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Brussels, 21 June 2017
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I would like to thank Antonio for organising today’s event and also for having the idea of involving so many of our partners with whom we have worked in recent years in the difficult task of managing a difficult phenomenon. I often say that this is not about dealing with an emergency; it is about establishing partnerships to address an extremely complex phenomenon together in our region, but especially worldwide. I am particularly glad to be here together with the Prime Minister, Mr al-Serraj, together with many other international partners, because what we have done over the past two, two and a half years was, I believe, achieved very much thanks to their efforts.
If I may begin with a personal story, my memory of the day before the hearing here before the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), before taking office, is still quite vivid. It was 3 October 2014 and I was on Lampedusa to honour the dead of yet another disaster at sea. I remember very well that what was on my mind on my journey from Lampedusa to Brussels to attend the hearing was, as has always been clear for Jean-Claude [Juncker] as well, that the real disgrace for the European Union was turning a blind eye to those deaths, to the people dying in our sea, the Mediterranean, and further south, in North Africa, in the desert and in the Sahel.
Some people are ashamed of the figures for admissions. I have always been ashamed of the deaths that the European Union pretended not to see for so many years before we took office. And I am proud of a European Union that saves lives at sea, although I regard each life that we, along with our friends in North Africa and in Africa, fail to save as a defeat for all of us.
In the past two and a half years, as Jean-Claude said, as Antonio said, we have commenced a new chapter. First and foremost, we have accepted the fact that migration policies – to manage this phenomenon – constitute a responsibility for the European Union. I remember very well that this was an area that was almost exclusively within the competence of nation states when we took office. I think that we have managed to draw attention to the fact that whoever comes here, comes to Europe. Not just to a Member State of the European Union. And this gives rise to a shared responsibility, deriving from solidarity and from realism, one that must be borne by all the Member States, all the European institutions and all citizens.
I think that there is still a long way to go, above all in terms of internal solidarity, as mentioned by Jean-Claude and as mentioned by Antonio. This is a political battle that we must pursue. But it also involves assuming an external responsibility which the European Union has finally accepted. I remember my surprise when I realised that until two years ago the issue of migration had never been on the agenda of the Foreign Ministers of the European Union. As if it were a domestic issue, a mere question of border checks. Migration is a global phenomenon requiring coordinated external action. The sort of external action that the European Union, with the powerful and distinct tools available to it, can deploy. In the past two years, we have put together five key actions in terms of the external action of the European Union, involving a truly exceptional degree of unity between the institutions and the Member States in the field of external action – a point I would emphasise because, in terms of internal action, we still have some way to go unfortunately.
First: saving lives at sea and saving lives in the desert, because, while the loss of life at sea is frequently brought to our attention, we rarely take note of all the people that die in the desert. Last week, thanks to the authorities of Niger, the International Organization for Migration and the European Union, together we saved a hundred women, men and children among those abandoned in the desert by human traffickers without food, without water, without anything. We rescued them, we took them to Agadez and, thanks to the joint efforts of the European Union, the International Organization for Migration and the Niger authorities, in addition to saving their lives, we offered them an alternative, that of living in dignity and even of opting to return to their countries of origin.
The Libyan Coast Guard alone has saved 13 000 people in the last few months. We trained the Libyan Coast Guard through Operation Sophia – the Commanding Officer of which, Admiral Credendino, is with us today – thereby enabling our Libyan friends to begin to exert control once again over their territorial waters, an important factor in saving lives, in combating traffickers and in ensuring safe access to those waters for Libya’s fishermen, who can finally regain access to a significant source of income.
We have saved tens of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean. Some people say this constitutes a pull factor: anyone who has ever talked to a woman who decided to risk her life by getting on to a rubber dinghy, a boat that was clearly not fit for purpose, in rough sea conditions, possibly with her children or possibly pregnant, knows perfectly well that it does not constitute any sort of pull factor. If a mother risks her own life and that of her child, it means that the push factor is far stronger than any pull factor that might be put into place. In my view, the responsibility consists of saving human lives. We have saved tens of thousands of people.
Second: not only saving lives, but protecting them too. I am particularly proud of the work that, together with the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, the Prime Minister, Mr al-Serraj and our Libyan friends, we have undertaken to gain access to the detention camps in Libya. Living conditions in these camps are dire and it is only access to them by the International Organization for Migration (the IOM), the UNHCR and related international organisations that can ensure an improvement in living conditions, sometimes to save lives, but also – since situations are always better for all concerned when we work together – to provide the possibility of assisted voluntary returns. In the past four months, more than 4 500 migrants – women, men and children – have returned voluntarily to their countries of origin from Libya. Over the previous year, the figure was much less than half of that. This has happened thanks to the fact that the European Union has financed and continues to finance the presence in Libya of the IOM and the UNHCR, working under very difficult conditions, which, however, we are endeavouring to improve, thanks to our partnership with the Libyan authorities. We will keep up this work. The same is true in Niger, from where more than 2 600 people have returned safely to their countries of origin in recent months through a project for voluntary assisted returns jointly funded by the European Union and the IOM.
Third point: saving, protecting, combating and dismantling criminal organisations. This is the third key point: at sea, as Operation Sophia is doing, with hundreds of traffickers arrested and brought to justice, and over 500 boats taken out of service, but also on land. I would like to thank Antonio for his acknowledgement of the work that we are carrying out with Africa. I was in Africa for the eleventh time a couple of weeks ago. We contributed EUR 50 million (more than any of the other international partners) to the Joint Force of Sahel Countries so that those countries and their security forces can gain control over the territory to the disadvantage of smuggling networks, trafficking in human beings, drugs and arms. This is the type of model that we have established: partnership, empowerment of our partners and, together, combating criminal organisations and terrorism, with control over a very difficult and complicated territory.
Point four: removing the causes that encourage or compel people to leave. This is where Antonio is perfectly right: the real issue is massive investment in the development of Africa. Economic development, social development, security conditions, combating terrorism, climate change, human rights and democracy are all things that Africans want, that we want. We often talk about the southern shore and the northern shore of the Mediterranean, but I would like to point out that these are relative notions and that the Presidency of the European Union is currently held by Malta, a country which lies to the south of Tunis. We might therefore need to review our geographical parameters or our aims.
This just goes to show that it is in our interest to invest seriously in Africa over a period of time; there has been talk of a Marshall Plan for Africa, but I think that we are big enough as Europeans to call it the European Plan for Africa, like the one we are currently putting together. Private investment backed up by the external investment plan that we have launched, which is now ready for use by private undertakings, so that they can begin to invest in fragile countries in Africa accompanied by the European Union and our Delegations on the ground.
Social development, democratic development, environmental development and digital development in Africa. The last of the five points is that this is a shared responsibility. Over the past year and a half, we have developed partnerships with the countries from which migratory flows originate. They are usually referred to as compacts. This was a European idea, a good idea which the United Nations is currently looking at and one that reflects the logic of a partnership. To dispel the illusion of a North versus a South or a South versus a North, rather than a complex phenomenon to be dealt with together at the European level through our internal solidarity mechanisms, in the Mediterranean region through cooperation with our neighbours on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, with Africa as a closer, fraternal continent, and globally through the United Nations system. This could be one of the areas in which to relaunch multilateralism and the United Nations system politically.
It is a shared responsibility, not just a question of border checks and security, but of development. One of sustainable development. And of sustainable security. And finally the European Union is playing its part – the initial results are beginning to show. I will only give you two more figures. In May of last year, 70 000 irregular migrants passed through Agadez, in the north of Niger, the entry gate to Libya. In May of the current year, the figure was 5 000. This means that in a year of serious work, going beyond any easy but useless slogans, we have managed to reduce the numbers. There is still a great deal to be done, but we are finally, after many years, on the right track and the European Union, with, I believe, the support of all its institutions, will continue to play its part.