Statement by State Secretary Gun-Britt Andersson at the joint Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum CIREA/CIREFI meeting on Statistics, Brussels 4 April 2001.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Swedish Presidency I would like to welcome you all to this joint expert meeting on statistics. I am glad that we are all gathered here - participants from EU Member States, from candidate countries and associated countries, from the Commission, UNHCR, IGC (Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies) and Europol.

The objective of this meeting is to bring together for the first time both senior officials and statistical experts in an effort to strengthen our common capacity for analysis and exchange of statistical information.

I think the time is ripe to evaluate our needs, accomplishments and further challenges in the area of asylum and migration statistics. We need to sum up what has been done so far by the Commission and in the European Union Council Working Groups. We also need to forge links to the work of other international organisations and try to increase quality and efficiency in the exchange of statistical information. We are very pleased with the strong response that we have had from the Commission to our initiative to raise statistical issues during our Presidency.

Why is this meeting important? Let me give you some arguments by answering the following three questions:

1. Why do we need common and comparable statistics?
2. How can we achieve more openness and transparency?
3. How can we improve cooperation among national authorities and
international organisations?

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1. Why do we need common and comparable statistics?

Building on the Amsterdam Treaty, the Vienna Action Plan adopted by the European Council in 1998 listed the action needed for the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union. The Tampere Conclusions in 1999 further stressed four aims of cooperation in the field of asylum and migration, namely partnership with countries of origin, development of a common European asylum system, fair treatment of third country nationals and management of migration flows.

We have put ourselves the aim to achieve substantial progress in the area of asylum and migration in accordance with the Scoreboard presented by the European Commission. A wide range of legislative acts needs to be concluded before 2004.

Improved common statistics in this context is not only an aim in itself.
It is a tool that can serve the purpose of enhancing cooperation and coordination among Member States and developing common policy in this area. Common analysis will make easier the linkages between statistics and the concrete needs arising from Community regulation.

Looking back on previous achievements in the area of statistics and information exchange, the Commission's Action Plan for Statistics from 1998 has been extremely valuable for the collection and improved comparability of statistics on asylum and migra-tion. I would like to thank the Commission as well as the Austrian, German, Finnish, Portuguese and French presidencies. They have carried cooperation on statistics forward since the establishment of the Action Plan.

In close cooperation with the Commission, EU Member States have developed common definitions and technical means of information exchange. This work has mainly been carried out within the Council working groups CIREA and CIREFI. The introduction of CIREA and CIREFI statistical reports has been valuable.

However, there is still room for further improvements by inter alia, introducing an annual statistical report including analysis of trends and indicators and by introducing electronic dissemination of data. The establishment of a secure internet web-site would be of great value. An annual expert meeting could bring together statistical experts from CIREA, CIREFI and the Commission in order to evaluate progress to date and to discuss further developments. The development of a new Action Plan for
Statistics would be of great help in order to intensify this work. We need a clear time-table for further progress, including information exchange with candidate counties and partner countries. I hope that today's meeting will give us some further ideas about how we can make further progress.

2. How can we achieve more openness and transparency?

I am looking forward to the discussions on openness and transparency at our meeting today. As far as I know from the analysis of the statistics questionnaire that was distributed among EU Member States, a majority is in favour of making statistical data available to the public through an annual printed report. Of course, there may be exceptions on grounds relating to national security and protec-tion of the rights and freedoms of individuals, in particular the right to privacy. As the quality of some
of the data is still doubtful, that may also necessitate some restrictions. Openness and transparency must be the general principle.

Nevertheless, the residents of the EU have the right to get access to proper data on migration and asylum issues. It is our duty to provide them with data in this area, just as in all other areas of Community policy. I think that we who are responsible for statistics, must acknowledge the political importance of openness in this field. There are many misconceptions among the public about the number of asylum seekers - how
many are allowed to stay, how many immigrants there are in Member States, how large the emigration is or how serious the illegal migration may be. We need to avoid groundless fears of mass immigration, as well as accusations of a Fortress Europe being established. The best way as I see it, is to provide the public debate with clear facts and figures.

3. How can we improve cooperation among national authorities and international organisations?

As senior officials and statistical experts, we face demands of reports and receive plenty of statistical reports and data from a variety of countries' national authorities and international organisations. However, there are several disadvantages of the current state of affairs.

Duplication of work is one such disadvantage. A number of international organisations are collecting very similar data. From the European Union perspective, I think that the Commission should to a larger extent become the central agent of data collection. The Commission could also play a significant role in coordinating data collection with other international data collectors such as OECD, ILO, UN, UNHCR and IGC.

There is also a need for swift and reliable data supply from Member States in order to enhance quality and to make data reports more reliable. The Commission could play a more active role in establishing a network of national statistical contact persons who are responsible for the supply of data according to the agreed formats. This network of contact persons could also be used for data delivery to other international organisations.

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Finally, I think that it is imperative that continuous and systematic efforts are made in order to make progress at the necessary speed so that statistics can be a support for common policy development in this area.
Let me sum up what could be the main objectives of a work programme on statistics:

1. Development of a new Action Plan on statistics, whereby information exchange is further adjusted to the development of common policy in this area and to provide a basis for an public democratic debate on matters of asylum and migration.
2. An annual, printed and public report including analysis and statistics from CIREA, CIREFI and Commission demographic data collections.
3. Quick electronic dissemination of statistics, partly through a secure internet web-site for Member States.
4. A yearly expert meeting to further develop and evaluate statistics cooperation in the European Union
5. Strengthening the role of The Commission as the central agent for asylum and migration statistics
6. Improving coordination and cooperation among national authorities and international organisations.

The intention of the Swedish Presidency is to follow up today's expert meeting with further discussions within SCIFA, CIREA and CIREFI. We aim to conclude the Swedish Presidency at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in May, by adopting Conclusions on Progress Regarding Statistics on Asylum and Migration. I hope that this outcome will be followed up by the Belgian and other presidencies in the relevant Council's working groups.

Finally, I wish you all a good meeting and hope that we will be able to make important progress in strengthening our common capacity for analysis and exchange of statistical information.

Thank you very much!