When we talk about the Common European Asylum System, the focus is often on comprehensive, EU-level reform. There is no doubt reform is essential and the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament are a constant advocate for change.
However, we also need to recognise that reception, inclusion and integration happen at the local level, in our cities and municipalities. They too are key to a successful asylum system.
It is by living and working in our cities and towns that refugees contribute to society and we should make every effort to increase the role of local and regional actors in Europe’s common asylum policy.
Doing so would bring many benefits. Inclusion does not just allow migrants to provide for themselves and reduce the risk of precarious living and working conditions. Inclusion also allows us to do more to meet labour market demands. Demographic trends tell us that Europe will rely on migrant workers in the coming decades.
Better inclusion would also address the fact that employment rates in the EU for third country nationals are generally lower than for people born in host countries.
Inclusion of people in need of international protection in the labour market, especially for women, would therefore be a crucial, mutually beneficial step forward. In that regard, also granting irregular migrants already in the EU and part of the labour market the legal possibility to work there could be an option.
"Involving cities and local authorities more is also not a question of willingness or readiness. We know they are ready to do more. There are hundreds of local and regional authorities across Europe, who are willing to play a bigger role, calling for more solidarity and ready to receive vulnerable people"
Involving cities and local authorities more is also not a question of willingness or readiness. We know they are ready to do more. There are hundreds of local and regional authorities across Europe, who are willing to play a bigger role, calling for more solidarity and ready to receive vulnerable people.
These local voices are a guide for the way ahead for a reform of the European asylum system based on solidarity and fundamental rights.
The EU and its Member States should take up these humanitarian offers now as concrete action. Furthermore, we should provide a system built on genuine solidarity that makes accepting these offers of support both easy and swift. Unfortunately, as it stands, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum as proposed by the Commission overlooks this approach.
Instead, the Commission suggests only diffuse and temporary solidarity, even inviting Member States to cherry-pick measures with little regard to what is needed on the ground.
This à la carte approach gives governments the chance to praise their own bogus efforts, when in reality they are opting-out of genuine solidarity.
The proposed solutions offer little in terms of predictable, tangible support to countries of first entry. If countries are able to predict and count on the support of other Member States, this can lead to even more effective inclusion and integration of refugees.
"So this World Refugee Day, I urge EU national governments to finally follow-up on the longstanding and urgent calls for genuine solidarity with Member States at our shared external borders and to accept the generous and sincere offers of support from cities and towns across the EU"
And it would create an asylum system built on solidarity for Member States and refugees alike, with respect for fundamental rights front and centre. We cannot afford to leave this collective task only to those few EU countries that happen to be at the EU's shared external borders.
Once again, the issue of a solidarity mechanism is on the agenda at next week’s European Parliament mini-plenary session, while at the end of the week EU leaders will discuss migration issues. We have been waiting years for Member States to come to their senses. Should we expect a breakthrough now?
Experience tells us to be pessimistic. And I don’t expect a breakthrough. But with the recent agreement on the long-overdue reform of the Blue Card, making entry into the EU easier for highly-skilled workers, and the prospect of an agreement on an EU Asylum Agency, there is cause for hope that positive momentum is building.
A breakthrough might be overambitious, but a few steps in the right direction are nonetheless welcome and necessary.
So this World Refugee Day, I urge EU national governments to finally follow-up on the longstanding and urgent calls for genuine solidarity with Member States at our shared external borders and to accept the generous and sincere offers of support from cities and towns across the EU.
We can only face the challenges ahead together, from EU level to local level, and from host communities to newcomers in search of protection and safety. We need to stand together to shape reform in a humane way.
We need to give those willing to contribute the opportunity to be included.