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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos following his visit to Austria

Vienna, 7 September 2015

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my friend, Minister of Interior Johanna Mikl-Leitner, for the warm hospitality, the fruitful discussions, and the excellent cooperation we have developed.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are in the midst of one of the most challenging moments for Europe and for its Member States.

Thousands of desperate people reach our shores and/or try to cross the EU's land borders every day. The vast majority are fleeing conflict, persecution and war, and are trying to reach the EU in search of protection.

This is not a momentary crisis, which will eventually fade away. This is a serious refugee crisis that will continue as long as war and conflict in our neighbourhood also continues.

So let me be clear from the beginning: Europe has a duty to protect those in need.

Offering asylum is not a courtesy. It’s a responsibility stemming not only from our international obligations but, above all, from Europe's humanitarian tradition and core values.

We did not need to see the deaths at sea to remind us that we are human and we have a responsibility to offer help to those in need. We did not need to discover the 71 asphyxiated bodies to realise the magnitude of the crisis.

But these tragic events and the appalling images should be a stark reminder for those who wrongly believe that this crisis does not or should not concern them.

Austria has been directly impacted by the crisis, with the situation reaching a peak this weekend. And I can only praise your country for the relentless efforts to deal with the situation.I also want to praise all the competent authorities at the local, regional and national level for their work in managing this challenge and, of course, the extraordinary coordination efforts of Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner.

My thanks go also to Germany.

Austria's and Germany's generous gesture to welcome refugees, due to the emergency situation in Hungary, and the outpouring of affection and support from citizens, volunteers and NGOs, is an example of European humanity and solidarity.

I think we all understand that the refugee crisis is not just Austrian, Hungarian, Greek, Italian, or German. It’s a European crisis.

Therefore, Europe, as a whole, must provide swift responses to the on-going developments.

That’s why last week I was in Calais, France and in Kos, Greece; that’s why I am here today and why I will go very soon to Germany and Hungary: to put in place the set of actions, which are included in the European Agenda on Migration that we adopted already in May.

Today, I visited the reception centre in Traiskirchen and talked to refugees there.

I would like once again to praise Austria for setting up this reception center where as you can see the refugees are treated in a very human and decent way.

The visit helped me to get a better insight of the hardships of these people and the challenges Austria is confronted with.

But Europe is here, by Austria’s side.

The European Commission is here to support your country in every way possible.

For example, we have already decided to give Austria over 5 million Euros in emergency assistance under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).

This money will be used to support your reception capacity and to increase your administrative capacity for processing asylum requests.

This emergency aid comes as an addition to the 97 million euros already allocated to Austria for the period 2014-2020 for the management of migratory and asylum flows.

In parallel, we are working on a political level to ease the pressure from the Western Balkans route.

To this aim, we will organise in October a conference, where we hope to increase cooperation with the Western Balkan countries and tackle the problem together.

Moreover, the Commission has just launched a region-wide support programme for migration management in the Western Balkans and Turkey, totalling €8 million.

Supporting frontline Member States like Greece and Italy will also have a positive impact on Austria. That’s why we will proceed, in the framework of the European Agenda on Migration, with the relocation schemes to relieve pressure from these countries.

We have also allocated funds and resources to establish ‘hotspots’ in these two countries to help with immediately identifying and fingerprinting the incoming migrants.

This is a precondition for a successful implementation of the relocation and return mechanisms.

We have also offered Hungary manifold support and we hope the Hungarian authorities will accept it, in a spirit of cooperation.

I am also well aware that the current Dublin system needs to be thoroughly reassessed. In a few months, the Commission will begin the review process to identify the problems and shortcomings. And, as I have said before, I stand ready to make the necessary improvements.

In the meantime, it is essential that Member States show solidarity in the current circumstances and do their part for the implementation of the relocation scheme.

The European Commission is doing its part.

And as a follow-up to the European Agenda on Migration, we have been working day and night in the last few weeks, preparing an elaborate package of further concrete measures. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, will present these measures on Wednesday at his State of the Union speech in front of the European Parliament.

I count on the Member States to support them.

One final, but important, point:

We must do everything in our power to win the war we have declared against the smugglers. But in order to win, we must work all together. We must pool all our available resources and strengthen our EU-wide cooperation. Just a few minutes ago, your experts shared with me your best practices in combating smuggling, and I wish to congratulate them for the excellent work they are doing. It’s a tangible example of Austria’s support for our Action Plan to combat smuggling.

Dear friends,

The refugee crisis is not somewhere far away. It is happening right in front of us. It’s knocking the door of one EU Member State after the other.

No Member State can address in the EU can address this issue alone.

We can only overcome this crisis if we act as a true Union; if we act with responsibility and solidarity.

Europe cannot and will not turn its back on the Member States in need of support or the people in need of protection. Anything less would be unworthy of the principles and values on which our common European project was built on.

SPEECH/15/5605

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