President welcomes progress on migration at EU Council

European Union – Statement by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, during the press conference at the European Council (excerpts)


Brussels, 29 June 2018

(…)

Europe/defence

On defence, first of all, we indeed noted new progress with the agreement on the pilot project for the European Defence Fund and the launch of the European Intervention Initiative on 25 June, involving nine countries including France and Germany. I proposed this at the Sorbonne last autumn. As such, Europe is giving itself, through this new progress, a strategic capability, genuine strategic autonomy and autonomy to intervene. This means that in the space of a year, Europe has moved forward on defence as never before since the 1950s. Never. The creation of structured cooperation, the European fund and now the European Intervention Initiative.

This will allow concrete upstream cooperation on threat planning and analysis, particularly between Europe’s most actively engaged, effective armed forces. We discussed this point with NATO’s Secretary General yesterday. All these European initiatives are in keeping and compatible with our commitment to NATO. But Europe today is equipping itself with a force, which hasn’t existed up to now. I think this is the appropriate response to the geopolitical reordering of the world, but it also cements European cohesion, when too many countries thought Europe wasn’t what really protected them. Things are starting to change on this.

Trade/WTO reform

Secondly, we also discussed trade, and on this I welcome the fact that Europe, as we’d prepared to be in Sofia, was totally firm and united against an unacceptable attack by America on its European ally. We reiterated this firmness and committed Europe – which mustn’t remain passive and endure trade tensions – to a reform agenda for the WTO, which we’re pushing for and will continue to do so in the coming months, particularly in the G20 framework.

Here too, we proposed, a few months ago, an in-depth reform of the WTO to address the current problems with trade multilateralism rather than a growing divide – which is actually America’s proposal today. These proposals to reform the WTO, speed up the procedures and reform the dispute resolution process were picked up at European level and will thus be put on the agenda.

As regards the digital sector, we also recalled the need for a swift agreement by the end of the year, as Germany and France are asking, on fair taxation of big companies, and the setting-up of a European agency for disruptive innovation. (…)

Brexit

We also discussed Brexit this morning, in the presence of Michel Barnier, whose excellent work and European commitment the 27 member states present paid tribute to – with a simple message: we can’t wait any longer. The withdrawal agreement, which has made great headway, is coming up against the Irish question and must be finalized in a few weeks’ time, by the autumn. Michel Barnier, on behalf of the 27, made a reasonable proposal in this respect. It’s now important to take it up.

Migration

The second major issue I obviously want to come back to, which has been highly topical in Europe, is migration. It’s an issue where we’re going through troubled times – just as we’ve been through others a few years back – and moments when Europe must be united and effective. If we take a clear-sighted look at the issue of large-scale migration, there was a genuine crisis with it around 2015 with the mass arrivals of people exiled mainly from the Middle East, strong tensions with arrivals via the central Mediterranean route, [Operation] Mare Nostrum. (…) To take just the central Mediterranean route as an example, there has been an 80% decrease this year compared to last year, because work has already been done and a firm commitment has been made.

I’m not underestimating the pressure migration is putting on Europe today, which is precisely due to all these arrivals, and we have a little over 1.5 million people who have arrived on European soil since the crisis began.

Nevertheless, this situation won’t be resolved overnight. We’ll continue to have migration pressure for some time, given the inequalities that exist between Europe and Africa, given Africa’s demographic momentum, given the many and varied conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East.

So we must at all costs resist the temptation to make fleeting promises. At all costs. I know how we can get carried away on the subject. It affects me as it does you. But one day’s emotion mustn’t guide action which has to be taken over the long term.

This long-term action, in my view, must first of all reflect a Europe which lives up to its history and values. There are things on which Europe cannot and must not compromise its great principles, those which have made it, which are, as far as France is concerned, in its constitution; I’m thinking in particular of the right of asylum, the protection of women and men whose lives are threatened in their country because of their religious or political views or because of the situation created by their country being at war.

The right of asylum doesn’t explain the whole migration phenomenon and it’s important to remember this. It isn’t about taking in everyone, whatever the circumstances of their arrival. But we must in no way compromise on this principle.

The second element which has to guide us is effectiveness. European cohesion must be maintained and hence a legitimate protection of our borders, legitimate organization so that national cohesion doesn’t collapse and we don’t let fear mount up and, with it, extremes in various European countries. (…)

Faced with the situation we’re experiencing today, there were several choices: the choice of national policy and nationalist withdrawal; this was championed by some. It would have automatically led to the absence of agreement – moreover this was the threat which was reiterated. On the other hand was the choice of cooperation, European efforts and a European agreement to continue making progress. This second approach won the day at this Council, and I welcome it.

We resisted any urge to obsess over the worst case scenario. We got back to the facts, the essential points about responsibility and solidarity which must continue to build our Europe, and as such we were able to build – I think I can say – an important agreement, which is only a step, based on a comprehensive agenda, as we were calling for.

This agreement was built on three aspects: the external aspect, border protection and internal solidarity. The external aspect was one of the presidency’s proposals and allowed us to endorse the creation of disembarkation platforms, which we support collectively and have already used in practice. It’s exactly what France, with a few others, used in Libya at the end of last summer and also with Niger. It requires the agreement of the countries in question. It requires significant work, not only with the UNHCR and the IOM but also with the African Union and all the stakeholders.

We managed this several times, at the end of last summer and during last winter’s crisis; here I want to pay tribute to the role the African Union played, following the terrible pictures we saw of the camps in Libya. So the proposal is being made in this framework. These disembarkation platforms have an advantage: they enable people to be better protected, because they prevent them from taking the risk of crossing the Mediterranean in particular, and they enable us, in a framework organized by the UNHCR and the IOM, to go and provide protection and recognize and process any asylum applications that may exist, by sending our teams to the spot.

It’s clear that on this issue, implementation each time can be under the authority of the countries concerned. On this point, we also decided to step up our efforts with the various security forces – I’m thinking especially of the Libyan coastguard in Libyan waters, who are continuing to intervene and who, over the past year, have stepped up their interventions, which are also an effective way of preventing makeshift vessels and all the risks some people take and of better protecting the common border.

The second area of our discussions was obviously about strengthening Europe’s common border. We’d already reiterated last Sunday – and we reconfirmed it – our commitment to also speed up the deployment of Frontex and additional forces.

We discussed at length the problem of countries of first arrival. For me, one of the important points of the agreement was also reached on this issue, and it’s based on a proposal I made with the Spanish during Prime Minister Sanchez’s visit.

What are we talking about? Since the beginning of the Italian political crisis, the question has been raised of whether we can free a country of responsibility, which goes against the Dublin accords. Yesterday we agreed that the accords would continue to exist and remain and that the country-of-first-arrival notion couldn’t be abolished.

However, we’re providing a response in terms of solidarity to this reaffirmed responsibility, through controlled centres in Europe. The advantage of these centres is to help countries of first arrival to organize – with European financing and organization – the reception of migrants, the handling of cases and the repatriation of people not eligible for asylum to their countries of origin. Currently the burden of this actually falls on individual countries.

The Greek Prime Minister also spoke very clearly about this issue and said – I think he himself will repeat it even more clearly – that he’s in favour of this mechanism and is going to implement it. When you see what Greece is organizing and running, these centres reflect a necessary solidarity, without changing the rules of collective responsibility.

It’s a solution, in my view, to the Italian demand, it’s a compromise we’ve reached: we’re not changing the rules of international maritime law, we’re not changing the rules of responsibility prevailing in our law. But we’re providing more solidarity through these controlled centres and also more effectiveness for the return to countries of origin.

Finally, we restarted work on the Dublin system, increasing the entry countries’ responsibility and European solidarity, also accepting both registration rules and flexibility on the practical details, while being firm on the principle. But above all, reaffirming an agenda for swiftly finalizing the directives that are almost ready today and, as soon as possible, the seven directives we must conclude. In our view this is a priority if we want to finalize all our issues; it will be the most effective response.

You can clearly see that the agreement enables Europe to remain true both to its role and to history. Had we failed to reach an agreement or opted for national solutions, or decided to betray our principles through technical methods incompatible with them, it would have been unacceptable for France.

We’ve reached an agreement which is in keeping with our values, provides responses in terms of responsibility and solidarity and enables us to move forward.

This is an agreement to build; on its own, it in no way resolves the crisis we’re experiencing, which is made up of broadly political elements, but it enables us to respond, to continue responding through actions to the crisis we’re experiencing.

Also because it tackles a comprehensive agenda – external, border protection and internal [aspects] – and makes it possible to provide responses to the political crises we’re going through: in Italy in relation to primary movement, or in Germany, as in other countries, in relation to secondary movement. (…)

Euro Area reform

Finally, we had a very important discussion this morning about the reform of the Euro Area. In the conclusions we identified some lines of work based on the Franco-German agreement in Meseberg itself; and the work that resulted from it at Eurogroup level led to a letter from the Eurogroup President, Mr Centeno.

This work will be done over the coming months, and on this point we asked President Tusk to propose to the Council a timetable of work lasting until the end of the year, to finalize these discussions.

The discussions will enable us to make concrete progress, with the first policy decisions already following on from the Franco-German agreement – on the one hand, to finalize banking union and its consolidation, with, among other things, the creation of a safety net that will protect businesses and savers and allow the European financial and banking system to work better, which is essential for better growth.

But on the other hand, too, launching a new road map and having a European stabilization capability, a genuine Euro Area budget with this very function of convergence and investment on the basis of the Franco-German proposal in Meseberg.

In the coming weeks and months, at the level of economy and finance ministers and at the level of heads of state and government, we’ll now have discussions which will have technical features but are always decidedly political, with a view to concluding the process by the end of the year and moving forward on the completion of the Euro Area.

Here I want to conclude by paying tribute to the excellent work done by Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk at this difficult political time, as well as the resolute commitment of Boyko Borissov, who, in leading the Bulgarian presidency, has maintained our unity and enabled concrete progress on posted workers, copyright and defence, and hoping for this same commitment and this same success from Chancellor Kurz, who takes over on Sunday.

Finally, I also want to pay tribute to the involvement of Chancellor Merkel, with whom we took historic steps forward in Meseberg on 19 June that enabled us to make progress and provide structure to the discussion of the Euro Area, and with whom we prepared every moment of this summit in the same European spirit. (…)./.

Published on 05/07/2018

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