The EU needs to adopt an immigration agenda to help regions that are struggling to cope and offer migrants a safe, legal route to a better life, writes Markku Markkula.
Markku Markkula is the president of the European Committee of the Regions.
Every day many of my colleagues, who are mayors or leaders of regions in the EU, face the questions arising from the flow of migrants and refugees coming to their cities. Local and regional representatives of countries like Greece, Spain, Italy or Malta are met daily with the responsibility of providing solutions for people seeking better living conditions or even survival. Europe receives different types of migrants, from entire families to fleeing individuals. All need to have access to basic services such as water supply, education and healthcare, and be taken through the necessary procedures for asylum and relocation.
Aside from these practical issues, our local and regional authorities also face pressure from the citizens who call for concrete action and stronger measures. Our members relay these concerns at Committee of the Regions meetings and we therefore welcome the concrete steps the EU is now taking to tackle these problems arising from migration. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, addressed our plenary session last week and told members he wished to bring the Union closer to its citizens. This naturally also means providing the solutions for the migration questions.
The CoR fully supports the Commission on this venture. With one migrant dying every two hours in the Mediterranean, it is our duty to resolve this question. We have always stressed the need for the EU to react to people’s needs from the bottom-up. However, we must also strengthen the voice of local and regional authorities who face the reality of migration every day. Once the solidarity mechanism between the member states is established, it will have to be implemented fairly, and regions and cities should be involved from the very beginning.
However, migration should not only be seen as an emergency symptom. Europe shouldn’t be closed and heartless. Migration is both a challenge and an opportunity for the EU. If on the one hand regions and towns have to cope with considerable difficulties in terms of reception and management of migrants, on the other hand the EU also needs immigrants in order to respond to demographic changes and potential labour market shortfalls.
It is crucial to engage in dialogue with the migrants’ countries of origin as well as the countries of departure. This will heighten the advantages of migration in terms of competitiveness, social and cultural enrichment and its contribution to the development of these third countries. We should create partnerships between cities and regions in the countries of origin and destination, which could include language and cultural lessons, as well as training programmes. In addition, we should create opportunities for non-EU nationals to come to Europe to work or study. To do so, it is important to speed up the adoption of visa-free regimes. All these measures would create safe and legal routes into Europe in order to prevent illegal migration.
What we can do now is help our regions and cities face the pressures arising from migration by making more resources available and by involving them in the shaping of future migration policies. This way we will make sure that together we fulfil our first and crucial duty, which is to avoid the further loss of human lives.