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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to address you at the end of two such full and productive days of discussion. We have heard from many speakers and panellists; and many of you have contributed yourselves in your own areas of interest and expertise today in the working groups. Thank you for participating in the Fundamental Rights Conference.

Migration is a vast and complex topic, as we have seen clearly during our discussions. There are some common points, though, which this year’s Fundamental Rights Conference has highlighted and which can now inform the policy debate at both EU and Member State level.

I was struck yesterday by the number of times it was mentioned that cooperation is needed throughout Europe to develop a new and positive narrative about migration. In order to counter the negative image of migrants and migration in general, we must bring about a change in discourse. We need to start developing a comprehensive, joined-up EU policy that accompanies migrants from entry through to integration.

We need to protect those who are seeking safety, especially children, and those who wish to build their future in dignity and freedom, and to acknowledge honestly and openly that migrants and diversity are important resources for the development of our economy and societies.

To do that, we need is a comprehensive policy that covers migration from the countries of origin through to integration, and in which fundamental rights is not regarded as just one element of the EU’s migration policy among many, but as the basis upon which that policy is built.

Indeed, Commissioner Avramopoulos spoke yesterday of the need to put the Charter of Fundamental Rights on which the EU is founded, and the universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity, at the heart of the EU’s migration policy. He went on to talk about the urgent need of combating smuggling, a topic that was continued in one of the working groups today when participants said that EU Member States should consider all options to allow people in need of protection to enter the EU. This would reduce lives lost at sea and at the same time prevent smugglers from exploiting the new arrivals.

This conference resonates with me particularly at present, following a trip I made to Lebanon just last week. Resettlement is one obvious way to ensure that countries neighbouring Syria and other conflict-ridden places are not forced to take in more refugees than they have the capacity for. We need more programmes both to improve the situation in third countries, and also to work together with the countries of origin.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We speak about wars as if they were always so far away from Europe, are something that have nothing to do with us. But this year is the centenary of the First World War, a horrifically violent conflict in the middle of Europe that left millions dead and still more wounded. This should also give us the humility and the compassion to help the untold number of people who are forced to flee their countries because of war and hardship.

In the past year, we have seen the reception facilities in many Member States come under increasing pressure, with local and national authorities hard pressed to find alternatives. But of one thing I am certain. We will not overcome this crisis by ignoring the rights of those crossing the EU’s borders: their right to dignity and safety, their right to justice, or their right to life. We must find a balance.

In an age of austerity in which intolerance and extremism have been growing in many countries, the skills and talents of migrants often remain unacknowledged and underutilised. How much energy and drive it must take to travel thousands of kilometres through unknown countries where unknown languages are spoken, often without even knowing one’s final destination, but simply in search of safety and a better life. So we have these two aspects: the “enlightened self-interest” of which Rainer Münz spoke yesterday, and our obligation to help those in need.

To a certain extent, you could say that this encapsulates the spirit of the EU – the deep belief in the fundamental rights to life and to dignity on the one hand, and the search for innovation and development on the other.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I close, I would just like to say thank you to the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU, particularly the Foreign and Interior Ministries, for co-hosting the conference. My thanks to the moderators, Friso Roscam Abbing and Andreas Accardo from FRA, and Sandra Sarti from the Interior Ministry. My thanks also to all the other FRA staff present here for their hard work, in particular Sara Sighinolfi: without her organisational talents, this conference could never have taken place. And my gratitude to the panellists and chairs of the working groups, whose contributions will enable the conference conclusions to feed into the policy debate at EU and Member State level.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have all agreed that a new migration narrative is needed in the EU. In this way, we would:

  • save more lives
  • improve the integration of migrants into EU society, and
  • ensure that human mobility in the global village we live in benefits us all.

I thank you for your attention, and wish you a safe trip home.