Strasbourg, 9 September 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The refugee crisis and our response to it is a crash test for the European Union.
A crash test for the Union's credibility.
It is and must be our priority as also confirmed today by President Juncker.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The last months have shown that this not a temporary crisis that will soon go away.
This is a real humanitarian crisis with no immediate end in sight.
As the refugee crisis around Europe becomes bigger, our answers need to become bolder, more comprehensive and more ambitious.
So today our proposals are concrete measures that can help to tackle all the main challenges we are confronted with.
The events of this summer have shown that this challenge cannot be managed only by what we call ‘frontline countries’ because, in fact, the ‘frontlines’ are constantly shifting.
If there was ever a moment where we would absolutely need a European approach for managing migration, now is that moment.
That’s why one of our first measures in today’s package is to relocate from Italy, Greece and Hungary across the EU 120.000 people fleeing war, persecution, oppression and chaos, using a fair and objective distribution key.
This new proposal comes on top of what we tabled before the summer to relocate 40.000 persons from Italy and Greece.
But it is not just about now.
The current crisis has taught us that Europe is not well equipped to manage sudden and extraordinary surges of refugee inflows.
We need structural solutions to face such events.
That's why we propose to establish a permanent crisis relocation mechanism.
The mechanism can be activated when one or more Member States are confronted with disproportionate inflows of third-country nationals, which put significant strains on their asylum systems.
This will reinforce the capacity of the EU to intervene faster.
In parallel with increasing our support to guarantee shelter for those in need of protection, we have to make sure that those who do not have the right to stay in the EU are promptly returned.
This brings me to the third proposal that we are putting forward today: the introduction of an EU list of safe countries, including, as a first step, the Western Balkan countries and Turkey.
Last year, nationals from these countries submitted more than 100.000 asylum requests in EU countries - almost 20% of all the applications filed in the European Union – while only a few were recognized.
This is a heavy burden on the EU's national asylum systems.
This list will allow Member States to devote greater resources to protecting those in need and to return swiftly those applicants with no rightful claim to asylum.
In fact, currently, only 40% of irregular migrants are effectively returned.
This is not acceptable and it is not sustainable.
That is why our European Return Program aims at fostering a more streamlined European return policy.
Here we set out a list of actions to support greater operational cooperation among Member States and stress the need to find leverages in our relations with third countries so that they readmit their nationals.
In the meantime, we will continue to put in motion all the other initiatives, we announced in the framework of the European Agenda on migration. We will now focus on:
- Integration and the access of asylum seekers in the labour markets. This important for the cohesion of our society;
- Border management and in particular Border and Coast guards to improve the security of our external borders;
- Open legal avenues to Europe to resettle refugees and to attract skilled migrants.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
From the moment I took office as the Migration Commissioner, we started planning, adopting and implementing this European Agenda on Migration.
Things have moved fast since then. Migration flows have increased, mind sets have also shifted.
Let me share a few thoughts from my recent visit to France,
Greece and Austria.
I encourage each and every politician, government official and citizen who believes that their country should not be concerned, to pay a visit to the asylum reception facilities of these or other countries.
And I will go to Germany and Hungary next week.
I met children, women, young boys and elderly people from dozens of countries.
Their treacherous journeys have consumed their bodies and minds.
Their eyes tell appalling and terrible stories that often cannot be revealed but will never be forgotten.
But you can also see in their eyes, glimmers of hope.
They have hope because now they are in Europe. They are safe, protected and respected.
The refugee crisis is not somewhere far away. It’s knocking on the door of one EU Member State after the other.
Europe can count on the Commission's commitment to make sure that we do not turn our backs to the Member States that need support or to the people that need protection.