When I took office as EU commissioner for home affairs in 2009, an ambitious agenda was set out by the Stockholm programme. Now, almost five years later, we can be proud of what has been achieved. A common European asylum system is now in place and we have improved standards for those seeking protection. We have reinforced the governance of the Schengen zone. This area, without controls at internal borders, is one of the most tangible achievements of the European Union and one of those most cherished by European citizens. We have abolished visa requirements for a number of countries and have strengthened our ties with countries in our direct neighbourhood. We have launched a visa dialogue and signed a readmission agreement with Turkey, and mobility partnerships have been agreed with Moldova, Morocco, Armenia and Georgia.
We have developed common tools to improve the protection of European societies and economies from serious and organised crime. Efforts have been made to enhance cross-border operational cooperation between European law enforcement services, streamlining how information is shared and supporting cross-border operations. Close cooperation between customs services, police forces and the judiciary has been promoted and the EU agencies (Europol, Cepol and EU-Lisa) have made a contribution.
We have put in place effective policies and legislation in the fight against trafficking in human beings. A global alliance, currently consisting of 52 states, was set up to fight child sexual abuse and online child abuse. We have introduced tough new measures to combat the growing threat of cybercrime. We set up the European cybercrime centre at Europol and brought in legislation to deal more efficiently with the growing number of cyber attacks, including by outlawing the use, sale and production of botnets. We have produced the first ever EU anti-corruption report to support efforts to fight corruption in member states, and we have taken important steps to improve the EU rules on the confiscation of assets. To combat growing extremism in Europe, the radicalisation awareness network consisting of around 700 European practitioners was set up.
So, important steps have been taken in areas that are close to all European citizens. But the work is not over. While there is a need to implement the agreed legislation and consolidate the existing framework, the European Union and its member states will be confronted with new challenges. For example, more people will want to come to Europe to work, as tourists, to study or to seek protection. Nevertheless, [pullquote]Europe will go through a phase of demographic change and serious shortages in its labor market, at a time when the competition for global talent is heating up[/pullquote]. If we want to attract talented individuals, we need to implement more flexible admission and visa policies for economic migrants.
We will be confronted with further instability in our neighborhood, such as the consequences of the Syrian conflict. We must step up our efforts in order to avoid last year’s tragic incident in Lampedusa from reoccurring.
Technology is moving fast, providing new opportunities for economic growth and changing the way we connect with each other. But these changes bring about new security challenges. Globalisation and the expansion of international trade allow organised crime to expand its activities. This is why we need to adapt to this growing challenge and find new ways to prevent organized crime from penetrating the legal market.
In June this year, the European council will adopt the strategic guidelines that will indicate the way forward for the area of freedom, security and justice. These guidelines will also express the Europe that we want. The Europe I would want is open to the world, welcoming students, researchers and others that bring the skills and talents we need to ensure our levels of prosperity, A Europe that provides protection to those in need and a Europe that provides security to its citizens.
In view of the challenges ahead, it must be clear that these objectives can only be achieved by strengthening our cooperation. We need to translate the concepts of solidarity and sharing of responsibility anchored in the treaties, into concrete measures and activities. Member states and European institutions should join forces and share their resources with a prominent role for the European parliament.
The European council’s guidelines will be decided in a Europe where Eurosceptics make their voices heard loudly and where nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise. Let us hope that the heads of states and government will demonstrate political courage and give a clear signal that Europe will not compromise on its core values. The European Union is an area of freedom, security and justice where democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights are upheld. We should look to safeguard these principles as we develop our policies for the coming years.