8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for migration affairs (Kiev, 4-5 September 2008)

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Speaking notes for Tobias Billström, Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy - Swedish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers

Economic migration, social cohesion and development: towards an integrated approach

Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to address this distinguished gathering and to represent Sweden as Chair of the Committee of Ministers.

The Council of Europe is about protecting fundamental European values, that is, respect for human rights, pluralist democracy, and the rule of law. Sweden’s priority during its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is to keep these core principles at the heart of the activities of the Council of Europe, to focus on issues that are fundamental to the well-being of our societies, and to make rights real for the citizens of Europe. This focus also extends of course to the Organisation’s work in the field of migration.

The Council of Europe has achieved a great deal over the years.

The details of those achievements have been summarised in a document which you will find in the files for this conference, so I will not repeat them here. In addition to a number of recommendations adopted by the Committee of Ministers to member states with a view toward strengthening migration management and integration, I would also take the opportunity to mention the White paper on Intercultural dialogue, launched by the Committee of Ministers at its Session in May of this year, which is of particular relevance in this context.

Whilst we can be proud of the Council of Europe’s achievements, we must now look to the challenges that lie ahead for our member states and see how best we can respond to those challenges.

Migration is today part and parcel of the interconnected and globalised world we live in. It is also a highly complex and sometimes sensitive issue. It behooves our governments to develop coherent migration policies that are suited to the social, economic, political as well as demographic and geographical situation of our respective countries. Such policies must provide balanced and innovative ways to maximise the benefits of migration and minimise the difficulties sometimes engendered. They must at the same time guarantee respect for human rights and give appropriate attention to our undisputed international responsibility towards refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection.

The management of migration is indeed a multifaceted task. We must take a comprehensive approach and maximise synergies between all interrelated policy areas. As has become increasingly apparent, both receiving countries and countries of origin can benefit from migration. We also need to maintain social cohesion. We must support the integration of migrants and their communities and we also need to support the links between migrant diasporas and the communities they have left behind.

The theme of this conference is therefore a particularly appropriate one. How can we best develop an integrated approach – based on human rights – to economic migration, social cohesion and development? And also, how can we best co-operate within the Council of Europe in developing such an integrated approach, and in making these rights real?

In my view, the Council of Europe should indeed continue to address the new challenges in this field. This truly pan-European body brings together countries of origin, transit and destination. It provides a multilateral basis for strengthening cooperation and dialogue. And it has a wealth of important legal instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the (revised) European Social Charter, to name but two, which can inspire its work in this field.

The Council’s institutional bodies, in particular the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of local and regional authorities in Europe, also have a role to play. The important work of the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Hammarberg, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance should also be highlighted in this respect, together with the European Committee on Migration and other intergovernmental committees which work on a broad range of transversal issues relating to migration, including legal affairs, social cohesion or gender equality, to name just a few.

I am pleased to see that this conference brings together not only Council of Europe member states but also a range of non-European countries recognising that migration is not just an intra-continental concern and that shared responsibility does not stop at the European border. Ministers are also present from different horizons, such as foreign affairs, immigration, development, labour and social affairs, demonstrating that migration is indeed a cross-cutting issue. The conference should contribute to fostering co-operation and exchanges of best practices between states at regional level and beyond.

As representative of the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, I also see it as one of our principle tasks to define its role in the field of migration in the coming years. To that end, I look forward to the discussions and to the final declaration to be adopted tomorrow.

Tomorrow, however, should not be end of this exercise, but rather the beginning. And I sincerely hope that it will be the beginning of a very productive and effective process.

Thank you for your attention.