Speech/statement | Date: 20/01/2016 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Minister of EEA and EU Affairs Elisabeth Aspaker's speech at the Norwegian Shipowners' Association 20 January regarding migration to Europe and the Schengen cooperation and the impact on the maritime sector.
Thank you for the invitation to join you this morning. I welcome this opportunity to exchange views with you. I have been asked to share my reflections and views on the current challenges regarding migration to Europe and the Schengen cooperation, their impact on the maritime sector, and what needs to be done to deal with these challenges.
However, before I begin I would like to thank the Norwegian ship-owners and those on board Norwegian vessels for their role in rescuing thousands of people in the Mediterranean. You were also among the first here in Europe to alert us of the challenges we now are facing.
[The migration situation in Europe]
Over the past few years, Europe has faced a number of serious challenges: from the financial crisis to the conflict in Ukraine, not to mention the current situation with the arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers. Europe has managed to stay united in its response to the first two challenges. The question is now whether it will manage to continue to do so in responding to the third.
Many countries are finding it difficult to deal with the high influx of migrants and asylum seekers. So far, according to official statistics, more than one million people have crossed Europe’s external borders. Many of them are fleeing from persecution and war. Others are simply seeking a better life.
The international community has a duty to provide protection under the UN Refugee Convention and international human rights instruments. At the same time, it is important to ensure the speedy return of those who are not in need of international protection.
No country can deal with this situation alone. This crisis must be addressed through common European efforts. Norway will play an active role in finding effective European solutions, not least through our participation in the Dublin system and our membership of Schengen.
[Cooperation and joint efforts at the European level]
On 15 December, the European Commission presented a new package of measures to address the refugee crisis, and to strengthen the rules governing the Schengen cooperation. I will leave it to Ambassador Campbell to go into more detail on the measures already taken and those currently being planned in the EU.
Let me just make a few general comments. First of all, I agree with the conclusions adopted by the European Council. These measures address the need for better control, identification and registration of those crossing the external borders, and the need for better burden sharing among European countries.
It has been important for the Government to ensure that people are returned to their country of origin as quickly as possible if their application for asylum has been rejected. We therefore welcome the strengthening of the return system in the EU.
Without joint mechanisms in place, we are likely to see individual countries trying to pass the problems over to others. That will not benefit anyone.
[On the proposal for a European border control and coast guard agency]
The current Schengen external border controls are not functioning as intended in all countries. It is necessary to remedy this situation, and to me, it is clear that any workable solution will require a greater degree of European cooperation.
The Commission’s proposal for a European border control and coast guard agency should be seen in this context. The proposal introduces a shared responsibility for border control, but it is quite clear that the primary responsibility for the control of their external borders rests with the member states. Only in extraordinary circumstances will the proposed European border guard be called on to intervene. External border control is a national responsibility – however the new agency will allow us to strengthen border management if a Schengen country does not fulfil its obligations.
Some Norwegian politicians have suggested that the proposed legislation implies that our border with Russia may soon be patrolled by foreign border guards. Let us be clear on this. With regard to the border with Russia, Norway is able to fulfil its obligations, and will not need external assistance.
[The EEA grants and funding of asylum and migration projects]
The Government has also taken steps to make it possible to use the EEA and Norway Grants to alleviate the migration and refugee situation. Today, Norwegian funding is provided for asylum and migration projects in Greece. We want to extend such funding to other countries in order to strengthen the capacity of their asylum and migration authorities.
[The need for long-term solutions – and what we do]
Our immediate priorities are to restore control of the Schengen external borders and ensuring the needs of those who have a legitimate need for asylum in Europe. However, we also need to address the more fundamental questions of why people are forced to flee their home countries in order to find safety elsewhere. Any long-term solutions must address the need for major political and social change in vulnerable regions of the world. There is no quick fix.
Europe should use its political and economic leverage to support and facilitate the change that is needed. This is not only a moral responsibility; it is also in our own interest. Norway has therefore taken the initiative for an international donor conference for Syria. We have also increased our humanitarian assistance to Syria and its neighbouring countries. Norway is the sixth largest donor country to the region, and the second largest per capita donor. In vulnerable states in Africa, we will strengthen our efforts towards job creation and economic development. We need to encourage young people to stay and build a better future at home rather than risk their lives on a dangerous journey to Europe.
[On the introduction of temporary internal border control]
The strains on the Schengen system are a concern for us all. Measures to increase border control in Europe will significantly affect both passenger and cargo movements. We need to find ways to deal with the current crisis without losing sight of the need for long-term, sustainable solutions.
As a temporary measure, we have found it necessary to strengthen controls at our internal borders. Sweden and Denmark have done the same. As of 26 November 2015, Norway has imposed a temporary control on passengers on ferries from Sweden, Denmark and Germany. This was prolonged for another month 14 January.
I am aware that such ID checks places a burden on ferry companies like Color Line and their crew. However I would like to stress that these are temporary measures within the Schengen rules. They have been introduced to address an extraordinary situation. These measures will be lifted as soon as the situation returns to normal.
As I said earlier, it is my strong conviction is that there are no adequate national solutions to the present crisis. The permanent reinstatement of national border controls in Europe would have serious economic and political consequences.
Imagine what would happen if Schengen was abolished and permanent national border controls reinstated. Thousands of police officers would be needed to control the hundreds of millions of people crossing the internal borders in Europe annually.
Air traffic alone accounts for nearly 560 million border crossings each year within the EU. When rail and road transport are included, the total is close to 1 billion.
By comparison, the number of people crossing the external EU border, is about a quarter of the total number of internal border crossings.
[Brief comments on maritime policy and cooperation with the EU]
Let me also make a few comments on maritime policy cooperation with the EU. Norway and the European Union share the ambition of maintaining Europe’s world-leading position in the maritime sector and the competitive edge of our maritime industries. The Government’s maritime strategy, which we presented last year, clearly sets out our aim to develop strong maritime clusters through increased cooperation between sea-based industries. The overriding objective for national and European maritime transport policies and strategies should be the promotion and continued development of the maritime transport industry in Europe with the aim of maintaining its leading position.
An integrated approach to ocean management and maritime affairs, as in the EU Integrated Maritime Policy, is also very much in line with Norwegian policy. We have actively contributed to the development of the integrated maritime policy at European level since it was launched a decade ago.
[Migration and the maritime sector]
The Norwegian Ship-owners’ Association represents an industry that operates close to 2 000 vessels across the world at all times.
You make more than 100 000 port calls annually, and operate in most of the world’s offshore fields, with crew members from more than 50 countries, including Norway. Shipping is truly the most global of all Norwegian industries.
Shipping is also strongly affected by world events. However the Norwegian shipping industry has carried on in the face of war, piracy, terrorism, epidemics, sanctions regimes and conflicts. You handle risk extremely well. The government-industry mechanisms for maritime crisis management contributes to this.
These mechanisms are to our mutual benefit: Firstly, they enable ships to operate safely in uncertain times. Secondly, they ensure that the Government has quick access to merchant vessels when needed in times of crisis.
I understand that it took your association less than one hour to identify a suitable commercial vessel to carry Syrian chemical weapons in 2014, at the Government’s request. That is truly impressive.
In 2014, as the refugee crisis unfolded, Norwegian vessels in the Mediterranean became heavily involved in saving lives in the Mediterranean. You brought attention to these issues in Norway and internationally. And last year, when the Government needed a Norwegian merchant vessel to operate for Frontex, there was no shortage of offers. The crew on Siem Pilot has done a fantastic job of saving lives and ensuring effective border control. I would also like to thank you for the tremendous life-saving efforts by many other Norwegian merchant vessels in the region.
The mass influx of refugees and asylum-seekers poses serious challenges for Europe. We have a duty to provide assistance and refuge for those who have a legitimate need.
At the same time, we need to find workable solutions to a situation that is putting an increasing strain on the capacity of many European countries. We cooperate with the EU and its member states because we share a common set of values, and because we need joint solutions to shared challenges. We cooperate because it is in our national interest to do so.
Thank you for your attention.