The Challenges of Global Migration: An EU View

May 14, 2004

Vitorino says that a massive migration from east to west within the EU is unlikely and in any case, an influx of third-country nationals might help the EU to address population aging.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members and guests to our Worldview Breakfast program.

This morning we are very honored to have with us Antonio Vitorino from the European Commission. He will be discussing one of the most important issues of our day, migration.

On May 1st, the historic day on which the European Union was enlarged by ten nations, adding an estimated 75 million new citizens to the population of the existing 15 Member States, European Commission President Romano Prodi noted that enlargement entailed the opening of minds as well as of borders.

Despite Mr. Prodi's pronouncement, this recent enlargement of the EU appears to be bringing a new intensity to the fears that migration flows from the East will have a negative impact on the nations of the more prosperous West. Additionally, there is a growing concern that in the East some of the former Communist Bloc nations may become magnets for immigration of their own, both legal and illegal, from Asia, North Africa, and other non-European countries.

Some economists argue that immigration from these newly admitted and poor countries of Central Europe to the rich countries of Western Europe will be both modest and manageable. Others assert that increasing the number of Member States of the EU will bring a rush of migrants chasing jobs and social security benefits. And yet, the newly admitted countries are fearful of losing their own skilled workers to higher-paying jobs in the more industrialized countries of the West.

Because of the potential for migration problems within the enlarged EU, it now appears that European governments are adopting tougher stances on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from the rest of the world. Yet, for people who are prepared to endure horrendous journeys, employers who will exploit them, and grinding, sometimes dangerous, work, one can only imagine the new challenges the EU will have to confront as it copes with this issue, especially in the face of those determined to seek a better way of life.

To address this question and to give us insight into what the future may hold we are extremely pleased to have as our guest this morning the very distinguished Commissioner of Justice and Home Affairs of the European Commission in Brussels, Antonio Vitorino. He is a former Chairman of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs and was one of two commissioners to serve on the convention that drew up the draft European Constitution.

He is known for his ability to find compromises on difficult issues. Before joining the Commission, Mr. Vitorino served as a judge on the Portuguese Constitutional Court, was a member of the European Parliament, and was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense in Portugal.

Commissioner Vitorino, as your reputation for being a liberal-minded, extremely experienced, and highly competent Home Affairs Commissioner has preceded you here, we are very eager to hear what you have to say on this issue.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. Vitorino.


ANTONIO VITORINO: Thank you very much. I would like to thank you for your very generous presentation. I could not have done it better myself.

In recent years, international migration has become a major theme on the international agenda. Its size, its impact, and the complexity of the issue as such can be expected to increase in the future. Migration is by its very nature an international phenomenon that needs a global response.

I was particularly pleased to see that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has identified migration as a priority issue for the international community. One of the results has been the establishment of the Global Commission on International Migration. This independent commission constitutes a rare opportunity for the various stakeholders to have an in-depth debate about the future of international migration and the way in which the international community should respond.

The European Commission will be following this initiative very closely and contributing to the discussion. We need an approach which is both forward-looking but practical, so that it brings concrete results.

The most difficult issue is to reconcile a long-term view with short-term results. In particular, we need a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between poverty, development, and international migration.

The role of international migration, including as you have mentioned free movement of labor, in sustaining economic growth will be another key topic in this debate. It will also be extremely important to link the migration debate with developments that are ongoing in World Trade Organization negotiations. Gender and the rights of women and issues of access to nationality and citizenship rights must also be given adequate attention.

All of these subjects are on the EU political agenda as part of our own response to migration challenges in a globalizing world. The aging and declining of population in Europe—and when I say "in Europe" I mean not only the 15 Member States but also in the ten new Member States—and the impact of this population evolution on the European economy are of crucial importance to us when we consider precisely migration policy for the longer term.

According to our own latest estimates—and unlike the situation in the U.S.—the number of people of working age in the European Union of 25 Member States will decline from 303 million now to 280 million by 2030. This will lead to an annual reduction of average GDP to less than 1 percent and to a significant decrease in GDP per capita growth, not to mention the impact of this situation on the sustainability of our own welfare state, especially our social security systems.

Although increases in productivity are difficult to predict, it is unlikely that they will compensate for the decrease in the labor force. In the context of a shrinking and aging population, more sustained immigration flows are likely and necessary. Migration is not the miracle solution to population aging, but it needs to be a part of a package that addresses these enormous challenges with which we Europeans are confronted.

In addition, conflicts, environmental degradation, fear of persecution, disparities in socio-economic development and in perspective make people move. Many want to come to the EU because it provides a peaceful environment, relatively high living standards, and employment opportunities. Our geographical position, close to many countries of origin and with a long land border, makes it an attractive destination. This is a situation which is familiar to you in the United States.

The European Union began to take decisive action to deal with the reality of migration in 1999, when for the first time the European Union Treaty provided the basis to develop a Community policy in this area. A deadline of May 1, 2004, was set for a number of measures, so this is a good moment to have a brief overview of what has been done, what were our successes, but also where our shortfalls lie.

In the field of legal migration, we have followed a two-pronged strategy. Harmonizing national legislation on admission and the status of immigrants has been the first prong. We now have common rules in the 25 Member States for family reunification for those who are legal migrants. We have a common legal status for what we call "long-term residents," which means third-country nationals who live for more than five years in the EU and who have access to a set of rights and obligations equal in all Member States. And we have new legislation concerning the conditions for admission of students and researchers to the EU territory.

The only area where we have not been successful concerns the definition of common rules to admit third-country nationals for what is called "normal" employment. Member States have not agreed on a common ground and the Commission will have to revisit this issue. This is a serious shortfall.

The second prong we have followed has been a concerted effort to combat illegal migration, especially smuggling and trafficking in human beings. The Council has adopted three different action plans presenting concrete measures to prevent illegal migration, to improve the management of our common external borders, and to develop a common approach on the return of illegal migrants. We have made great progress in reinforcing cooperation among Member States and making use of new technology.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 here in the States clearly demonstrated the importance of an integrated management of our external borders, and the Council has just endorsed a Commission proposal to establish a European external border agency that will start work from January 1, 2005. This means that our land, air and sea border will be controlled by a European agency that will reinforce the cooperation among the border guards of the Member States.

There has also been good progress in establishing a common visa policy, including a list of third countries where visas are required to enter the European Union, and a new data system—the Visa Information System—will make implementation more effective. Indeed, according to our estimates, 80 percent of the illegal immigrants in the EU enter legally with a normal visa and they become illegal because they overstay the three-month period of visa validity. Having better control over the visa system will be fundamental to a better tracking of those who overstay and therefore become illegal immigrants in the European Union.

A great deal has also been achieved in the area of asylum. The Council recently completed the first phase of harmonization of national asylum legislation with the adoption of two key instruments: a Directive on a common definition of refugee and the approximation of rules concerning other forms of international protection, and an agreement on asylum procedures. These two directives, together with other legislative instruments that have already been adopted, mean that the first phase of a common European asylum system has now been established and that we have created for the first time a common level playing field across all 25 EU Member States.

One of the key elements of this common European asylum system is that it establishes criteria for determining which of the 25 Member States is responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in the European Union.

The Commission and the Member States are also working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to modernize the international protection system and to develop ways to manage asylum systems more effectively, including the improvement of the capacity to deliver protection to refugees and asylum seekers in the regions of origin.

Like the United States, we increasingly see protection issues from a global perspective, and we know that we can learn from the practical experience here on the other side of the Atlantic when it comes to the delivery of protection.

Developing a comprehensive policy dialogue with third countries is also a key element of EU policy. This is based on the recognition that no migration or asylum policy can be effective without cooperation with the countries of origin. Thus, we recognize that combating poverty, respect for human rights, and consolidation of democratic states, improving living conditions, and conflict prevention all need to be integrated as part of a fully comprehensive approach to migration policy, and we are actively engaged in many countries of origin in order to cooperate in this matter. Recently, we have been adopting a new wider-Europe policy that targets especially our closer neighbors in the Balkan area, in Central Asia, and in the northern Mediterranean.

If you bear in mind the profile of the aging of the European population, and that in the northern African arch, from Israel to Morocco, in the next few years almost 50 percent of the population will be under 25 years of age, you will see that the pressure of migratory fluxes from northern Africa to Europe is likely to rise in the years to come. We need to build a solid partnership with those countries if we want to succeed in managing these migratory movements.

Finally, the fight against terrorism and the feeling of insecurity that exists in European societies has played a key role in migration and asylum policy. There is often a tendency to connect migration with terrorism, and we try to prevent this kind of assimilation, but we must recognize that security issues play a key role in our own modern societies, and even in the acceptance by our own fellow citizens of legal migration. That's why we have developed several instruments—visa, passport, border security—to guarantee that we can have a better control of our own borders to be more efficient in managing migratory fluxes.

We have agreed on a number of instruments with the U.S. administration. In the years to come, the key issues in our migration and asylum policy will be to improve the partnership with the countries of origin and of transit, and to be more active in integration. On this side of the Atlantic, you have more experience in integrating migrants into your own societies. We Europeans have long neglected this fundamental element of migration policy. Therefore, we need to catch up in developing integration policies for third-country nationals in the EU.

With the new Constitution and with the necessary financial tools, we will be able to develop a more proactive approach to the integration of migrants in our society in the years to come.

We don't see the movement of people from new Member States to old Member States as integrating what one could call migration policy. Migration policy is a policy that is reserved for third-country nationals who come to the European Union. The new Member States are full members of the Union. They are entitled to the right to move, with the exception negotiated in the accession treaties.

In spite of my Italian name, I am a Portuguese citizen. When Portugal joined the Union, there was a derogation for free movement of people to work for a period of ten years. At that time, one of the reasons cited for this derogation was that Portuguese and Spaniards were going to invade Europe, and therefore it was necessary to ward them off.

There has been no such invasion. On the contrary, the improvement of the economic situation in Portugal and Spain led people to stay in their own countries. The economic development of Portugal and Spain made them attractive countries for migrants coming from outside the European Union. Portugal and Spain, in the 1960s countries of origin of important migrant fluxes, suddenly became countries of destination.

I expect that the situation will be similar in the new Member States of Central and Eastern Europe. There is no trend for massive influx from Eastern countries to Western countries in the European Union. We estimated an average of 220,000 people a year in the next five years. This means roughly 1 million people that might move in the next five years to the West in a Union of 455 million people. So we are talking about very limited figures.

We are concerned that the natural economic development of countries of Central and Eastern Europe might make them very attractive for migrants coming from third countries. We need to support the new Member States to be prepared to deal with this migratory pressure, and above all to be more proactive in integrating potential migrants in their own societies so that they don't repeat our mistakes of the past.

JOANNE MYERS: I'd like to open the floor to questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: You mentioned your cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but did not touch on the criticism that the High Commissioner, who is himself a former head of government of a leading EU Member State, has made about those rules.

I haven't heard any reference to the Treaty of Schengen. In the 1990s, virtually all the talk about common borders was in the context of that treaty. Is it still a factor and how does it fit with the new rules to embrace all Member States and not only those that have adhered to the Treaty of Schengen? I would be interested to have an update.

ANTONIO VITORINO: On the criticism of the High Commissioner for Refugees, we have a point of disagreement indeed with Ruud Lubbers and the High Commissioner on the asylum procedures directive. We on the Commission believe that the legislation adopted does not optimize the Geneva Convention, but nor is it in breach of the Convention. Ruud Lubbers and the High Commissioner believe that this legislation allows for the survival of certain national practices that can, arguably, be in contradiction with the Geneva Convention.

If the common rules that we have adopted can be criticized, it is not because they are in breach of the Geneva Convention, but because, having left out so many exceptions due to longstanding existing practices in several Member States, their added value can be highly disputable. The effectiveness of this new legislation as far as asylum procedures are concerned can be arguable, and we will have to monitor it very closely. But I don't believe that we are in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Nevertheless, there is a positive element in this new legislation. For the first time, we have in the 25 Member States one standard asylum procedure with the right to an individual interview, the guarantee of access to translators, and the guarantee of a judicial remedy if your demand is refused. On average, fewer than 40 percent of the cases of asylum seekers in the European Union are granted on the basis of an administrative procedure. Sixty percent of the cases are decided by an appeal court.

And, even more, we are in a very difficult situation in Europe because the asylum system is under enormous pressure of abuse. Of all asylum seekers, only 26 percent are successful according to the Geneva Convention. All the others, whether they are rejected or just benefit from other forms of international protection, are what we in our European jargon call "subsidiary protection," which we have also harmonized, establishing a common level playing field of 25 Member States.

There is progress. There are points of criticism that we do recognize. The criticism should not be directed at the Directive as such, but rather at some procedures or practices of Member States that are allowed to continue because the Directive had to be approved by unanimity. One of the added values of this Directive is that its reform in the future will be done by qualified majority voting.

Schengen is a patchwork. The UK and Ireland are not in Schengen. But Norway and Iceland—not even EU members—are part of Schengen. The idea is that the external border is the external border of Schengen. So there is an external border between France and the UK in the Channel, since the UK is outside of Schengen.

Including the ten new Member States, the German-Polish border will continue to be an external border, because to be integrated in Schengen does not mean abolishing immediately internal border controls. It is a two-step approach.

The ten new Member States have joined Schengen. They are co-responsible for the external border. After enlargement, two-thirds of the land border will be under the direct authority and responsibility of the new Member States—Poland and Slovakia, the Baltic States, etc.—but only later on will the controls between the ten new Member States and the 12 Member States that belong to Schengen be abolished when the Schengen Information System is operational.

This system is a database with information on those who cross the external border. It will be upgraded to take effect in 2007. Only then will each of the new Member States be submitted to a specific evaluation on their capacity to control the external border. If they pass the examination, there will be a lifting of the internal borders with those countries.

QUESTION: I would like to return to your last point about integration of immigrants. We often hear about the problems that Europeans are experiencing with integration, in particular the veil in France, also some of the Christian-Muslim violence in the cities of Western Europe in particular.

As the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs continues to gain competencies, and with the impending new Constitution, what do you plan to do to improve the Union's capacity to smooth the integration of Muslims? Do you have any concerns, as the U.S. frequently voices, about how to integrate Muslims into a predominantly Christian society when we are engaged in a war on Muslim extremism?

ANTONIO VITORINO: We try to conduct our policy on integration in different layers. First, we consider that anti-discrimination policy, and especially all policies concerning the fight against racism and xenophobia, have to be approached at a European level because we have the necessary legal basis; and we tried to develop a legal framework that creates a common level playing field in the 25 Member States to fight discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

We have proposed that the Council adopt a European law criminalizing racist and xenophobic behavior in the 25 Member States. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to reach unanimity and this legislation has not yet been passed through the Council.

We are concerned with the rise of anti-Semitic behavior in the European Union and with manifestations of Islamophobia in EU territory, and we do believe that we should not underestimate the threat of this cultural mood to the future of our societies. They must be tolerant societies, societies with ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism. This is a key area to address at the European level.

Then you have a second layer, which is the concrete integration of the communities in the countries and regions where they live and work. This is above all a micro-issue, in the sense that the problematics of integrating certain communities, like the Muslim communities in Spain are different from the integration of the Muslim communities in Germany or France.

We should not only respect the principle of subsidiarity, but we should also go further and consider that regional and local authorities and civil society, including trade unions, business associations, and the representatives of the migrants themselves have a key role to play. We don't believe in a "one fits all" system of integration.

At the European level, you have to fine-tune the system of integration, but you can have some common criteria, including the idea that integration is a two-way street. It puts some requirements on the host society that needs to learn to live with more pluralism, more diversity, and better tolerance towards what is different from us.

But at the same time it puts a burden on the communities that have to integrate themselves. They need to learn the language of the country, to respect basic fundamental rights that are quintessential for our societies, and to respect tolerance, equality between men and women. There is a set of values that we are entitled to ask those communities to fully respect when they integrate.

The way you do it will be different from country to country. You have mentioned the chador question in France. The French solution will not necessarily be exported. The same concept in the UK would not make sense at all. I have seen pictures of policewomen of Muslim origin in the UK who have combined the veil with the uniform.

We need to be careful in dealing with these issues and respect diversity and to a large extent the specificities of each of the societies.

What can Europe do in integration? Yes, we can support the exchange of best practices, because we need to learn one from each other's successes and mistakes. That's why we are setting up a program of exchange of best practices and organizing a network for coordination European-wide, so that we can have a better grasp of the problems, difficulties, and solutions to the problems we face.

We must recognize that in the perception of public opinion the questions of security, above all when it comes to Muslim migration, have become extremely sensitive for our public opinion. We try not to stigmatize any community existing in the European Union. Terrorism is not a genetic problem of a community. We cannot underestimate some manifestations of radical Muslim terrorism in Europe, the existence of sleeping cells that we need to detach and also we cannot underestimate some recruitment practices that occur in the territory of the Member States to recruit terrorists for Islamic organizations.

We can only win this battle, including the surveillance of those terrorist logistics activities that occur on EU territory aiming to promote terrorism elsewhere, if we have the active cooperation of moderate Muslim communities in Europe.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the definition of the refugee is different from that in the Geneva Convention. Could you explain what that difference is in substantive terms?

In Kosovo there will be a need to think about final status rather soon. Would it not be wise for the EU to establish a special system, an organized crime prevention union, something that would look like a government agency, inside Kosovo itself, and make it a part of the final status, whatever that final status eventually might be? Is this being discussed?

ANTONIO VITORINO: Indeed we have adopted a common definition of refugees to be applied at the European level. It is not totally fully in line with the Geneva Convention, but it even goes further than the strict interpretation of the Convention, which is a dated international instrument of the 1950s, when refugees and asylum seekers were fleeing from persecution executed by states or by public authorities. One has to recognize nowadays that the threat to life can be promoted not only by states but also by non-state agents of persecution. That is why we have expanded the interpretation of refugees and asylum seekers to include also those fleeing from persecution by so-called non-state agents of persecution.

And also in the reasons to grant international protection we include not only the principle of non-refoulement, which is quite clear, the principle of the danger of human life, persecution for political reasons, but we have also created leverage to take into consideration persecutions based on ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

We believe that by broadening the concept we will be improving the capacity to deliver international protection. There is a point of slight disagreement with Ruud Lubbers and UNHCR. Our European approach is to say that we would prefer in the future to have a system of "one-stop shopping." If someone needs international protection, he claims protection and goes through the criteria of the Geneva Convention. If he fulfills the criteria according to our broadened interpretation, he will get protection under the Convention. If he does not fulfill the criteria, immediately afterwards his case should be analyzed in the light of other forms of international protection, above all those that derive from Article III of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sometimes the UNHCR argues that this "one-stop shopping" will weaken the protection delivered by the Geneva Convention. My idea is not to subvert the criteria, but it is to say that when someone needs protection it is much more useful to go through all possible cases of international protection in the same administrative procedure with a final judicial appeal to the overall case than to take it step by step.

We have been discussing Kosovo with Dr. Busek, the EU Special Representative for the European South Eastern Region, and we follow very closely the work of an organization that is based in Bucharest, Southeast European Cooperative Initiative [SECI], in its efforts to coordinate cross-border cooperation in the region. Dr. Busek wants to be more forthcoming in creating a specific structure in Kosovo, but I the idea has not been successful up to now.

I hope that there will be new opportunities to come back to that discussion in the near future, even though the major stakeholders don't have much enthusiasm for pursuing it.

QUESTION: You mentioned the aging of Europe's population, and also as a result the need for additional assistance for people coming in from the Arab nations and others, thus causing social problems and assimilation problems.

But there is something called self-help. One of the world's great democracies has just asked that you have one child for the husband, one child for the wife, and one child for the nation.

What prevents Europe—since it's mostly social democracies, with all kinds of programs that encourage bearing and bringing up of children, medical care, all the social programs that are required—from reproducing itself with state assistance in order to meet certain social needs?

In terms of cultural assimilation, the countries of Eastern Europe have longstanding roots with those of the West, so that the integration of populations moving back and forth from East to West to West to East should not be terribly difficult over time.

However, the assimilation of others from Islamic lands presents a much more serious problem than merely having anti-discrimination statutes. There is also the danger that, now that there are so many and they are reproducing rapidly in Europe, you will have an overwhelming part of the population that is Islamic that may not want to assimilate to the same degree as Westerners, and you may be facing pressure from Islamic lands based on anti-assimilation policies.

ANTONIO VITORINO: On the first part of your question, immigration is part of the solution for the aging of population but not the magic solution. You need a policy mix, incentives to raise the birth rate of European citizens, and those policies are being applied by the Member States. Usually those policies produce results only in the long term and you are confronted with a short-term problem. Thirty years is a short-term problem. So several Member States are giving fiscal incentives to raise the birth rate.

Other Member States propose, and we have been developing, policies that combine and make more compatible family life with working life. One of the key issues for the success of the rise of the birth rate in the Nordic countries is precisely the very sophisticated welfare system for child care and flexibility of schedule of working hours to allow women and men to take care of children and therefore feel more comfortable with having more children.

Our estimate is that the three countries of Europe that will have a lower birth rate and a more aging population are Italy, Spain, and Portugal—interestingly, three Catholic and Latin countries. The birth rate in Germany is coming down, and it is a very sophisticated welfare state.

You can use policy measures to implement, but at the end of the day this is a personal, individual decision. We need to have a cultural debate about the role that individualism plays in our societies, about the selfishness connected with the consequences to society. It is a very complex discussion.

Integrating Muslim communities has some specificities that require an extremely proactive policy on our part. If you analyze the situation, it is totally different to speak about the integration of Turkish communities in Europe than some Arab communities from northern Africa, or even some Muslim communities from sub-Saharan Africa. They are all Muslim communities, but their specificities are all different. There is no "one fits all" system, which is why I make my plea of subsidiarity.

What are we doing at the European level? We work on anti-discrimination policies, on supporting the exchange of best practices, and we try to promote what we call an inter-religious dialogue. We do believe that the churches have a key role to play.

Muslim communities are not internally structured in a centralized way. There is no leading authority, there is no contractual power. Usually mosques play a key role in fueling the connections in those communities and imams have a fundamental role to play, at least in the indoctrination area. The state can engage in dialogue with mosques, but we should not be left alone in that battle, and other religious communities should be also taken on-board.

When it comes to the discussion of the guidelines of integration, our approach is to mobilize civil society/religious/inter-cultural dialogue to make the exercise more comprehensive and not just focus the exercise on Muslims as if Muslims were the only problem. They have specific problems, but they are not the only problem, and we need to integrate the question of Muslim communities in the EU in the broader perspective of integrating all third countries.

I will give you the example of my country. We have a traditional migration in Portugal from our former colonies, Angola, Brazil and Mozambique. A minority are Muslims, mostly from Mozambique. They have a strong tool of integration—they speak Portuguese. We were used to dealing with that kind of immigration.

What is the biggest migrant community in Portugal today? Ukrainians. Portugal can be blamed for a lot of things, but we never colonized Ukraine. And I am not aware that Portuguese is a very well-known language in Ukraine either.

We need to change our integration approach to deal with this new reality, up to 67,000 people in a county of 10 million in three years' time. One of the key instruments we have is that most of them are Catholic, Christian Catholic or Christian Orthodox, the church of Ukraine, and the Portuguese church played an extremely important role as a tool of integration through religious dialogue.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your presentation and the last remark in your presentation about the restrictions that the older Member States have vis-à-vis the new Member States concerning the freedom of labor movement. I hope that the Commission will encourage the older Member States to lift these restrictions earlier than the seven-year maximum that was imposed.

When Hungary joined the Union, it terminated all immigration-related administrative and judicial procedures against citizens of the older and the new Member States, actually against the citizens of 24 countries. Did the older Member States do the same to implement the freedom of movement of people?

The harmonization of visa policies was implemented for the entry of third-country nationals to the Member States. But there are a number of countries where immigration policies of third countries vis-à-vis the present Member States of the Union differ, especially the U.S., where the older Member States enjoy visa-free entry and the new Member States, except for Slovenia, require a visa. Is there any Commission reaction on the introduction of a solidarity clause or action that Brussels might take to ameliorate this situation?

ANTONIO VITORINO: I try always to make a distinction between freedom of movement of people and freedom to access the labor market. As far as freedom of movement of people is concerned, the citizens of the new Member States can from May 1, 2004 onwards travel with their identity card, but they will be submitted to checks when entering the Member States as if it was an external border because they are partially in Schengen but they do not yet benefit from the lifting of internal borders.

When you go to the UK or Ireland, despite their being EU Member States, you need to go through a Customs check, because they are not part of Schengen.

The new Member States will for the next three years be submitted to these kinds of checks until the evaluation to be conducted by the Council certifies that there can be the lifting of the internal border controls. I urge the new Member States to do their own work to guarantee that they are efficient in their border controls, so that we can lift the internal controls.

When it comes to the U.S., which most probably is what concerns you more directly, of the 15 old Member States, Greece does not benefit from the visa waiver. Of the ten new Member States, Slovenia already benefits from the visa waiver program.

Under existing visa regulation, there is a reciprocity clause that has too much retaliatory approach to be efficient. We encourage new Member States to resist the temptation of applying the clause. In exchange, what we propose is to have a proactive approach in negotiations with third countries to promote visa-free status for the new Member States.

That's what I have done this week in Washington in a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Considering the progress that the new Member States and Greece are making in improving their border controls, and the fact that from the end of 2005 onwards all passports of the 25 Member States' Union citizens will have harmonized biometric security features, I made the point that these elements help to build a relationship of confidence that will lead us to expand the visa waiver program to the new Member States.

The mood in Congress is not very favorable to expanding this program. The Commission will continue these negotiations, explaining that we believe that one of the key elements of the transatlantic relationship is the freedom of movement of people.

There is an economic value on free movement. If suddenly, for some foolish reason, one of the two sides decided to impose a visa requirement on the other, there would be such a huge influx of people in the consulates of the Member States that the first victims of such a move would be the diplomats of the Member States who will use the reciprocity clause.

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