A call for collective courage on migration: President Juncker & Commissioner Avramopoulos

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A call for collective courage on migration: President Juncker & Commissioner AvramopoulosIn an op-ed published last week, European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker has taken stock of the recent developments in the migration crisis and of the ways Member States have been tackling it.

President Juncker expressed his deep concern in seeing Europe move away from its traditional values of tolerance and hospitality towards those in need: “Europe for me is and always has been a community of values. […] We will never turn people away when they come to us in need of protection. These principles are inscribed in our laws and our Treaties but I am worried that they are increasingly absent from our hearts.”

According to President Juncker, this lack of empathy is mostly due to the inability of some sections of the public to grasp the human tragedies behind the migration flux: “When we talk about migration we are talking about people. People like you or I, except they are not like you or I because they did not have the good fortune to be born in one of the richest and most stable regions of the world. We are talking about people who have had to flee from war in Syria, the ISIS terror in Libya and dictatorship in Eritrea.”

“This lack of empathy brings about resentment, rejection and fear, which result in violent and brutal reactions: Setting fire to refugee camps, pushing back boats from piers, physical violence inflicted upon asylum seekers or turning a blind eye to poor and helpless people: that is not Europe.”

According to President Juncker, some European politicians are accomplices of these episodes of intolerance in as much as they exploit these waves of populism for electoral purposes: “What worries me is to hear politicians from left to right nourishing a populism that brings only anger and not solutions. Hate speech and rash statements that threaten one of our very greatest achievements – the Schengen area and the absence of internal borders: that is not Europe.”

“Despite this despicable tendency, there are many citizens that are being faithful to Europe’s original values.” President Juncker said, “Europe is the pensioners in Calais who play music and charge the phones of migrants wanting to call home. Europe is the students in Siegen who open up their campus to accommodate asylum seekers who have no roof over their head. Europe is the baker in Kos who gives away his bread to hungry and weary souls. This is the Europe I want to live in.”

President Juncker said that he of course recognised the complexity of the migration problem, and the lack of a simple and single answer thereof. “But what is clear is that there are no national solutions. No EU Member State can effectively address migration alone. We need a strong, European approach. And we need it now.”

President Juncker listed the initiatives put forward by the European Commission in its Agenda for Migration, such as the proposals for a common asylum and refugee policy, the increased presence of rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea, the assistance offered to the most affected Member States. “When we have common external borders, we cannot leave frontline Member States alone. We have to show solidarity in our migration policy.”

Some of the measures proposed by the Commission have already found support, said President Juncker, but he urged for all the others to be urgently taken up by all EU Member States – even those who have until now remained reluctant to do so.

“We do not need another extraordinary summit of heads of state and government. We have had many summits, and we will meet again in November in Malta. […] What we need, and what we are sadly still lacking, is the collective courage to follow through on our commitments – even when they are not easy; even when they are not popular.”

Very similar positions were put forward by Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, in a recent interview to French newspaper Le Monde.

The non-negotiable nature of Schengen, ensuring the free circulation of European citizens, was one of the first points touched upon by the Commissioner. “The Schengen Area is one of the most tangible EU achievements” said Avramopoulos, “(it) is not negotiable and must be kept out of the discussions.”

Confronted with figures showing a dramatic increase in the flux of asylum seekers towards Europe, Commissioner Avramopoulos recognised the impossibility to reverse such a trend: “These people will continue to escape from persecutions, violence and extreme poverty to protect and ensure a future to their families. […] The question today is not how we can stop this migratory flux, but rather which is the best way to manage it.”

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, migration has become the top challenge for European citizens, even surpassing their concerns about the economic recession. For Avramapoulos, “this unanimity proves that the migratory crisis can be effectively tackled only at a European level.”

In May 2015, the European Commission adopted a detailed Agenda on Migration, putting forward key principles and actions for the period 2015-2020. “However, full and unconditional backing from all Member States is needed, for this ambitious vision to succeed.”

“Having some Member States refused the compulsory quota mechanism proposed by the Commission to relocate 40,000 asylum-seekers,” the Commissioner said that he was disappointed in seeing that the much-needed European cohesion is far from being reached. “These last months, some countries did not seem to share this point of view, but we need to adopt more courageous policies and show more solidarity and responsibility on the field. […] In all States, the same rules need apply. All States must take on their share of responsibility”.

Avramapoulos believes that populist internal pressures are the reason why some countries are shying away from their responsibilities, in fear of future electoral concerns: “Fear should never be the driving force of politics,” said the Commissioner. “This is why [the Commission] is going to propose a permanent burden-sharing mechanism by the end of this year, one that will place responsibility and solidarity at the forefront. […] We need to take decisions and put Member States in front of their own responsibilities. And, first of all, we need to end this ridiculous blame-game [many European ministers complained about the slow reaction of the EU to the migration crisis].”

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