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26th Jan 2020

Malmstrom pledges 'humane' asylum policies

  • Cecilia Malmstrom: She won't be the 'bad cop' in the EU commission (Photo: European Parliament)

Sweden's EU affairs minister, Cecilia Malmstrom, has pledged to focus on migrants' rights to the same extent as border security and law enforcement, if approved by MEPs as home affairs commissioner.

Ms Malmstrom, a former centrist MEP turned minister who helped steer the Swedish EU presidency in the second half of 2009, will be the first commissioner dedicated solely to home affairs issues. In the outgoing commission, the portfolio includes justice, home affairs and civil liberties.

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Under a political agreement last year surrounding Jose Manuel Barroso's appointment for a second mandate at the helm of the EU commission, the portfolio will be split into home affairs on the one hand and justice, fundamental rights and citizenship on the other.

The Swedish Liberal said this would not mean she'll get the "bad cop" role, while Viviane Reding, in charge of justice and human rights, will be the "good cop."

"I have worked with human rights all my life. I assure you, I wouldn't have taken up this job if I wasn't confident of being able to put a strong imprint of fundamental rights [upon it]," she argued.

On migration, which "has been with us since Adam and Eve," Ms Malmstrom said she was in favour of strengthening the capabilities of Frontex, the bloc's Warsaw-based border management agency, for instance, in providing its staff with their own equipment, so that they don't need to rely so heavily on member states' border assistance.

"Frontex should also play a role in educating on human rights and return of migrants," she said.

In her view, the EU commission should ensure more "humane" migration policies, emphasising the rights of asylum seekers while at the same time fighting organised human trafficking.

In typical Swedish fashion, Ms Malmstrom said she was committed to openness and transparency, better communication with the public and to "European Commission proposals that are more readable."

The three-hour long grilling, which she later compared to "being in a washing machine at [the] highest speed" also included topical questions on issues such as seasonal workers, an area in which the candidate raised the white flag.

"I am not superwoman, but I will try to do my best," she said, while noting that the parliamentary committee she was talking to now has "almost full co-decision rights" in her new policy field.

Swift deal

One area where MEPs are likely to collide with Ms Malmstrom and the EU presidency will be a bank data transfer deal between the EU and US.

She defended the so-called Swift agreement negotiated during the Swedish EU presidency, allowing American investigators to scrutinise European bank transactions as part of anti-terrorist investigations. "Swift is useful. I have examples of individuals arrested in the UK and Germany, thus thwarting potential attacks," she said.

An interim deal comes into force on 1 February, but a final one will have to be negotiated by the end of October, together with the EU parliament.

On the political side, as a Liberal, Ms Malmstrom faced some tough grilling from German centre-right MEP Manfred Weber, who said he was disappointed at her presentation because it focused too much on human rights and too little on security issues, pointing out that she was a home affairs commissioner, while civil liberties were in the area of Ms Reding.

Applause

The Swedish politician replied that security and rights are not contradictory, while pledging that would always stand up for human rights, to the applause of the audience.

A political agreement between the parliament's main groups is expected on Thursday on all EU commission candidates. Following the resignation of the Bulgarian nominee, Rumiana Jeleva, who was part of the centre-right European People's Party, one or two other candidates from the Socialist and Liberal family, respectively, may also fall.

The vote on the entire Barroso II team has now been re-scheduled for 9 February.

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