On 25 February 2009 the EESC plenary session held a debate on a common EU asylum and immigration policy with Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security. Mr Barrot’s speech focused on the concrete measures and instruments required for an integrated European framework for immigration and asylum. Mr Barrot also provided details of the European Integration Forum, a joint EESC-Commission initiative. The EESC adopted a series of key opinions linked to this topic.
EESC President Mario Sepi assured Commissioner Barrot of EESC support for the Commission’s efforts to harmonise legislation on asylum and immigration policy. He also stressed “the importance of respecting fundamental rights in our immigration and asylum policies, particularly in the context of a deepening economic crisis: Immigrants must not become the scapegoat of the crisis”. Mr Sepi underlined the importance of the European Integration Forum for channelling civil society’s views on this topic, which will be held on 20-21 April 2009.
Commissioner Barrot emphasized the positive impact of immigration on the EU market in an era of demographic ageing; he also highlighted the EU blue card scheme, designed to attract highly skilled workers, while underlining that it constitutes a first pillar of a more comprehensive legal immigration policy. Mr Barrot reiterated the Commission’s determination to combat illegal immigration, which is largely organized by traffickers exploiting the most vulnerable members of society. He underlined the need for dialogue with third countries with a view to ensuring efficient and optimal management of migratory flows. “There will be no fortress Europe, our immigration policy will not impede free movements of persons”, said Commissioner Barrot.
Mr Barrot concluded by underlining the EESC’s key role in the preparation of the European Integration Forum. “Because of the knowledge accumulated by the civil society organisations that the EESC represents, the Committee must be an active stakeholder in common immigration and asylum policy”.
The EESC adopted opinions on “A common immigration policy for Europe”, and “Policy plan on asylum”, both drafted by Luis Miguel Pariza CastaÃ±os (Group II, Employees, Spain). Mr CastaÃ±os emphasized that the Lisbon Treaty is a fundamental step towards a common policy on immigration. The third opinion on “Migration, mobility and education” drafted by MÃ¡rio Soares (Group II, Employees, Portugal), focused mainly on the challenges for EU education systems, with particular attention for the future of immigrants’ children.
During the debate, Georgios Dassis, President of the Employees’ Group, stressed the need to adopt binding legislative measures in order to better protect immigrants and refugees. Lucien Bouis (Group III, Various Interests, France) highlighted the need to support the associative sector, in the current social crisis, in their action for integration. Pedro Almeida Freire (Group I, Employers, Portugal) said that the crisis showed the need for a common EU policy and the importance of better communication and cooperation between the Member States.
February 26, 2009