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Minutes – Monday, 20 November 2017 – PE 615.203v01-00 – Committee on Development

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Minutes – Monday, 20 November 2017 – PE 615.203v01-00 – Committee on Development

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Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, at the European Council meeting on 14 and 15 December 2017

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  1. Brexit

I should like to congratulate the negotiator, Michel Barnier, on the excellent work he has done and express Parliament’s satisfaction at the unity we have shown.

In the resolution we adopted yesterday, Parliament noted the fact that sufficient progress has been made for the negotiations to move on to the second phase. Now we need to be vigilant for the next steps.

In the light of the statements made on the other side of the Channel last weekend, we want to underline that the joint report is a binding document, not an exercise in sleight of hand to enable us to move on to the second phase. There can be no discussions on future relations if the exit agreement is not applied to the letter.

The fact that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made does not mean that we have resolved all the problems. We still have a lot of work to do. Parliament will pay particularly close attention to the measures proposed to genuinely safeguard the rights of citizens and to the procedure which will be introduced to guarantee their special status.

I am also delighted that the British Government has agreed to honour its financial commitments. I never doubted that it would. As regards the issue of the Irish border, Ireland’s problems are the Union’s problems.

The United Kingdom must shed all ambiguity: the specific solution agreed for this border must not become a back door into the internal market.

As regards future relations with the United Kingdom, there are red lines which are non-negotiable: integrity of the internal market, decision-making autonomy of the Union, and third-country status, with all that that implies. In this difficult second phase as well, unity will be our shield.

We will play our part in drafting the agreement on future relations which Parliament will ultimately have to approve.

We face a series of challenges on matters which our citizens regard as priorities.

  1. Security and defence

According to the findings of the Eurobarometer survey, EU citizens want a Union which takes more effective action in the areas of security and defence. We cannot continue to rely on the military might of others. Our security, monitoring our borders, managing migration, fighting terrorism and the stability of regions immediately beyond our borders are our responsibility.  

In signing the Rome Declaration, we made a commitment to revitalise the Union, starting from a common defence. The first step is to develop a European industry and a European market which generate economies of scale and facilitate interoperability.

Twenty-five Member States have just taken an historic step forward by introducing arrangements for permanent military cooperation. The objectives include developing European defence instruments and conducting joint security operations. The EU defence fund, which is currently being discussed in Parliament and which would be used to support the security and defence industry, points in the same direction.

Our industry will benefit from spin-offs generated by research projects and the development of prototypes. The more effective use of funds at EU level will be matched by savings at national level. Common procurement procedures and common standards will enhance our ability to launch joint security operations.

We should follow the example of our space policy where European systems, such as EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus, have helped to make us more competitive. Drawing on that example, the next budget must set aside the funds needed for proper investment in security and defence.

  1. Social, educational and cultural dimension

Globalisation and new technologies are serious concerns for our citizens, who want a Union which ensures that no one is left behind.

Digitalisation, robotics and artificial intelligence are transforming manufacturing and skills. The new jobs being created are not enough to offset those which have been lost to machines and technologies. Around half of all human activities could be replaced by automated processes.

The Union must steer this ongoing revolution, by investing in training. More effective coordination between universities, training centres and industry is essential if workers’ skills are to develop in line with changing needs.

The new EU budget should make additional resources available, not only for the Erasmus programme for students, but also for apprenticeships and traineeships for persons seeking to re-enter the labour market.

It is firms which create jobs, and for that reason any rational employment policy must be based on support for the real economy. 

Our entrepreneurs must be able to invest in Europe without facing unfair competition from businesses which deal with overcapacity problems by laying off European workers, while taking advantage of subsidies and selling their products below cost price. Parliament insisted that the new method for calculating anti-dumping duties should not impose any additional burden of proof on SMEs and take account of social and environmental dumping.

Parliament’s proposal on the Posted Workers Directive combines provisions to protect workers, enhance competitiveness and create a fairer market. I hope that an agreement can be reached with the Council as soon as possible.

If we want to create jobs, we must also focus on sectors of high labour intensity and creativity. Our history and culture, which go back thousands of years, offer potential for growth which we must exploit to the full.

I am thinking of tourism, design, the digitalisation of cultural sites, luxury goods and high-end craft products. We are not only the continent with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; we are also still the leader in many branches of the cultural and creative industries.

In its resolution on A coherent EU policy for the cultural and creative industries, Parliament calls for measures to promote a sector which employs 12 million people.

In this sector as well, the digital revolution is opening up unprecedented prospects, provided that we come up with the right policies to govern it. Digital platforms must not be above the law. Like other firms, they must be accountable, pay taxes, guarantee transparency and safeguard social rights, minors, security, consumers and intellectual property.

The market for pirated and counterfeit goods is continuing to grow, thanks in no small part to the web. If we fail to safeguard creativity and the work done by product and fashion designers and creators of songs, films, articles and books, investment will dwindle, with serious consequences for Europe’s competitiveness.

Even more than our economy, culture is the glue which holds Europe together. Awareness of our own identity is the foundation for a strong and open Europe which sees diversity as an asset.

The European Year of Cultural Heritage, of which the European Parliament has been a strong advocate, offers an opportunity to rediscover and promote that identity and bring the Union closer to its peoples.

  1. Immigration

Our citizens are looking to us to resolve the migration crisis. They no longer accept the uncontrolled flows of migrants, pilgrimages of refugees hopping from country to country in search of asylum, mass deaths in the desert or at sea, or the appalling spectacle of markets where people are sold as slaves.

Piecemeal responses are the opposite of effective solutions. What we need instead is a strong European strategy, genuine coordination and more pooling of resources.

On the one hand, we need to step up checks at our external borders, turning back those who have no right to enter, or arranging quickly and firmly for their readmission; on the other, we need to show solidarity with those fleeing wars and persecution.

The current asylum system, which leaves countries of first entry to bear the full brunt of dealing with migrants, is not working. Parliament has approved by a wide majority an overhaul of the Dublin system, to introduce rules which increase the element of solidarity and make the system more uniform and effective. We want the system for the allocation of refugees to be automatic and to be based on fair and objective criteria, in keeping with the spirit of solidarity on which our Union has been founded from the start.

Now it is up to the Council to do its part, as quickly as possible. Although efforts to achieve a broad consensus on such a sensitive topic are laudable, it is not right to insist on unanimity at all costs in cases where the Treaties provide for decision-making by a qualified majority under the ordinary legislative procedure. The danger is not only that a decision of fundamental importance to EU citizens will be put off indefinitely, but also that Parliament will be deprived of its powers as co-legislator. As President of the European Parliament, it is my duty to safeguard its prerogatives.

At the Abidjan summit, the urgent need for us all to work together to stabilise Libya and protect human rights emerged very clearly. The African Union is calling on us to speak with one voice and coordinate our efforts.

Shutting down the central Mediterranean corridors will require investments similar in scale to those used to halt migration via the Balkan route. This money must be spent in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Niger, Chad or Mali. It must be used to train border guards and members of the security forces, or to set up reception centres under the auspices of the UN, where humanitarian protection can be provided and asylum applications dealt with.

The problem of migration, which is linked to demographics, climate, terrorism, wars and poverty, must be tackled at its root. We must offer young Africans real prospects, otherwise they will leave not in their thousands, but in their millions.

The EUR 3.4 billion investment plan for Africa, which we approved in July, is an important step in the right direction. But much greater efforts are needed if Africa is to develop a manufacturing base, farm efficiently, exploit renewable sources of energy and build up proper infrastructure.

In Abidjan I proposed that as from the next budget at least EUR 40 billion should be set aside for the investment fund. The leverage effect and synergies generated with the funding provided by the European Investment Bank could make it possible to mobilise some EUR 500 billion, thereby doubling foreign investment in Africa.

  1. Strengthening economic governance

We need to complete the Banking Union and the capital market. Reducing risks must imply pooling them.

Parliament is in favour of transforming the European Stability Mechanism into a European Monetary Fund. We also support the idea of appointing an EU Finance Minister; he or she would also be a Vice-President of the Commission and chair the Eurogroup, and would have the confidence of the European Parliament after going through a hearing and approval procedure.

These reforms must go beyond mere window-dressing; what are needed are real powers, a large enough budget and democratic scrutiny.

  1. A political budget

As I emphasised at the last European Council meeting, I agree with Commissioner Stylianides on the need to develop genuine European civil protection.  We could endow ourselves with the joint capabilities and resources needed to respond promptly and more effectively to requests for assistance from Member States and neighbouring countries. In so doing, we could show our citizens the more practical face of European solidarity.

This is another example of how pooling resources in certain sectors generates efficiency gains and savings for all the Member States.

Similarly, we need to pool more resources in the areas of defence, training, culture and immigration. The Union needs a political budget which reflects citizens’ priorities. This reform should be at the top of our list, and it does not even require an amendment to the Treaties.

We must not increase the burden on citizens and SMEs – they already pay too much tax. We need to generate Community own resources by collecting revenue from those who avoid taxes at the moment.

On the basis of the Monti report, Parliament is considering a series of possibilities. These include taxes on digital platforms, which would do away with the problem of tax dumping and the territoriality of profits, and on speculative financial transactions.

I also regard bolder action against tax havens as essential.

Joint motion for a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan – RC-B8-2017-0678

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the results of the Brussels International Conference on Afghanistan of 5 October 2016 co-chaired by the European Union,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Afghanistan, in particular those of 26 November 2015 on the situation in Afghanistan, in particular the killings in the province of Zabul(1) and of 13 June 2013 on the negotiations on an EU-Afghanistan cooperation agreement on partnership and development(2),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions on Afghanistan of 16 October 2017,

–  having regard to the statement made by the UN Security Council President on 14 September 2016 on the situation in Afghanistan,

–  having regard to UN Security Council Resolution 2210 (2015), UN Security Council Resolution 2344 (2017) and to the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),

–  having regard to the joint communication from the Commission and the EEAS to the European Parliament and the Council on ‘Elements for an EU Strategy on Afghanistan’ of 24 July 2017 (JOIN(2017)0031),

–  having regard to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report of 13 February 2017 entitled ‘Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees’,

–  having regard to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) Quarterly Report to the United States Congress of 30 January 2017,

–  having regard to the EU‐Afghanistan Joint Way Forward (JWF) on migration issues signed on 3 October 2016,

–  having regard to the EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development signed on 18 February 2017,

–  having regard to the UN report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghanistan of April 2017,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) and (4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the European Union and its Member States have been working with Afghanistan and the wider international community since 2001 to combat terrorism and extremism, while also striving to achieve sustainable peace and development; whereas, on account of increasing insurgent and terrorist pressure, a struggling economy and instability in the political sphere, these goals and the substantial progress which has been achieved are at risk;

B.  whereas the EU and its Member States have contributed billions of euros in humanitarian and developmental aid and assistance to Afghanistan since 2002; whereas the EU is Afghanistan’s largest development cooperation partner and is expected to provide up to EUR 5 billion of the total EUR 13.6 billion pledged to Afghanistan for the period 2017-2020 during the Brussels International Conference on Afghanistan in October 2016;

C.  whereas ensuring democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance throughout the transition in Afghanistan and into its decade of transformation (2015-2024) are essential to establishing a stable and prosperous state;

D.  whereas major increases in the standard of living have occurred over the past 15 years since 2001, as access to basic healthcare and education and the empowerment of women have increased GDP per capita fivefold and average life expectancy by 15 years; whereas, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, attendance at general schools had risen from one million students, most of whom were boys, to almost nine million by 2015, with female students accounting for an estimated 39 % of the total;

E.  whereas on 24 July 2017 the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy published a Joint Communication on an EU Strategy on Afghanistan; whereas the EU’s four priority areas critical to achieving progress in Afghanistan concern: a) promoting peace, stability and regional security; b) reinforcing democracy, the rule of law and human rights and promoting good governance and women’s empowerment; c) supporting economic and human development; d) addressing challenges related to migration;

F.  whereas, following the 2014 presidential election crisis, the National Unity Government (NUG) has experienced stalled progress on its reform agenda, resulting in an increasingly unstable political situation; whereas the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 39% and over 39% of the population live in poverty;

G.  whereas widespread corruption, entrenched patronage systems and the inability of the politically fractured Afghan Government to move forward on reforms threaten to reduce progress or reverse past achievements;

H.  whereas the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which was established in 2002, supports the Afghan Government in its efforts to achieve peace, the protection of human rights and good governance; whereas its mandate is renewed annually by the UN Security Council and was most recently unanimously extended to 2018;

I.  whereas, although some socio-economic and political gains have been made in recent years, a resurgent Taliban, Al-Qaeda and a newly emerged Islamic State (IS) presence in Afghanistan, such as the emerging local franchise in Afghanistan (Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP)), all threaten to turn instability into larger-scale conflict; whereas the recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented the highest number of casualties since 2009, with 11 318 civilian casualties in 2016, while from January 2017 to September 2017 casualties already amounted to 8 019; whereas this has also led to increased migration to Europe;

J.  whereas, under the new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, an additional 4 000 soldiers will join the existing US contingent of 8 400 soldiers; whereas the new US strategy demands that Pakistan stop harbouring and supporting terrorists and calls for greater involvement by the Republic of India in helping to stabilise the region; whereas the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission will increase its current troop level from 13 000 to 16 000; whereas the new US strategy will be developed favouring a conditions-based approach according to which diplomatic and economic agreements will be integrated within the framework of the military effort;

K.  whereas Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented increase in returns of documented and undocumented Afghan nationals, mainly from Pakistan; whereas around two million undocumented Afghans and one million Afghans with refugee status are living in Iran and returning to Afghanistan; whereas according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), there are more than 1.8 million IDPs in Afghanistan as a result of the conflict, with a record 650 000 people fleeing to other areas of the country in search of safety in 2016, representing an average of 1 500 per day; whereas in the second half of 2016 there was a 10-year high surge in the number of Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan, rising to 370 000 from 55 000 in 2015;

L.  whereas the Republic of India is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan, providing some USD 3 billion in assistance since the Taliban Government was ousted in 2001; whereas this assistance has funded, among other things, the building of more than 200 schools in Afghanistan, over 1 000 scholarships for Afghan students, and the possibility for roughly 16 000 Afghans to study in India; whereas India has also provided assistance in the construction of critical infrastructure, such as around 4 000 km of roadways in Afghanistan, most notably the Zaranj-Dilaram highway, the Salma dam and electricity transmission lines, and the Afghan parliament building;

M.  whereas instability in Afghanistan has negative economic and security repercussions for Iran and the wider region as a whole; whereas Afghanistan’s economy is highly dependent on poppy production, which has increased significantly in recent years, resulting in a spike in drug use in neighbouring Iran; whereas this illicit drug trade is used by the Taliban to fund its operations; whereas limiting this trade and finding economic alternatives to it would be mutually advantageous for Iran and Afghanistan; whereas opium from Afghanistan is the main source of heroin in the EU; whereas working with Iran and other border countries such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is necessary to further limit the flow of opiates to Russian and European markets;

N.  whereas a new infrastructure dimension is pivotal for the future of Afghanistan in order to enable an entirely new reality of economic and social opportunities for one of the poorest countries in the world; whereas a new national infrastructure development programme will attract positive and growing regional investment within the framework of the new Silk Road;

O.  whereas reports indicate that Afghanistan has between one and three trillion dollars of undeveloped mineral reserves; whereas illicit mining is a major problem that threatens to turn a potential driver of Afghan development into a source of conflict and instability; whereas mining is the Taliban’s second largest source of revenue;

1.  Recognises that, despite substantial international efforts over a long period of time, Afghanistan is still facing a serious conflict which is hampering its economic and social development substantially; recalls that Afghanistan has been torn apart by nearly 40 years of conflict and war; reiterates the European Union’s goals of promoting peace, stability and regional security, strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights, promoting good governance and women’s empowerment, supporting economic and human development, and addressing challenges related to migration;

2.  Recalls that Afghanistan in the last decade and a half has achieved progress in the political, security, economic and development spheres; highlights that the GDP per capita has increased fivefold, life expectancy has increased by almost 15 years, and there has been a significant increase in the number of girls attending schools in comparison to 2001, the figure today being some 40 % of the total of 8 to 9 million children; stresses that none of the above would have been possible but for the dedication of the Afghan population and the commitment of the international community, and the provision of funds, know-how and personnel on the ground; underlines that the progress achieved is very fragile and reversible; emphasises that advancing it will require further reforms to take place, stable relations with neighbours and the continued provision of a necessary level of security and stability;

3.  Recognises the efforts and pays tribute to the sacrifices of the international community which provided security to Afghanistan for over a decade through Operation Enduring Freedom and the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, during which nearly 3 500 servicemen and women died; welcomes the 39-nation NATO-led Resolute Support Mission operating since 1 January 2015, which is mandated to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions; commends the great sacrifice of the ANSF, which endure heavy losses on an annual basis in their fight against insurgents; recalls the international community’s annual contribution of approximately USD 1 billion to sustain the ANSF’s financing until 2020;

4.  Welcomes the commitment of the Afghan Government to pursuing a national strategy focused on a political, social, economic and safe environment that will allow for a peaceful, secure and sustainable Afghanistan, as outlined in the conclusions of the Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan in Brussels on 5 October 2016; calls for the post of Prime Minister to be enshrined in the Afghan Constitution in order to enable greater political stability in Afghanistan; calls on the Afghan Government to ensure a transparent electoral process in 2018; calls on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to match his strong public commitments to the protection of rights and freedoms with swift and robust implementation of legislation to protect them;

5.  Stresses that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the only way forward, unreservedly integrating the whole of civil society and all parties to the conflict; reminds the Afghan Government that in order to permit development and promote peace and stability, political infighting must cease; calls for the EU to actively support an Afghan-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for former insurgents;

6.  Underscores the importance of Afghanistan for regional stability; emphasises that a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is vital for peace and stability in the region as a whole; reiterates, in this context, the importance of regional partners, such as the countries of Central Asia, Iran, China, India and Pakistan; encourages them to cooperate constructively to promote a genuine and results-oriented negotiation process without preconditions; takes note of the activities of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on Afghanistan comprising the US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as established in December 2015;

7.  Expresses extreme concern that, despite the political agreement following the 2014 presidential elections, the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and the number of terrorist attacks has multiplied; is alarmed by the Taliban’s ongoing territorial expansion and the recent strengthening of IS and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups; points out that, according to the US SIGAR, 6 785 members of the Afghan forces were killed and another 11 777 wounded from January to November 2016, and that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also reported a 3 % increase in civilian casualties (3 498 killed, 7 920 wounded) in 2016 compared with the previous year; regrets the deteriorating security situation that is allowing criminal groups to kidnap both Afghan nationals and foreign citizens, including humanitarian and aid workers;

8.  Expresses strong concern about the emergence of the Islamic State as the latest element to contribute to the increasing fragility of the security landscape in Afghanistan; underlines that in addition to its stronghold in the east of the country (Nangarhar) it is attempting to assert its presence in the north of the country with the assistance of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU); highlights that, should this be successful, an environment conducive to the harbouring of foreign fighters and militants will be created, as they are pushed out of Iraq and Syria on account of IS military setbacks in those two countries;

9.  Underscores the importance of a genuine internal reconciliation process; calls for the EU to actively support an Afghan-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for former insurgents; underscores the need to fight radicalisation, extremism and recruitment for terrorist organisations; underlines that combating terrorism and its financing is a key ingredient of creating an environment conducive to security in Afghanistan;

10.  Warns that the poor capabilities of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) and National Police Force remain one of the most critical issues compromising Afghanistan’s security and reconstruction; welcomes the continued EU focus on the enhancement of the role and rights of Afghan women and recognises the need to train female police officers; welcomes the Republic of India’s commitment to assisting Afghanistan with the provision of defence hardware to the Afghan military in December 2015 and the military training of thousands of Afghan security personnel, which significantly helped to enhance its military capability, in accordance with the objective of NATO-led mission ‘Resolute Support’ to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions, launched in January 2015; is encouraged by the work carried out and cooperation by the Republic of India and Afghanistan on infrastructure projects and humanitarian support;

11.  Believes that the fight against corruption within the Afghan governmental institutions must be a permanent core priority on account of all the negative direct impacts of corruption on the quality of governance in the country; calls on the Government of Afghanistan to increase political inclusiveness, strengthen accountability and actively combat the culture of corruption and nepotism; welcomes notably, in this respect, the establishment of the Anti-corruption Justice Centre in June 2016; notes, in addition, the UNAMA’s call for continued support and assistance from the international community for the Afghan Government’s anti-corruption efforts;

12.  Calls on the Government of Afghanistan and its regional partners, in particular Iran, to fight against illicit drug trafficking and illicit mining and coordinate with one another to eliminate these illegal practices, which are detrimental to the stability of the region; reminds all parties that these are the main sources of funding for terrorist organisations in the region; recognises that any further mining development must be sustainable and beneficial to the general population, in accordance with international standards; condemns the repression, illicit drug trafficking, land grabbing, unlawful confiscation and extortion carried out by warlords; recalls that the production and trafficking of opium in Afghanistan has devastating consequences on the local population and the overall security of the country;

13.  Welcomes Afghan membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; urges the Afghan Government to increase transparency in the mining sector and to establish robust requirements for licences and monitoring in order to ensure a sustainable extractive industry; urges the Government to step up efforts to protect vital public resources such as land and minerals from exploitation by criminal and insurgent networks;

14.  Stands with the people of Afghanistan and insists that all parties involved in the conflict adhere to international humanitarian law and respect the rights of all members of society, in particular minorities, women and children, who are disproportionately affected by the situation; urges the Afghan authorities to fully enforce the UN-Afghan action plan signed in Kabul on 30 January 2011 regarding the practice of ‘bacha bazi’ and enabling the rehabilitation of child victims of sexual abuse; condemns the attacks on hospitals and health clinics, schools and humanitarian operations; condemns in the strongest terms the continued disregard for human rights and the barbaric violence carried out by the Taliban, IS and Al-Qaeda against the people of Afghanistan; draws attention to the risk associated with the return of former war criminals, notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the founder of Hizb-e-Islami, who was designated a terrorist by the US in 2003 and has been associated with the increased presence of IS in Afghanistan;

15.  Is alarmed by the increasing resurgence of violence against women and the obliteration of women’s rights and living conditions within areas controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan; repeats its call on the Afghan Parliament and the Afghan Government to revoke all laws that contain elements of discrimination against women, which are in breach of the international treaties signed by Afghanistan; welcomes the focus on women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming in EU assistance to Afghanistan, in particular the fact that 53% of EU programmes have gender equality as a significant objective; fully supports full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, and other domestic measures to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan, as well as to tackle violence against women;

16.  Calls on the governments of regional partners such as the countries of Central Asia, Iran, India, Russia and Pakistan to work together to pursue a peace settlement in Afghanistan, continuous socio-economic development and increased domestic stability, as well as cooperation on security and terror issues, and encourages intelligence sharing and cooperation to fight terrorists and extremists on both sides of the border; urges all Afghan regional actors to commit unreservedly to pursuing transparent engagement in the fight against terrorism;

17.  Reiterates the need for the international community to continue its engagement in Afghanistan and to contribute to rebuilding the country, developing the economy and resisting terrorism; welcomes the financial engagements confirmed by the EU and the Member States at the Brussels Conference; calls notably for support for initiatives that address the priority needs of internally displaced and returning refugees;

18.  Recognises the responsibilities of the EU and its Member States to respect the right to seek international protection and to participate in UNHCR resettlement programmes; stresses the right and ability to seek refuge in safe and legal ways as critical for preventing deaths among asylum seekers;

19.  Notes the conclusion of the Joint Way Forward informal readmission agreement between the EU and Afghanistan; regrets the lack of parliamentary oversight and democratic control on the conclusion of this agreement; calls on governments in the region to refrain from the repatriation of Afghans; points out that this is a direct violation of international humanitarian law and that the increasing number of refugees being treated this way only lends strength to terrorist groups and creates more instability in the region; underlines that repatriations to Afghanistan put the lives of returnees at grave risk, in particular those of single persons without a network of family or friends in Afghanistan who stand little chance of survival; underlines that EU assistance and cooperation must be tailored to achieving development and growth in third countries and to reducing and eventually eradicating poverty, and not to incentivising third countries to cooperate on readmission of irregular migrants, to forcibly deterring people from moving, or to stopping flows to Europe (European Parliament resolution of 5 April 2017 on addressing refugee and migrant movements: the role of EU External Action);

20.  Takes note of the decision of the ICC Prosecutor to commence an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since 2003;

21.  Calls on the Afghan authorities to commute all death sentences and to reintroduce a moratorium on executions with a view to achieving the permanent abolition of the death penalty; urges the Government of Afghanistan to implement in full its National Plan on the Elimination of Torture and deplores the reported use of torture and ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees by all sides in Afghanistan;

22.  Expresses its deepest concern over the massive increase in the number of internally displaced people in 2016, with over 600 000 new displacements, which could lead to a massive humanitarian crisis; encourages all parties involved to provide for these vulnerable Afghans, and calls on the Afghan Government to help reintegrate them into Afghan society; stresses that, according to estimates by the Afghan authorities, UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies, over 9.3 million people will have required humanitarian assistance by the end of 2017;

23.  Welcomes the provisional entry into force of the Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development between the European Union and Afghanistan on 1 December 2017, representing the first legally binding framework for relations between the two sides; further encourages the swift ratification of the agreement by EU Member States in order for it to enter into force in full;

24.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States, and the Government and Parliament of Afghanistan.

Remarks by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans

Good morning to all of you. As you know, we’ve discussed migration many times in this press over the last three years. We’ve seen many challenges. With the Member States, international organisations and the NGO’s we’ve worked together, towards security at our borders, better management and control within our borders, and stability beyond our borders.

On the one hand we saw the sad plight of refugees, fleeing from war and persecution but also migrants simply in search of a better life. On the other hand we saw the fact that some of our citizens felt overwhelmed with so many people arriving so suddenly without any certainty that governments had control over it or that Europe had control over it. Without any idea if and when this was going to stop. And with questions about whether our welfare societies might buckle under the strain.

We need to do this for our citizens. We need to be here for our citizens. We need to manage this issue for our citizens. But also for the people who need protection. Let me be very clear. This issue will be with us for at least another generation, if not two. If there is anybody who thinks that if the short term crisis is over, the issue migration can sort of fade into the background, that would be mistaken.

We now need to move from an ad hoc crisis response to structural solutions that can provide a safety net to any EU country that is acutely exposed to very high migration pressures. We have to admit that the instruments such as we have them now, do not provide the answer to that challenge.

Solutions that we need to find must simultaneously protect our common borders, save lives, stop the smugglers, relieve inhumane suffering, give refuge to those in need and return those who have no right to stay; and also solutions that focus on tackling the root causes of migration in close cooperation and partnerships with third countries, especially in Africa.

We need to be realistic: this is an issue that needs policy and needs an integral approach. Migration is and will be a permanent feature of our life. And issues such as climate change, geopolitical upheaval, poor governance, and demographic developments all will have their influence on migratory flows.

And no matter what people may want you to believe: there is no sea wide enough, no fence high enough, to prevent people from coming if desperation takes a hold. If they don’t see any alternative, they will climb even the highest wall. That’s not what we need to do.

Europe is the continent of solidarity, and our doors will remain open for those in need of protection. But we must be able to manage arrivals collectively in an organised and more structural view. The only way we can ensure that those who need protection will receive protection, is if we can also ensure that those who are not entitled to protection return to their places of origin or stay where they belong.

Our citizens deserve to have a robust, resilient, future-oriented European migration policy which is fair to all member states and calls upon all member states to show solidarity and responsibility.

As I alluded to earlier, experience shows that unilateral policies are expensive, erode our mutual trust, harm the Schengen system and ultimately will all fail. Only a truly comprehensive approach by us all, Commission, Parliament, Council and Member States will deliver real results to the challenge of migration.

You know that we have already put many proposals on the table. Out of the main 23 border and migration proposals presented, 15 are still outstanding and need to be adopted. It is essential that Parliament and Council now move forward quickly. Because without all these building blocks – all building blocks are necessary – you cannot have a comprehensive solution. If you leave one or two of the building blocks out that will not work. The others will fail as well.

This then is our contribution we want to make to the debate in the European Council next week and we hope and trust that Heads of State or Government will agree to this path, and give the necessary political impetus.

You know, people in our Member States, they don’t care at all if it’s the Commission, the Parliament or Council that has to make the next move. Because for many we’re all the same. Every Citizens’ Dialogue I do, people say: “Europe is failing us.” They’re not saying: “The Commission is failing us, or the Parliament is failing us or the Council is failing us.” They’re saying collectively we’re not providing the solutions we should be providing. So everyone has to take its responsibility. And we need to do so before a next crisis catches us unawares.

And we have made progress over the years. Our joint efforts to respond to the migration and refugee crisis have led to tangible results, with irregular arrivals significantly down in both the Eastern and the Central Mediterranean.

We have set up in record speed the European Border and Coast Guard to strengthen control of our external borders and provide rapid assistance to Member States who are exposed to severe migratory pressure.

We reached out to partner countries to tackle the root causes of migration. The EU-Turkey Statement has resulted in the reduction of dangerous journeys across the Aegean by 97%, virtually eliminating the tragic loss of life, delivering a blow to the criminal business of the people smugglers.

The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey has ensured that 1 million of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Turkey receive monthly cash transfers. And 2 million Syrian refugees will get access to primary healthcare service.

The launch of the first EU-wide resettlement scheme in July 2015 and the EU-Turkey Statement has offered legal pathways to almost 26,000 people.

But, we’re not there yet. We have been struggling with relocation, with preparing and outfitting refugee accommodation for the winter, with the bad and deteriorating conditions in Libya, with increasing numbers of arrivals from Northern Africa, low returns from Europe and the fact that internal border controls persist.

On a side note let me say that with regard to relocation, we are today referring Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland to the Court, as they have given no indication, even after the reasoned opinion issued last summer, that they will respect their legal obligations and contribute to showing solidarity with Greece and Italy.

So what’s the way forward? We must stay the course and further consolidate our comprehensive migration approach by putting in place the remaining building blocks of the internal and external dimensions of migration policy.

If you put all these bricks together, you have a very strong building. If you leave one brick out, the building will remain weak.

Before the summer of 2016, we’ve put forward a package of instruments to reform the EU’s asylum policy. Everyone agrees on the importance of these reforms – but a year and a half after the proposals were made, the legislative process between the Council and Parliament has not advanced on some parts of the package, and the momentum seems to actually be fading.

The most contested aspect of these reforms is the Dublin Regulation, and more specifically the use of compulsory relocation as an expression of solidarity.

Taking into account positions expressed by the European Parliament and the Council discussions, one way forward could be to adopt an approach where the component of compulsory relocation would apply to situations of serious crisis, while in less challenging situations, relocation would be based on voluntary commitments from Member States. In those situations it could be possible to envisage solidarity being provided in different forms.

The Commission will do its best and play its role in helping the Parliament and Council to reach a compromise that is the right one for this Union and a fair one for all Member States.

In any event, everyone has to pull their weight. For that, the only means for the Union to function is when we share its benefits, share its burdens and help each other in difficult times.

As the Treaty states: the area of border checks, asylum and immigration shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including financial implications, between the Member States.

While we can and should cooperate with third countries to tackle root causes of migration, we cannot control them. But we can determine what goes on in our own house. So let’s get it in order.

Beyond reforming our common European asylum system, there are a number of important things that must be done in parallel to manage migration better. And all those elements require political will, real commitment, and of course money.

We need to consolidate the progress achieved together so far and deliver on the comprehensive reform package by June next year – this is what we propose to EU leaders today.

We understand this won’t be easy. But the only way to confront an issue as complicated and as big as migration, is to find a comprehensive set of solutions that are proportionate to the challenge of getting back to Schengen and finally moving from an ad hoc to a structural approach.

In today’s Communication we set out a step-by-step roadmap of what could be done from now until June next year.

First, the internal dimension. With regard to the asylum reform package: the EU Asylum agency and Eurodac proposals can be adopted by March. The same goes for a political agreement on the Qualification Regulation. This would facilitate reaching political agreement on the Reception Conditions Directive and the Resettlement Framework by May and starting trilogues on the Asylum Procedures Regulation also by May.

In parallel, the broad outlines with regard to solidarity and responsibility in the Dublin Regulation should be identified by April paving the way for an agreement at the meeting of EU leaders in Sofia in May, swiftly followed by a position from the Council to start negotiations, and a final political deal on the overall reform during the June European Council.

Furthermore, we need to complete the pledging exercise for the new resettlement scheme by February, increase returns capacity and commit the necessary assets of staff for the European Border and Coast Guard by March, and launch the first pilot projects on legal migration for key partner countries and agree at least three further readmission arrangements by May.

Then on the external dimension: to ensure full and sustained implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, the next 3 billion Euro allocation should be mobilised soon.

In Libya, the EU must do more – much more – to help protect migrants and refugees, and by February help at least 15,000 persons stranded in Libya to voluntarily return to their countries and carry out 1000 resettlements from Libya to Europe through the UNHCR emergency scheme. By March, the existing funding gap of 340 million Euros to the North Africa Window of our Trust Fund should be closed, with contributions hopefully by all Member States.

By May, we need to adopt the first wave of projects under the European Sustainable Development Fund. The work of the EU-African Union Task Force should be supported too.

In conclusion, by agreeing how to fairly balance and share solidarity and responsibility, the EU can respond to one of the biggest concerns of its citizens.

This will inspire the confidence of our citizens that we can jointly control migration, that we can rebuild mutual trust and secure the unity between our Member States which, ultimately, is our greatest asset.

And most important of all, it will help us continue to see people in need as fellow human beings who deserve European solidarity. Not people to be feared because they disrupt us. People we can help, because they come into a European Union that is able and willing, with all its assets, to make sure that people who seek protection because they flee from war and prosecution actually get that protection.