Speech by Commissioner Avramopoulos at "Brussels Days Europe" at BOZAR, 19/11/2015

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19 Nov 2015
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Brussels, 19 November 2015


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Migration is at the heart of the concerns of many of Europe's citizens.

It is therefore very well linked to this year's conference on a Europe of "the last chance".

Migration can be a driver for more Europe - and this is precisely what is at stake today.

It is a topic that I have been entrusted with one year ago, by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to be the first European Commissioner for Migration

Today is the moment to look back on our first year, but also to look ahead.

What I see today, is that the basic principles of solidarity and unity are at stake, not only for the European Union, but for the entire international community.

The challenges we face are in our immediate neighbourhood, but they need global solutions.

Since the 1st of January 2015 more than 700,000 desperate people have reached Europe via the shores of Italy and Greece. More will come as long as our neighbourhood is in turmoil.

It is true to say that many in Europe were caught by surprise by the scale of the arrivals.

But much has changed, and we have done a lot to prepare Europe for the current situation.

For the first time in the history of European migration policy, we have agreed to share 160,000 people in need of protection arriving in Greece and Italy across other Member States. 

We have also agreed to resettle 22,500 refugees from outside of Europe, and we have adopted Action Plans to send home those migrants with no right to asylum and to fight against the evil smuggling networks that trade in desperation and death.

Right now, we are preparing proposals to improve and increase the shared management of our external European borders, as well as to improve legal migration channels and immigrant integration.

In parallel, we are creating new synergies of collaboration with key third countries in the Western Balkans, with Turkey, and with Africa to tackle the root causes and manage flows better.

It has become clearer than ever that no country, or even continent, can address this issue alone.

We need global resettlements and a global response to the root causes.

For the first time since the Second World War, global powers must come together to find common answers to an era of forced displacement.

Not only do we need greater commitments, we also need countries to keep their promises and deliver what they signed up to.

We may have an agreement to relocate 160,000 people in urgent need of protection across the EU but we have not even actually relocated 1% of the total so far!

Countries need to stop playing the “you move I move” game, or the chicken or the egg game.

There is no first or second, no either/or. There is only “us” and “together” here.

We can only move ahead and truly address the ongoing refugee crisis if everyone takes up their responsibility.

Unfortunately, while post-war Europe was throwing off the shackles of nationalism, we are witnessing a revival of these trends today.

Some in Europe today want to hide behind national solutions, and xenophobic and populist rhetoric can be heard again.

Over the last few decades we have fought continuously to bring down exactly that what has been dividing us.

We have brought down walls and fences – only to see that some are erecting them again.

Those who do this are oblivious to the resilience and determination of those who are fleeing real war and persecution, those who are risking their lives for a safe haven – they will not be stopped by walls or fences.

And they should not be stopped by them: these are not our enemies and we are not a Fortress Europe.

These are human beings that need our protection, and that we have a moral and legal obligation to provide.

I still remember as a young student, travelling around Europe, that I needed my passport everywhere, the queuing, the collection of stamps, the administrative burden of crossing borders within Europe.

The Schengen area in Europe is the largest area of free movement globally without border controls.

It is one of the greatest achievements of this Union.

Some of you in this room may take it for granted, because you have never known anything else.

It is in times like these that I realise that we cannot take this or other great achievements for granted.

We live in an era where more than 60 million people are displaced, forced to flee their home.

At the same time, there are several thousands of young people who have a safe home, here in Europe, but flee it in search of a different, violent sense of identity and belonging.

The atrocities in Paris on Friday have deeply shocked and shaken Europe.

We all feel very connected to our French neighbours, not least here in Belgium and Brussels.

While investigations are still ongoing,

I cannot help but see that most of the recent perpetrators of attacks, including Paris, were EU citizens, born, bred and radicalised in Europe.

While the pathways to radicalisation are complex,

we have to be honest and face the result of several decades of lacking inclusion and integration policies for those who have arrived one or even two generations ago.

These are our citizens, and therefore also our responsibility.

We cannot fall prey to populism and division.

Some voices have already linked refugees to terrorism.

But it is precisely these terrorists that the refugees coming to our shores are fleeing from.

If we give in to questioning the misery of refugees, and their need of our help, then we are precisely giving in to the fear and psychosis that those terrorists want to incite in our societies.

We should also not allow these terrorists to create division within our own societies, between our own communities.

We have already witnessed increasing migratory flows in the past century, but I believe historians will really remember the 21st century as the era of human mobility.

This means not only that migration as a phenomenon is here to stay, but that we will have more of it in the future, in different forms, and that our societies are going to become increasingly diverse and heterogeneous.

Looking ahead, what we urgently need in Europe is leadership, a revival of the European dream and more humanity.

We need more leadership and courage to follow through on our commitments and to remain bold in the future. 

We need to overcome the fear of change and the fear of taking on our humanitarian responsibilities.

We need more consciousness for the European principles and values, as engrained in free movement and Schengen, in our asylum policy standards, and in our rights for freedom of speech and religion.

Instead of taking them for granted, we should continue defending them and inspire others to uphold them.

We need more understanding for our fellow European citizens and their concerns, more humanity for the desperate people looking for a safe haven today, and more solidarity for our neighbours and partners who are facing the same challenges.

We have to answer the question: how do we want to be remembered in the future?

As cowards who didn't dare to find a common response?

Or as determined guardians of our common abilities and achievements?

I have been a believer and fighter for the European project since I was a teenager.

I could not have imagined that at the pinnacle of European integration, the very core of the European project would be at stake.

If we close our borders, if we persecute the different, if we fail to integrate the different, if we refuse our help to people who flee from war and tyranny, if we go back to the darkest periods of Europe, we forsake what it means to be truly European.

We are at an historic crossroads for the future of Europe, the kind of Europe that we want to live in.

The real question, dear friends, is not about an open or a closed Europe. It is not even about more or less Europe.

In essence, it is about a united or divided Europe.

We cannot afford to fail.

The only answer is a European one, as a true Union.

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