Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the opening of the Global Forum on Migration and Development

28.06.2017 - Speech

Colleagues and fellow ministers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Berlin! Welcome to the Global Forum on Migration and Development!

I am delighted that so many international guests have come here, including some with whom we have recently enjoyed close cooperation on many aspects of refugee and migration issues.

And I am particularly delighted that we, Germany, are co-hosting the Global Forum on Migration and Development with Morocco.

That is a great sign that we do not have two opposing sides on this issue. The idea that there needs to be north-south cooperation on migration issues and on establishing a fair migration system is, incidentally, not entirely new.

Forty years ago, a former German Chancellor adopted this approach: Willy Brandt, in his role as Chairman of the so called North‑South Commission. It was established by the Secretary‑General of the United Nations and is now approaching its 40th anniversary.

And if we look at its final report today, we have to ask ourselves self‑critically what we have actually been doing in the past 40 years. For many of the questions, and, by the way, the answers, are still relevant today.

I remember the words of an Indian Food Minister who once said to us Europeans: If you don’t manage to overcome the gap between rich and poor in the world, one day we will be sending you our children.

As it has turned out, it is not the Indians who have come, but many others. Yet the warning that we need a different approach to dealing with prosperity in the world – today we would say that globalisation should not mean wealth for the few but prosperity for all – that warning is not new but has been an issue for the international community for many decades.

The final report of this North-South Commission, entitled “North-South: A Programme for Survival”, recommended global cooperation in order to establish a fair system of “international mobility”, as the report terms it. We evidently did not comply with this recommendation sufficiently, otherwise we wouldn’t have to be discussing the same topic again today.

I believe that today, more than ever before, we have a mission, and also a responsibility, to ensure fairness with regard to international mobility.

A global responsibility shared by all players, as the United Nations 2030 Agenda makes very clear.

Ladies and gentlemen,

if we really want to establish a fair migration system, we first need to clarify what actually lies at the heart of migration.

At its heart is, firstly, an individual and not a state decision.

People make a decision to leave their country of birth, their homeland, and to put down roots elsewhere.

They do so because they hope to obtain better prospects for themselves or their children, or because they want to escape from dire need or inequality with regard to professional opportunities and income.

So we are dealing with millions of individual decisions, individual destinies and hopes for a better future.

These complex individual motives and pressures do not only clash with the realities of the societies in the countries of origin, transit and destination.

They also come up against their laws. And those mainly consist of things that are prohibited.

It is truly remarkable that significantly greater legal restrictions are imposed on migration than on the global movement of capital and trade, for example.

We want to take a look at this complex network of regulations and restrictions.

For what we need in order to make a success of migration policy are not only bans, but also regulations that allow us to use migration as an opportunity.

Not only for ethical reasons, but also to protect our own vested economic interests.

I say this quite clearly as the representative of a country that also struggles to acknowledge the positive aspects of migration in this context.

For immigration is vital for growth, and Germany in particular needs experts from outside the country, not least because the population is shrinking.

In Europe one of the largest experiments lies ahead of us: within a few years we will lose millions of people of working age. Yet our population will not shrink, because, thank God, people are living longer. That will be a major challenge for us as an industrialised country, and for that reason alone we should be discussing the issue of migration more openly than we often do.

The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce speaks of half a million jobs that already need to be filled. Eighty percent of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are so crucial for our country, are already reporting problems in finding staff.

Yet another point is at least as important: if we approach migration in the right way, it will, of course, also benefit our society.

I can see that quite clearly in one of the most visible results of European unification:

in my country even 20 or 30 years ago, migrants from Spain, Italy, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Morocco, were referred to as guest workers. With the sentiment that they would be coming here for a while and then they’d be going back home.

Incidentally, the people who came here had the same idea. For example, the children of Turkish parents were sent back to Turkey with the words: You’d better go to school in Turkey, because we won’t be staying here long.

Today, the people who used to be described here as guest workers have long become part of our country. Some have become German citizens, others have not, but regardless of this they are an important, integral part of our country and have also enriched the culture of the nation as a whole.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I therefore believe that we need to completely rethink our approach towards migration policy.

Both internationally and in our own societies. And to this end all countries, whether countries of origin, transit or destination, need to be ready to review their own policy in dialogue with others.

Here in Europe we are sometimes very good at telling others that they need to change.

That being the case, I think we ought to take a look at what we need to do differently in order to establish a fairer migration system.

I therefore want to highlight three points that, in my view, illustrate why we need a different approach to migration in Germany and Europe.

Firstly, in Germany we have long been a country of immigration, so we should be able to control this process more effectively by means of an immigration act.

For Germany, too, needs attractive and modern regulations if it is to be a country of destination for migrants.

Such an immigration act could work with a demand-based points system, like the one in Canada. Whatever form it takes, it needs to provide a transparent, understandable and straightforward regulatory framework and link in with integration measures.

The reason for this is simple: without people from other countries, our society, and the European community will not stay as strong as it is at the moment.

That is why we need legislation to lay the foundation to help us view immigration as an opportunity for our country and not just a threat.

Secondly, our efforts to create a better migration policy cannot stop at our own borders.

On the contrary, establishing a fair immigration and migration system is a global task, as, indeed, is the responsibility to treat refugees with dignity.

No country can isolate itself forever. That is an illusion that nationalists of all shades keep propagating.

We therefore need to actively conduct this debate. For a just world with just migration will not come about if more and more walls and fences are built.

And thirdly, fair standards could perhaps also help us in the fight against human traffickers and people smugglers, who exploit the predicament of migrants for profit.

After all, if we want to counteract illegal migration, we need to create legal immigration opportunities.

I don’t want to spell that out in detail here, but transparent “migration options” counteract the impression that you can only build up a livelihood in Europe if you claim asylum on the grounds of persecution, even if you are not really in need of protection. And especially if you put your fate into the hands of human traffickers and thereby put your life at risk.

When legal forms of migration exist, such options create incentives for countries to cooperate with us more willingly in taking back their own citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Those are just a few thoughts on what Germany, as a migration destination, should be doing.

Of course, the interests of other countries are shaped by quite different realities. Countries of transit and origin naturally have a different view of migration and its consequences.

That is why it is so important for us to tackle this issue together. To develop an even better common understanding and draw concrete conclusions.

With this in mind, we intend to draft a Global Social Compact here and to consider regulations which will be incorporated into the Global Compact on Migration in 2018.

These regulations should unite the needs of migrants, first and foremost, as well as their countries of origin and of destination.

Maybe some of you will prick up your ears when you hear the word “regulations” and once again associate it with barriers and bans designed to restrict migration.

That is not our goal. The call for more regulations for migration stems from the simple realisation that it is the irregular migrants who are usually exploited. They are simply not the winners.

That is why we need to establish a clear regulatory framework that is able not only to reflect the interests of the countries of destination in a one-sided approach, but which focuses on the interests and rights of all parties.

Migration should not be portrayed as a one-way street. Rather, development opportunities for the countries of origin also need to be outlined which show that we are not interested in a one-sided brain drain in an attempt to attract the cleverest people, but that we are concerned with fair principles, fair migration, as Willy Brandt called for in the North-South Commission.

I am well aware that this is a complex task. That is why conferences like this are so crucial. And that is why we need partnerships between countries of destination and origin, such as the one exemplified by Morocco and Germany through their Co-Chairmanship.

But also partnerships with civil society and the private sector. For this cannot be achieved by states going it alone – neither at national nor at international level.

That is why I am so pleased that all of you have accepted our invitation to come here today.

And for the Forum’s joint work on establishing a fair migration system I wish us perseverance, productivity and ultimately a successful outcome for all those involved!

Thank you for your attention.

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