Juncker: Commission won’t change its migration agenda

Jean-Claude Juncker [European Commission]

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday (3 June) that in spite of opposition from some member states, the EU executive would not change its mind on the proposals it recently made in its attempt to find a fairer way to admit and distribute asylum seekers in the EU.

Juncker was speaking at the opening ceremony of the European Development Days (EDD) conference, which he called “the Davos of Development”. Indeed, this ninth edition of the EDD, a massive two-day gathering of government, civil society and other stakeholders active in the development sphere, is exceptionally well attended during this European Year for Development.

Juncker started by saying that the EU, which he stated is not an end in itself, had responsibilities towards the rest of the world.

“It’s not about charity, it’s about a partnership to the mutual benefit. We need to reject the idea of a bipolar world, part of which makes headway and the other stagnates. A human being goes to bed with an empty stomach, and a third of the urban population lives in slums – this is not acceptable”, he said, speaking in French.

The Commission President argued that this situation needed to be changed, because it contributes to instability. “The problems of those who are underdeveloped are also our problems”, he said.

Juncker called “scandalous” the fact that several EU member countries have reduced the volume of their official development assistance (ODA). He added that this was not the case of the country he knew best, that is, Luxembourg, of which he was the premier between 1995 and 2013. Juncker said that when he was a young ministe,r the ODA of Luxembourg was 0.17%, while now it was over 1%. He added that he was grateful to his successor, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, that he was following the same path.

The idea that because of the crisis, that ODA could be reduced is wrong. Member states should correct and increase their ODA figures, Juncker pleaded.

The Commission President further argued that all efforts were in vain if human rights were neglected.

“That’s why the Commission recently proposed a European Agenda for migration. I notice that the enthusiasm among member states about the proposal to share the burden is not great, but the Commission won’t change its ideas regarding legal and illegal migration,” Juncker said, alluding to the official positions of France and Germany, which he did not name.

>>Read: Germany and France urge Commission to revise immigration plan

He further argued that this was an issue about human rights, as those immigrants who leave their country for economic or political reasons have the right of respect of his dignity.

“The Commission won’t change its mind despite the resistance and opposition of some member states,” Juncker repeated.

Bettel, who also took the floor, in his capacity as holder of the future rotating EU Presidency, provided a strong backing to his compatriot and predecessor.

He said he was “shocked” by the recent developments, alluding to member state reactions to the Commission’s Agenda for Migration.

>>Read: Commission on collision course with member states on migration

Speaking passionately in French, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg said:

“To imagine that people leave their countries and take the risk of drowning in the Mediterranean is a pleasure for them! These people leave their country because they have no perspective, they (seek freedom from) death and war. And in Europe, now that we speak of quotas, some countries say from the start “I don’t want them.” I am asking those leaders to restore dignity. We cannot speak of future, we cannot speak of dignity. If human perspectives are left to the calculation of a vote in the Council, I’m asking each leader to assume its responsibility and to show it.”

The Commission proposal needs to be adopted by the Council, voting by qualified majority, after consulting with the European Parliament. Member states who have not opted-in to the proposal do not vote.

Britain and Ireland have “opt-ins” on EU matters related to justice and home affairs, meaning they only participate if they so choose, while Denmark has an “opt-out”, meaning it will not participate.

Meeting on short notice for an extraordinary summit on 23 April 2015, EU leaders dealt Juncker, now Commission President, a double-blow on immigration. Firstly, his proposal for legal migration was not supported. Second, he tried to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees. Instead he had to settle for a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement for those qualifying for protection.

>> Read: Juncker suffers double blow on immigration at summit

EU leaders decided to triple annual funding to €120 million to the Operation Triton, an EU frontier operation off of the coast of Italy, putting it at the same level of funding as the defunct Italian Mare Nostrum mission.

Among 17 proposals in a summit communiqué, leaders agreed to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers". It is unclear how that may be achieved, and several leaders said they would need a UN mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country, along with Sweden, takes in a large proportion of asylum-seekers, called for a change in the EU's system of managing asylum claims to better distribute the pressures across the bloc.

It also became known that the EU is seeking United Nations Security Council approval to seize vessels used to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, though Russia has signaled it would not allow destruction of the vessels.

>> Read: EU seeks UN approval for seizing boats used for human trafficking

  • 7-8 June: G7 Summit, hosted by Germany in Schloss Elmau
  • 7-15 June: African Union Summit in South Africa
  • 13-16 July: Third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • 25-27 September: United Nations Summit in New York to adopt Sustainable development goals
  • 30 November-11 December: United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris

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