Montesquieu Instituut: van wetenschap naar samenleving

Speech: Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the Readout of the College Meeting of 20 April 2016

Today the College is presenting three important documents - all related to the most pressing challenges the European Union as a whole faces today:

  • security,
  • migration
  • and Ukraine.

Fragmentation makes us vulnerable. In all of these areas, what the Commission is working towards, is to introduce:

  • more coordination,
  • more solidarity
  • and more unity.

Because it is only together that we will overcome the challenges we collectively face.

Firstly, on security, you heard President Juncker say in this very same room, that in the wake of attacks that have shook Brussels, Madrid, London, Copenhagen and Paris, it is time Europe moved towards a genuine Security Union.

Member States are responsible for ensuring the security of their citizens - that is clear.

But it is equally clear that the transnational threats Europe faces today go beyond national security. The internal security of one Member State is the internal security of the whole Union.

As I said, fragmentation makes us vulnerable. Fragmentation in legal instruments, in operational methods and in mind-sets, prevents us from dealing with terrorism effectively.

And so we need a step change - a change in the mentality of national authorities, of security forces, right down to the last police officer - who should have the same reflex to share relevant information with colleagues over the border, as he would do with fellow officers within his country.

Today the Commission is setting out a roadmap towards a Security Union, building further on the European Agenda on Security I presented almost exactly one year ago, in this room.

This is about connecting all the dots. A lot has happened in the past year, and we have to draw lessons from that. In the past twelve months, we advanced on several actions announced in the European Agenda on Security.

Some legislative initiatives are still under discussion in the European Parliament and in the Council. One example of this is PNR, the Passenger Name Record. I am grateful that after an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament approved the EU PNR Directive, the Council will formally adopt it tomorrow.

Another is Europol's counter terrorism centre, which we launched in January. And by autumn we will bring forward initiatives to strengthen the work of Europol and to upgrade the centre.

This is good progress but there are other elements - key information sharing tools and legislation at European level - that are not progressing fast enough.

The Commission's ambitious proposals on criminalising and sanctioning terrorism and on regulating firearms, for example, are still on the table.  

Other proposals, like the proposal on explosives, have been adopted but not implemented.

In the meantime, we continue our work on radicalisation too. Yes prevention is key, and we will continue all our efforts also on social inclusion. 

But a security-focused approach is also essential: to consistently monitor those who are identified as radicalised individuals and to share this information with other Member States and EU agencies.

It is time to redouble our efforts. European Union Member States continue to suffer from gaps in information-sharing. Our whole approach on information-sharing needs structural rethinking.

I am not going to get into details now, as I already presented our ideas on interoperability two weeks ago. But let me however repeat this: without information-sharing we are fighting terrorism in national silos. It is absolutely critical that we deepen trust.

All these examples show the need for a culture change in law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

We need to move towards a genuine and effective Security Union. But our approach should not only be inward looking: we have to continue working with key third countries, such as Turkey and the Western Balkans in fighting the threat of terrorism at a more global level.

Tomorrow at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, I will present these ideas and discuss with the Ministers how we can best work together to achieve a genuine Security Union.

Secondly, on migration. Here too, fragmentation is what makes us vulnerable. The European Union will only effectively address the refugee crisis by working in concert, with each other and with our third country partners, like Turkey.

We saw that unity emerge when 28 EU Heads of State or Government collectively reached an agreement with Turkey to break the cruel business models of smugglers, by ending the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and replacing it instead with legal channels of resettlement of refugees to the European Union.

Today the Commission published a first report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement and I am pleased to say that progress has been made to operationalise the Statement.

This has been, and continues to be a joint effort and challenge of the Greek and Turkish authorities, the Commission, Member States and EU agencies, as well as international organisations and NGOs.

We have already seen a sharp drop in the number of people crossing irregularly the Aegean from Turkey into Greece, which means that the activities of smugglers in the area have been hit.

As you all know, return operations have started from the Greek islands to Turkey, in parallel with resettlement flights directly from Turkey to EU Member States.

Greek authorities have put in place all the necessary legal and operational arrangements. Turkey has provided the necessary legal assurances for Syrians, and we are in close contacts with the Turkish authorities to make sure that guarantees are there for non-Syrians who need protection as well.

EASO and FRONTEX are already providing substantial additional support to the Greek authorities in the islands. 

We have stepped up implementation of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey to improve conditions for refugees in Turkey.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we are still at the beginning of the work. Improving the conditions for migrants in the facilities in the islands is a top priority for the Commission and we are working together with the Greek authorities to this end. 

The Commission already awarded €30 million to the Greek army to improve conditions and yesterday, the Commission offered €83 million under the new Emergency Assistance Instrument that will go to NGOs working to improve living conditions for refugees in Greece.

Allow me to say here that NGOs and international organisations need to be our partners in these efforts. We all want the same thing.

Another crucial element is stepping up relocations. Today, 56 persons were relocated from Greece to France and 42 persons from Greece to the Netherlands. But we need to see these numbers increase to reach an average of 6,000 per month as I said before.

Around 70% of the more than 50,000 people currently in Greece are eligible for relocation. Greece needs to step up efforts to improve conditions in Greece. Member States need to help by stepping up relocation and resettlement efforts.

Further efforts are also required from Turkey. Turkey notably needs to take the necessary measures to fulfil the remaining benchmarks of the visa liberalisation roadmap by the end of April, with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016.

President Juncker was crystal clear yesterday, and as have I been in the past: no visa liberalisation can be offered if not all benchmarks are met. The Commission will present its third visa liberalisation progress report for Turkey on 4 May.

All in all, we need to remain alert and monitor the entire process closely, particularly when it comes to ensuring rights and appropriate conditions for the most vulnerable, such as women and children.

The Commission remains committed to ensuring that the implementation of all elements happens in full accordance with EU and international law.

Last but not least, I would like to inform you about an important development related to Ukraine. Because here too fragmentation is what makes Europe vulnerable.

Here too we need to remain united and stand by our neighbour and partner Ukraine as Ukraine continues on the path of reforms. 

I am pleased to announce that today the Commission issued a legislative proposal to put Ukraine on the list of visa-free countries in the Visa Regulation. 

In other words, we are implementing our commitment to propose visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports, which we announced in December in the final report on the country's Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.

Our decision is also a recognition of the efforts of the Ukrainian government in meeting all the benchmarks and achieving far-reaching and difficult reforms in the Justice and Home Affairs area and beyond.

The proposal will now be transmitted to the Council and the European Parliament for discussion and adoption.

I sincerely hope that visa free travel for Ukrainian citizens to the EU will become a reality very soon.

Thank you.

SPEECH/16/1505