"Migrants in our societies: Policy choices for the 21st Century" - Conference of European Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs - Helsinki (Finland), 16 – 17 September 2002

"Putting the pieces of the migration puzzle in the right place"

Speech by Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I had the pleasure of meeting some of you a few months ago, on 22 May in Bratislava for the Ministerial Conference on Social Security. The theme of the Conference, you might recall, was: "Implications of labour migration for social security systems in European countries" But could it have been anything else at a time when headlines in the press if not the political agenda in most of our countries are dominated by the ‘migration issue’?

We have come to Helsinki today to discuss a question closely linked to the results of Bratislava and central to the Council of Europe agenda: Migrants in our societies: what policy choices are we ready to make in the XXI century.

According to the data gathered by the Council of Europe and Eurostat, net migration in the European Union accounted for about three-quarters of the population increase in 2001, and a population increase is badly needed in our ‘greying’ societies. On the other hand, there is sound evidence that the massive immigration sometimes depicted like a ‘plague’ is purely a myth.

Migration flows to Europe are not likely to be reversed and there is a consensus, reiterated in Bratislava, that countries gain economically and culturally from immigration.

All this being said,

a few days after the Johannesburg Summit, where we strongly stated that sustainable development and the fight against poverty is a human rights issue, are you in a position to deny to the migrant the human rights that apply to our fellow citizens? I think certainly not. On the contrary, today more than ever, the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination and the provisions of the Geneva Convention should guide our action in the field of migration.

Our strength, the distinctive feature of the Council of Europe, is to make sure that the human rights and dignity of the migrant are respected. Let us try and turn to the person, to the individual who is so frequently forgotten in the ‘migration’ debate. The key words for the migrant are not ‘preservation of the welfare state’ but economic and social distress and, still too often, persecution, war, human rights violation and political, ethnic and religious conflicts. In an unequal world, all the walls, barbed wires and electronic eyes have only a limited impact, as can be seen at Sangatte. Never has a wall prevented someone from hoping for a better life and from migrating to try to realise his or her dream.

What steps then are we determined to take to make Europe an immigration region respectful of the human rights of every person on its soil? How can we overcome the schizophrenic situation of some of our countries which desperately search for highly skilled professionals abroad while they reinforce the border controls with stronger security measures?

The management of migration, legal or irregular, is a political challenge. I am convinced that a sound and concerted implementation at the national level of the Council of Europe strategy of migration management adopted in 2000 would not only contribute to the Barcelona Process in the field of migration but would also prevent future problems on the Eastern borders, and thus facilitate the accession to the EU process for some of the member States.

Let me remind you that the strategy that you asked the European Committee on Migration to prepare for you emphasises that the protection of individual human rights is the basis of management. It strongly supports measures to integrate foreign populations, while accepting that integration is a two-way process. At the heart of the strategy is the conviction that many of the migration problems now confronting governments have resulted from a piecemeal approach to specific problems, such as the economy, asylum, illegality or return. This approach is no longer sustainable. A management strategy should be regarded as a comprehensive whole, to be applied over the long term. Measures have to be applied as a complete package: failure to do so will only replicate the mistakes of the past where action in one direction has served only to create new problems in another. Whether countries are able to develop their own integrated policies and to harmonise them with others are questions that can no longer be avoided. The new managerial approach proposed in the strategy will benefit both sending, transit and receiving countries and their citizens.

We are all aware that international migration has an impact on the quality of international relations. Therefore it is of the utmost importance to put migration on the common political agenda of origin, transit and destination states. Together, you should deal with issues such as human rights, bilateral technical co-operation, irregular migration as well as obstacles to return. Such a dialogue would ultimately create efficient co-operation structures. From this perspective, a climate of mutual confidence and understanding would allow the parties to negotiate on an equal footing. I personally very much trust the co-management approach to deal with migration.

You entrusted your experts to elaborate this strategy. You adopted it in the CDMG. Don’t you think it is high time to implement it?

In my opinion, time is ripe to create a structure in close relation to the Committee of Ministers and to the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress, which would facilitate or, where needed, provoke the dialogue between sending, transit and receiving countries. It would actively promote co-ordination with ministries and non-governmental organisations of the countries concerned and establish co-operation to fight the economic, political and sociological causes of (irregular) migration. It would launch analyses on issues of interest to member States in the preparation of their political decision-making and would propose innovative policies and law. This structure would also help implement the strategy at the national level and would subsequently monitor the progress made.

The elements of this new structure to implement the strategy already exist but are dealt with separately and I am sure that bringing them together in this new structure will have a synergetic effect and will give each element a new light - like putting all the pieces of the migration puzzle in the right place. Lets go through the different elements:

There is a strong argument for believing that intergovernmental co-operation will be considerably more effective if sustained attention is given to the gathering and exchange of data and statistics on international migratory flows. The international community can ill afford to continue to rely on generally vague estimates or orders of magnitude and will be repaid for all serious investment in the development of reliable data bases. In this new structure and in co-operation with Eurostat and other international institutions the Council of Europe would devise new tools to improve the collection and analysis of migration data.

Now that all your efforts should supposedly be concentrated on facing the threat of massive illegal migration, may I ask you if you are still ready to devise new and better integration policies for legally residing migrants?

I would suggest that you answer: definitely yes, today more than ever.

As mentioned earlier, integration is one of the pillars of a comprehensive management policy. It adds a central piece to our puzzle. Integration has to be seen as an interactive process based upon mutual willingness to adapt both by migrants and by the receiving society. Throughout this process and in every sphere of life in the society, diversity has to be valued as a source of mutual enrichment. This is the essence of the refreshing new concept described in our landmark report on Diversity and Cohesion, which gives hints to elaborate innovative integration policies at the national level. The report has been translated into many different languages, thanks to the interest shown by your authorities, and I strongly recommend that you disseminate it as widely as possible and that you carefully monitor its implementation with the useful check-list contained in the ‘Framework for integration policies’, published simultaneously.

Another element of the puzzle is the Council of Europe Convention to care for the Legal Status of Migrant Workers. It is designed to supplement the protection afforded by the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter and it is based on the principle of equality of treatment between migrant workers and nationals of the host country. After some years in the shadow, the situation of migrant workers from Central and Eastern countries could shed a new light on the text and make it attractive to some of your countries. It is a step forward to European integration since it facilitates negotiations with EU countries.

With the Convention on social security (ETS N° 78), it constitutes a 'package' of legal provisions that cover the social rights of the immigrant: residence and work permits, family reunion, housing, conditions of work, the transfer of savings, social security, social and medical assistance, expiry of the contract of employment, dismissal and re-employment, and preparation for return to the country of origin.

I am pleased to inform you that Moldova signed it in July and I strongly urge member States that have not done yet so, and especially those which are not in the accession process to the European Union, to follow the example of Moldova by signing and ratifying this legal instrument. This demand of mine is in line with the commitments of Athens, where the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe agreed to launch a promotion campaign of this convention.

I also count very much on the partnership established between the Council of Europe Development Bank and the Directorate General on Social Cohesion to devise projects aimed at promoting the integration of immigrants, at providing emergency assistance respectful of the human rights in the transit centres for the persons awaiting their expulsion and thirdly and quite in line with the statutory priorities of the Bank, projects to assist migrants wishing to return and to resettle in their country of origin. Mr Güvenen, let us go on working together.

Last but not least, a crucial element of any successful strategy piloted from Strasbourg is a close and fruitful co-operation with the European Union: we are determined to strengthen joint action with the European Union to deliver our common message through the MEDA programmes for the South and TACIS for the East. I now turn to the representative of Commissioner Vitorino to tell him that I am ready to discuss joint actions in the frame of the quadripartite meetings.

Of course, what will be said here will pave the way for our work in the years to come. It will especially be taken into account in the preparatory work for a Convention against trafficking and exploitation of human beings. It is one of the reasons why I attach so much importance to this Conference. I will follow the drafting of the convention to ensure proper consideration of the situation of illegal migrants in the text and I count on you, through the European Committee on Migration, to actively participate in its drafting.

Before the floor is given to our distinguished guests let me recall the important elements of my proposed plan of action for the years to come:

We have a strategy for the orderly co-management of migration: we want to implement it and we can do it

with the direction given by our policy for the integration of migrants and minorities and by our conventions,

with the statistical data and measurement tools we are in a position to devise,

with the support of the Council of Europe Development Bank and

with reinforced joint actions with the European Union.

With all the pieces of the puzzle in our hands, let us meet the challenge of coherence and implement the Strategy for the orderly co-management of migration.

Finally, we are currently considering the holding of a Third Council of Europe Summit. I have already proposed that migration be one of the key themes of this Summit.

I am sure that you will take advantage of this conference on Finnish soil to bear in mind the spirit which prevailed in Tampere in 1999 and I wish you every success during your time in Helsinki!