Croatia Committee. Therefore, we obviously also talked about the EU-Croatia accession negotiations.

    I visited the National Centre of Investigation where I met with the Director of the Anti-Corruption Commission. It was an interesting meeting in light of the proposal on corruption that I will present in two weeks time.

    I also visited an asylum centre in Ljubljana. It was opened in 2005 and it is a centre for families, people with special needs and unaccompanied minors.

    Number of Views: 375

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    2011-06-01 The meeting with the African Union continued today. Focus in the discussions were on how we can support a democratic development in Northern Africa, especially Egypt and Tunisia. We also discussed the situation in Libya. Libya is a member of the AU but there are different opinions within the AU on how to address the country. I continued the discussions I had yesterday with Bience Gawanas, Commissioner responsible for Social Affairs. Amongst other things we discussed common efforts to combat trafficking.

    The Commission adopted today two amended directives within the Common European Asylum System. The ongoing negotiations are tough and two of the directives are particularly difficult, the Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive. It is of the utmost importance that there are clear standards for the treatment of asylum seekers and special attention must be given to those with special needs, for example unaccompanied minors. Today’s proposals aim at breaking the deadlock position. I will discuss these in the Council meeting next week and also at the Summit, end of June, and I am really hoping that they will give me a clear signal to conclude the negotiations. See the press briefing here.

    Number of Views: 376

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  • 09/07/11--10:38: Dublin and Schengen
  • Today I had a working lunch with the Polish minister Jerzy Miller and the chair of the LIBE committee Juan Lopez Aguilar to discuss how to proceed with our work on the asylum package this autumn. One of the more difficult issues is the Dublin Regulation, where several Member States are blocking the current proposal. We discussed the different options for proceeding further and breaking the deadlock. The remaining legislative proposals, the asylum procedures and reception conditions directive, are still being negotiated and we are making small but steady progress.

    During the afternoon I also met with the interior ministers from Romania and Bulgaria to discuss, amongst other issues, their Schengen entry. Both countries do meet the technical criteria for joining  the Schengen area, but some Member States still have some doubt. The Commission does not have a formal role in the decision on the lifting of internal borders which is taken by unanimity by the Member States. We discussed various possible solutions and how the Commission could best assist in this process. The Polish Presidency is hoping to present a solution to the Home Affairs Council in late September.

    Overall, a lot of focus is on Schengen these days. Within the next weeks, I will present proposals to strengthen the Schengen system. Negotiations are still ongoing and last adjustments can still take place. Our aim is to enhance the free movement of goods and people, guaranteed by Schengen, through an early identification of problems and weaknesses and avoid that decisions are taken unilaterally. Schengen is a fantastic achievement, something we have built together, and decisions impacting on our common area of free movement should also be taken together.

    Number of Views: 428

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  • 09/19/12--03:22: A welcome vote
  • Libyan refugees in Tunisia

    Libyan refugees in Tunisia, 2011. Photo: EbS

    The adoption of a common European refugee law is one of my main goals, if not the single most important, for me as a commissioner. Member states have been discussing it for many years and the difference in how displaced persons are received within the EU is unacceptably large. A few countries take a big responsibility, while others should be able to do more. The European Union is based on the values ​​of human dignity, freedom, democracy and human rights. This all agree on, but it should not stop at being empty words in a treaty. My EU is willing to help people who are in need of protection and we should do it under dignified conditions. Therefore, Member States, the governments and leading politicians, have to take responsibility.

    Today, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) voted on two key elements of the work towards the common asylum system, namely a revised Dublin Regulation and reception conditions for refugees. Finally! These are two key ingredients in the final product – the common asylum system. Read my statement here.

    The standards for receiving asylum seekers vary considerably between EU countries today. There are countries that handle their commitments well. There are countries where the reception needs to improve. But there are also countries where the reception of refugees is far from the European values ​​- where we see an unworthy treatment of people in need of protection. Therefore, common rules and standards for the reception conditions as extremely important. It should not matter which country you flee to, an applicant should know that his or her application is processed correctly and legally secure everywhere. If all member countries have a functional reception, we can help more people in need of asylum. With today’s decision, the levels of protection and reception will increase significantly and the rules become clearer.

    Negotiations on the two Directives have been extremely tough between and within the Council and Parliament, ever since the Commission presented its proposals. Of course we have been participating in the negotiations all the time and been trying to find openings and compromises. The economic crisis and the general mood in Europe have not directly facilitated the negotiations. The MEP:s responsible for the asylum package have become important partners for us in the Commission and the reporteurs for today’s directives – Cecilia Wikström and Antonio Masip Hidalgo – have done a very important job in getting the Parliament on board. Hopefully, the Council will confirm the agreement by decision in October.

    More specifically, the decisions contain improved protection for asylum-seekers, such as right to information, personal interview and special safeguards for minors, an early warning and preparation mechanism to help Member States where many seek protection, and greater legal clarity on Dublin-process between Member States. It also includes rules on standards of detention of refugees during the waiting period, improved protection for vulnerable persons, such as unaccompanied children, and minimum levels of support for asylum seekers.

    Number of Views: 6318

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  • 10/26/12--08:05: We can do more
  • Food distribution, Hatay Turkish-Syrian border, August 2012

    IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/TURKEY (c)

    The fog was dense in Luxembourg when the Council meeting for Justice and Home Affairs was about to start. Several of the ministers could not land because the airport was closed in the morning. Various topics were on the agenda, important issues deserving more space and with many reasons to come back to.

    The situation in Syria – the number of refugees from Syria is rapidly increasing. The vast majority stays in the neighbouring countries – Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. UNHCR estimations suggest that by the end of the year 710 000 refugees will be in need of help and assistance. So far very few of those people have come to Europe, about 16 000. Much is already being done to support the recipient countries, but we can do more. To date, the EU humanitarian support has amounted to 230 million Euros. In the Commission, we are working on a plan with short-term and long-term measures regarding how the EU and the Member States can continue to support the humanitarian efforts in the region, but also regarding how we in Europe can receive more Syrians in need of protection. In addition, we are working to get a regional protection programme in place, in cooperation with UNCHR.

    The Asylum package – we had a check up concerning the state of negotiations between the Council, the European Parliament, and the Commission, on the draft legislations which together will constitute the new EU common asylum and refugee system. Progress is being made and as regards the reception directive and the Dublin regulation, we are almost there, but the negotiations on the asylum procedure directive and Eurodac continue. The ambition is that the negotiations will be completed by the end of 2012 and I believe it is possible to reach a political agreement till then. The EU needs a humane common asylum system because today differences are too big from one country to another. The idea is that the new system will ensure legal certainty and a humane treatment of the individual and an equal, efficient handling. In this way, all the 27 Member States can share the responsibility.

    The extension of Schengen to Bulgaria and Romania – in order for us to have a free movement of persons we have the Schengen agreement, which means that the controls of persons at the borders are removed, and are compensated by agreements on measures in other areas that need to be established as in order to ensure trust between the countries and to combat crime in the absence of border controls. Before a country is admitted to enter Schengen, it must fulfil certain requirements concerning e.g. control of external borders, police cooperation, and visa issuance. Bulgaria and Romania are working to implement changes in their legislations. A decision on entry to Schengen is taken unanimously by the Council and for the moment there is no such unanimity among the Member States.

    Another very complicated question regards the visa liberalisation for citizens of the Western Balkan countries. To gradually lift the visa requirements for our neighbouring countries and partners is an important objective for me. Increased mobility enhances connections between people, something which is extremely positive. All Balkan countries, except Kosovo, have visa liberalisation with the EU. This works perfectly well in most cases, but has also resulted in a major wave of asylum seekers in e.g. France, Germany and Sweden, mostly from Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This is a significant problem since less than 1% of those applying are granted asylum. The total amount of asylum seekers has increased by 73% compared to last year. Several countries expressed concerns regarding this development which sets the whole visa process at risk. It is important that the Balkan countries do more to alter the trend. Above all, it is about improving the conditions for Roma people. The 5th of November a major ministerial meeting is organised in Albania, with all Balkan countries participating. The question will then be further discussed.

    Today the Council meeting will continue with, among other things, discussions on confiscation of criminal assets and the latest report from the EU drugs agency.

    Number of Views: 1500

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    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.

    Number of Views: 788