Speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the EU Migration Conference “Challenge accepted? On the way to a new EU migration policy”

16.11.2018 - Speech

-- Check against delivery --

On behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, I would like to welcome you to today’s conference. What you’re doing here cannot be valued highly enough.

For few questions today provoke discussion as heated as that generated by migration.

That said, migration isn’t really a “question” anyway, as Foreign Minister Maas recently pointed out, certainly not one we could answer with “yes” or “no”.

Migration is a fact. A fact as old as the human race.

The debate on how we should deal with this fact divides our societies: in the international community, in Europe and in Germany.

The most recent example is the controversy surrounding the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), the aim of which is to strike a balance between the interests of countries of origin, transit and destination. Its goal is to manage and regulate migration.

Especially for Germany, this is an important issue, for international cooperation is the only way to manage migration better.

And yet, populist fears are being stirred up here too.

Incidentally, contrary to the polemical rhetoric, anyone can find out more about the Global Compact. For example, all parliamentary groups in the Bundestag were invited to attend five major rounds of consultations and hearings at the United Nations during the negotiations. However, that certainly cannot replace debates in Parliament, for the major debates of our time must be conducted there. And in Parliament – in my view at least – our debates have to become more lively again, not more polemic.

Today, we’re facing global challenges which need a competition of ideas – and to that end we have to explain our policies and also include people and with them all their feelings and sensibilities: climate change, unprecedented technological advances, far-reaching demographical developments – how else can we solve all of that if not together?

Basically, I believe that this all comes down to one question: do we agree with the statement that “everyone’s interests are well served when each person thinks only of themselves”? Or do we think that we can achieve more together?

I’m convinced that durable peace and prosperity can only be ensured if the international community manages to work together to find intelligent, sustainable and fair solutions to the questions of our time.

National answers alone are not enough. Today, I’ve been invited to also say something about the international dimension.

However, what we see is that at a time when we need more international rules, in which more agreements among states are necessary, nationalism is again on the rise. Especially here in Berlin, however, we have to realise that walls weren’t torn down to be built up again today in another place. Be it physically or in our minds.

Achievements such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global targets of the United Nations built on inviolable human rights, show how important sustainable development is for all of humankind.

Only where people around the world can participate, when it is possible for them to have a share in economic progress and the benefits of globalisation, can prospects be created on which a future can be built.

That’s our approach here at the Federal Foreign Office, too: providing humanitarian assistance, as well as helping people to live in dignity, requires more than a bed, a loaf of bread and a tent.

Policies solely shaped by short-term interests won’t have a desirable impact in the long run.

Giving people prospects for the future and women a voice, making it possible for people, especially children, to access – that, too, is concrete help. It also constitutes concrete help towards combating the root causes of migration.

When we talk about how foreign policy develops, for instance in relation to the question as to how much we invest in defence, then it’s right to also include what we provide in terms of civilian assistance – indeed, have to provide.

In the sphere of humanitarian assistance and stabilisation vis-à-vis third countries, Germany is already the world’s second-largest donor country.

For example, we’re funding the clearance of booby-traps in areas liberated from IS, we’re helping to build state structures in Somalia and are supporting the development of a truth commission in Mali.

And here, too, it’s evident that cooperation with international partners is vital.

States such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Bangladesh or countries in East Africa, in the immediate vicinity of crises, are doing such valuable work by taking in refugees.

We won’t abandon the countries hosting refugees, either now or in future.

However, the same applies here in Germany: the integration of those who have come to live among us remains vitally important. We believe that integration is an opportunity which always requires some effort on our part – but, of course, those who have come to our country also have an an obligation to make their own efforts to integrate.

Language tuition, integration into training, work and education as well as integration into society have been successful in many instances. Yet, it took us far too long to learn other things:

integration courses are now being combined with occupational language courses to form a joint modular system, the Comprehensive Language Programme.

Over and above that, we have to look at things holistically and develop them together.

The question of immigration into Germany doesn’t only concern those seeking refuge.

Far from it. For a country like ours which is looking for skilled workers must create a framework for recruiting them.

That’s why we’re finally getting an immigration act for skilled workers underway.

Following the key issues paper adopted by the Government, the legal framework has been simplified. What’s more, the procedures for entering Germany have been centralised and streamlined. To this end, we’re working on a more advanced digitisation of the visa process. Yes, that costs money and yes, it’ll take time.

But it’ll be worthwhile if we do a good job: both in terms of boosting the economy and in terms of fostering harmony in our society.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As a directly elected Member of the Bundestag, I’ve encountered a considerable amount of dissatisfaction among my constituents in the Ruhr area – not only from those who greatly resent immigration in general but also from those who warn politicians time and again that integration has to be more effective and sustainable:

Take trauma treatment for example. But it has to be said, indeed we shouldn’t forget that there are so many people in Germany who want to do things better, who are not happy with the current situation, who have rolled up their sleeves and taken on responsibility. We cannot be grateful enough to them. The same applies to the NGOs operating around the world. None of them should have to suffer insults for doing this work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Together with our European partners, we therefore have to find ways of overcoming these divisions here in Europe.

That’s also what next year’s the European elections are about. They offer European citizens an opportunity to decide fundamental questions like this with their votes. That’s why the elections are so important. Europe is at a crossroads.

So I’d like to take up the question posed in this conference’s title: Has the EU accepted the challenges which refugees and irregular migration bring?

Well, some key steps have been taken. For example, we have an EU Partnership Framework, which defines a comprehensive approach to refugee and migration policy based on partnership. We share this framework.
We also see extensive support for countries of first admission and assistance in looking after refugees. The EU-Turkey Statement and the Valletta Action Plan are key European milestones.

However, it has become increasingly clear during the last few years that the issue of refugees and migration has provoked controversy in the European Union. As a result, we in the EU have made no headway on key matters for far too long.

For instance, there is still no political agreement on the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) in the European Council.

Very little progress has been made on the key question of the obligatory distribution of refugees in times of crisis.

Here we need an honest and rational discussion about what our economies need in order to remain socially just, fit for the future and competitive.

President Juncker recently proposed that progress be made in four areas of EU migration policy. The proposals on strengthening the EU’s external borders were immediately taken up in the Council bodies, but those on the expansion of the Blue Card scheme for labour migration have not yet been addressed. We have to continue working on this.

Especially when it comes to questions relating to refugees and migration, it’s crucial to listen to each other carefully and with respect.

We have to detoxify this debate. But we must never allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear of populism.
It would be completely wrong to ignore the many unresolved issues in European migration policy and to confine ourselves to a minimalist programme consisting of protection of the EU's external borders and a few additional measures.

The theme of this conference is therefore of fundamental importance to all of us who, just like the overwhelming majority of Germans and other Europeans, want to see a strong Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to say something about the grand coalition:

I’m glad that after many decades it has finally been possible to reach a new basic democratic consensus: Germany is a country of immigration!

That, too, has long since been reality and not a question. Recognising this will make it possible to find sensible political solutions, also for the migration which we need. As you can see, politics continues to be about constantly drilling through hard boards. But it’s worth the effort!

On that note, I’d like to wish you lively debates, creative ideas and optimism for the future. Keep up the good work! Let’s ensure that the question mark in the conference title soon becomes an exclamation mark.

Thank you.


Top of page