Ladies and gentlemen, before reviewing today's discussions, I would like to thank once again the Latvian Presidency and Minister Kozlovskis for organizing one more successful Home Affairs Council meeting.
As you know, today's meeting of the Home Affairs Council covered a number of important policy issues.
First, we had an extensive debate on migratory pressures, and in particular on the situation in the central Mediterranean. On 4 March a new accident caused 10 deaths, and a higher death toll was avoided thanks to the prompt reaction of the Italian authorities and Frontex who rescued over 1000 people in just a few days and in very difficult weather conditions. Let me underline that Frontex' role in the rescue operations was decisive; it helped save almost 300 lives. When it comes to Frontex and Triton, let me also remind you that activities of Triton have been extended until at least the end of 2015.
However, we already need to start a serious discussion on how to continue these efforts. The recent events prove how urgent and difficult the migration challenges are for the EU: we have to act swiftly on the basis of a comprehensive approach. This is why the European Commission, has decided to accelerate by 2 months the adoption of the European Agenda on Migration – in other words, we will present the Agenda in May instead of July. We have identified key areas of action, which will be at the core of the upcoming European Agenda on Migration. We also have to reinforce the cooperation with third countries in an integrated approach, encompassing the fight against smuggling but also development assistance and humanitarian actions.
Secondly, we have also discussed the increasing trends in asylum applications from Western Balkans countries and in particular Kosovo, the overwhelming majority of which are unfounded. In 2014 we registered a 45% increase in comparison to 2013 for all six Western Balkan countries (108.583). In the last days I travelled to Belgrade and Pristina where I had constructive discussions all these issues with Serbian and Kosovo political leadership. Thanks to the efforts of Serbia and Kosovo, and the support of the neighbouring countries and FRONTEX we have already noticed a substantial decrease of the influx of asylum-seekers. We nevertheless all agreed that we need, in parallel with the immediate actions and with regional cooperation, to also tackle the problem at its roots and invest in the socio-economic development of the region, in order to reduce the reasons why these people leave in the first place.
I wish to encourage all Member States to further reform their asylum procedures for applicants from the Western Balkans, including by considering where appropriate the safe country of origin concept and allocating extra staff. I have invited the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to regularly monitor and report specifically on the asylum flows from all Western Balkan countries, including Kosovo, and also FRONTEX to continue to monitor closely the situation.
On the Greek Roadmap on Asylum - Ελληνικός οδικός χάρτης για το άσυλο: Τρίτον, συζητήσαμε επίσης τον Ελληνικό οδικό χάρτη για το άσυλο. Η νέα Ελληνίδα Υπουργός μας ενημέρωσε σήμερα για τα επόμενα βήματα που αναμένεται να πραγματοποιηθούν από την κυβέρνηση για την υλοποίηση του οδικού χάρτη και της διαχείρισης της μετανάστευσης στην Ελλάδα. Ο οδικός χάρτης έχει ως στόχο την επείγουσα αντιμετώπιση όλων των βασικών εκκρεμών ζητημάτων του ασύλου και της μετανάστευσης στην Ελλάδα. Κάποια θετικά αποτελέσματα έχουν ήδη επιτευχθεί.
Όμως, πολλές προκλήσεις βρίσκονται μπροστά. Ιδίως, όταν πρόκειται για τη διαθεσιμότητα και τη βιωσιμότητα των ανθρώπινων και οικονομικών πόρων και των κέντρων ανοικτής φιλοξενίας. Το ζήτημα της κράτησης αιτούντων ασύλου πρέπει να αντιμετωπιστεί με ιδιαίτερη προσοχή. Ειδικότερα, η κράτηση μεταναστών υπό ακατάλληλες συνθήκες θα πρέπει να τερματιστεί άμεσα, ειδικά στις περιπτώσεις ασυνόδευτων ανηλίκων. Σε αυτό, εξάλλου, έχει δεσμευτεί η νέα Υπουργός. Η Επιτροπή και οι υπηρεσίες της θα συνεχίσουν να στηρίζουν την Ελλάδα για την αποτελεσματική εξασφάλιση της εφαρμογής του νέου αυτού σχεδιασμού.
Finally, we also had a debate on the existing counter-terrorism framework, which is put to the test in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks. I have updated the Ministers on our counter-terrorism priorities: The Commission is working on the European Agenda on Security with a view to its adoption in April. Countering terrorism will be at the forefront of the Agenda, though the Agenda will cover a much wider spectrum of security-related actions. Countering violent extremism and radicalisation remains an important component of our counter terrorism strategy. It is my intention to establish a stable and long-term Forum at EU level with internet service providers to look at how we can enhance collaboration to address terrorist material on the internet and reduce its radicalising effect I also urged Member States to adopt the necessary measures to effectively tackle recruitment, training and travel to third countries for preparing or committing terrorist acts.
The existing EU borders system already provides many tools to prevent people from leaving and fighting in the Middle East. Since January we have worked closely with Member States, as well as with EEAS, Frontex, Europol and Interpol to agree on common risk indicators that border guard authorities will be using when conducting systematic checks on persons. The list of indicators is being finalised with Europol in the coming weeks and will be implemented with the support of Frontex. In fact, we have recently improved the exchange of information between Member States by using these tools. The Commission is also doing its utmost to facilitate the swift adoption of the EU PNR Directive. The EU PNR proposal is currently under examination in the European Parliament. Our aim is to facilitate the adoption of an effective instrument for the fight against terrorism, which will include a high level of data protection safeguards.
Lastly, in the margins of the Council we have also signed the first Common Agenda for Migration and Mobility with a third country and I am pleased that this happened with Nigeria. This signature is a signal that cooperation between countries of origin and destination of migration is possible in a spirit of mutual responsibility. Cooperation with Nigeria will be particularly important in the fight against human trafficking, as the number of registered Nigerian victims of human trafficking is the highest in non-EU citizens. We are eager to work with the Nigerian authorities to address and prevent this phenomenon and protect the victims.