Speech by Avramopoulos at the Warwick University on how the EU responded to the recent migration crisis and the mechanisms that have been put in place in order to manage similar future crisis, 4/2/2020

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17 Feb 2020
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be with you here today, to speak at this great institution of learning and excellence.

I would like first to express my thanks to Warwick University and especially the European Society for inviting me to this very timely discussion on how the EU responded to the recent migration crisis and the mechanisms that have been put in place in order to manage similar future crisis.

The past five years the European Union confronted huge challenges in various issues such as climate change, migration, terrorism and Brexit. 

Europe had and still has both the ability and the political will to provide answers to those. Almost five years later, when we look back, I am reassured of that.

The migration crisis coincided with several terrorist attacks on European soil.  Both phenomena have put into question Europe's unity and fundamental principles.

At that time Europe and its Member States were taken by surprise. It was my duty, as the European Commissioner responsible for Migration and Security, to build everything almost from scratch. 

Today, we are not where we were five years ago. But still, a lot has to be done.  Both issues will be here for many years but now Europe is better prepared.

While of course our joint work is not finished yet, we can safely look back and acknowledge that collectively we have built the strong foundations of a Security Union and of a revamped border and migration management structure.

Confronted with an inflow of irregular arrivals through the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 there was no consolidated European border agency, no hotspots or an operational presence on the ground from the EU. 

The European asylum system was no longer fit for purpose. 

Our Information systems didn’t talk to each other and our approach in engaging with non-EU countries on this issue was fragmented.

A perfect storm – coming just after a deep and protracted financial crisis that already created mistrust in institutions and politicians, and created the conditions for populism to flourish.

It was clear that both on migration and on internal security, business as usual was no longer a viable option. 

Europe had to become more operational in its support to Member States.

The Member States themselves had to understand first  that the world around us is changing. 

That globalization and the geopolitical instabilities around the globe have moved humanity into an era of human mobility. 

More than 70 million people forcibly displaced and an estimated 260 million migrants around the globe are testament to this.

So the question that arises here is “What have we done to address these challenges”?  We have done a series of actions.

First of all, hotspots have been established as an operational model to quickly and efficiently respond in Member-States under pressure. 

We put in place the EU-Turkey statement and as a result the flows have dropped dramatically.

More than 2.300 officers are deployed from the European Border and Coast Guard, the European Asylum Support Office and Europol combined, at land and at sea in Member States under pressure. 

Over €11 billion in the EU's internal funding has been dedicated to migration and border management. 

Almost 35.000 people have been relocated within the EU from Italy and Greece, and on top of that more than 1.100 people have been relocated since summer 2018 under voluntary relocations. 

Almost 63.000 refugees have been effectively resettled to the EU, and Member States have pledged another 30.000 resettlements for next year. 

An up and running European Border and Coast Guard is being reformed as we speak to have a standing corps of 10.000 operational staff.

We significantly improved our border management: We have tabled a full range of measures aiming at better protection and efficient management of the borders: on the European Border and Coast Guard, on the systematic checks at the borders and on the Entry-Exit System.

Collectively, we have made the EU better equipped to deal with current and future migration challenges.

These initiatives strengthened our external borders and improved their management. 

Both in terms of migration, but also in terms of security in the Schengen area.

Along the way, we have increasingly come to realize that this work is not only limited to what we do within our own borders. 

The 21st century will be remembered as the era of human mobility. 

This is a global challenge, as we mentioned earlier, that we must manage with our partners. 

This is why in much of the work that we have accomplished these past years – political, operational and financial – the internal and external dimensions were more interlinked than ever before.

Whether this has been our cooperation with Turkey and the Middle East, our African partners, or our support to the Syrian crisis– this has never been just about money or financial support.

This has been about addressing root causes, reducing irregular and dangerous journeys, and directly helping vulnerable migrants and refugees on the ground.

In Turkey, we have supported almost 1.7 million refugees on a daily basis. 

The EU Trust Fund for Africa has offered basic support to over 5 million vulnerable people through 210 projects in 26 countries. 

And the EU's Regional Trust Fund for Syria has delivered over 75 projects worth more than €1.6 billion, focused on areas including education, livelihoods, health, and socio-economic support.

However, I cannot stress enough how essential the cooperation with certain African partners has been to truly fight, prosecute and nip these criminal operations in the bud. 

These partnerships have helped to curb the activities of smugglers and traffickers there.

We have also proposed to reform our asylum system to be able to better offer protection to those who really need it for as long as they need it, whilst limiting abuses, secondary movements and asylum shopping. 

This of course also means returning to their home countries those migrants who crossed our borders illegally and are not in need or protection. These are facts. 

These are actions that have a tangible impact on individual lives as well as on societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

The Juncker Commission made security a priority from day one. 

The European Agenda on Security, which I presented in 2015, has been our guiding principle and we have been working the past years to build an effective and genuine Security Union. 

The EU had to respond to a security crisis. 

Since the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, and subsequent terrorist acts in a number of other Member States, it has become painfully clear how important cross-border law enforcement collaboration is.

The nexus of security, border and migration management is information: how we manage and how we share this information, which is our strongest defence against terrorism. 

This is another lesson of the recent past. Better information exchange is indispensable.

The past five years we put several instruments in place at European level – like the European Counter Terrorism Centre at Europol, the Schengen Information 

System, my proposal on the exchange of Passenger Name Records (PNR), the Entry-Exit System, and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). 

We worked also on the interoperability of all these systems. 

So, if a red flag appears for one person arriving at a border crossing, not only will we be able to prevent that person from entering there, but we will be able to prevent that person from entering anywhere in the EU, because all systems will see that red flag.

Beefing up the border went hand in hand with a whole range of actions to step up security.

Internal security in the EU in 2014 was in a different era.

National silos, a lack of trust between Member States, little information being shared. 

In the beginning, all Member States wanted to take information, but they were not very willing to share it.  

And we changed this mentality. For me it was a success story.

Only together could we be less vulnerable. 

A Security Union in Europe, with collective action to build up our defences and our resilience. To close down the space in which terrorists operate and deny them of the means to act. 

With strong restrictive measures against firearms, explosives and terrorist financing.

With operational support and funding to protect public places, to defend against chemical and biological threats, and to strengthen aviation security.

Moreover, we have stepped-up our fight against criminal organized networks of smugglers, who are profiting from vulnerable people, endangering their lives, and contributing to irregular migration flows, including through our European Migration Smuggling Centre at Europol.

With reinforced operational agencies, such as Europol, that have the expertise and resources now to become the nerve centers of our security framework, and can support Member States’ work, on a daily basis, on the ground.

Through this work, improvements have been notable. A general decrease in attacks. Many attacks foiled by our security agencies. 

In the last few years we saw a change in the nature of the attacks across the globe– from organized and directed, to the lone wolf, radicalized overnight on the Internet.

And here is where we need to focus our energy and achieve better results. The horror of Christchurch, New Zealand, is a powerful reminder for all of us. 

That is precisely the reason why we, already last September, decided to act and proposed strong legislation to curb the misuse of social media to spread terror. 

Takedowns of terrorist content within one hour and proactive measures to stop the re-appearance of terrorist content on-line.

Specifically, on the terrorist content online, I would like to highlight the role of the EU Internet Forum. 

One of my main initiatives for the removal of the terrorist content online that brought together for first time the internet industry, the Commission, the EU governments and Europol. 

I feel proud that during my mandate as Commissioner, not only have I established this Forum, but it has developed into a dynamic platform for exchanges, which has led to concrete actions and results against terrorism and violent extremism online.

This is rewarding but at the same time it increases expectations for the future. 

A while back, nobody would dare talk about cooperation between internet companies and governments or law enforcement to reduce terrorist content online.

Five years ago, we could not imagine  that this Forum would succeed to gather so many industry partners around the table with one common goal: to address and counter the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes.

In Year 1, 2015, we established an efficient referral mechanism through Europol: the EU Internet Referral Unit. More than 120,00 pieces of content were identified and removed.

In Year 2, 2016, we announced the database of hashes, to make removals permanent and irreversible. 

More than 200,000 hashes now populate the database. 

In Year 3 and 4, 2017 and 2018, we harnessed Artificial Intelligence in the fight against terrorism. Facebook, Google and Twitter report around 99% of automated removals.

The last year, we moved forward with the development of the EU Crisis Protocol – a rapid response to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

For all this effort, I am thankful to the platforms that have joined their forces with ours. 

This is our preferred way: to work together, with trust, and to continue working in this way to take our cooperation further. 

The EU Internet Forum was the blueprint for many other success stories such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).  

The work within the EU Internet Forum shows that our collective determination, joint expertise and resources lead to innovative solutions and concrete results for the protection of our citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

We have built important foundations over the past years to better protect our citizens, to build a stronger and more united Europe.

I do not wish you to get me wrong.  I do not want to present the “ideal image”. 

Yes, when you look at the big picture, the situation is much better. This is the honest story, which is not yet finished. 

But it is also a story that cannot be unwritten either. 

What we have achieved and accomplished over the past 5 years, cannot be undone.

Our Union today is better equipped to face the future when it comes to challenges such as migration and security. 

Because here we have to be honest too: the phenomenon of migration will be with us for some time to come.

The question will never be how to stop it, but how to better manage it.

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