Happy New Year to all of you; after this very difficult 2015, I hope 2016 will give us some more cause for optimism. Of course this college meeting lasted quite a long time; we had many issues on our agenda today.
Let me start with the issue of Poland. Making sure the rule of law is preserved throughout the Union is a key part of the Commission's responsibilities, alongside the other EU institutions. The rule of law is one of the Union's fundamental values. There have been concerns expressed over recent developments in Poland. As you know we requested information from the Polish authorities, through two letters I sent at the end of last year.
We had a thorough discussion in the college today on these issues. Our debate focused mainly on the situation of the Constitutional Tribunal. It appears that the Constitutional Tribunal took decisions which are not currently being complied with by other institutions of the State; and there are measures that have been taken by the newly-elected Polish legislature that affect its functioning.
Today we have decided that the Commission will carry out a preliminary assessment on this matter under the Rule of Law Framework. We are taking this step in light of the information currently available to us, in particular the fact that binding rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal are currently not respected – which I believe is a serious matter in any rule of law-dominated state.
The purpose of the process we have launched is to clarify the facts in an objective way, assess the situation in more depth and start a dialogue with Polish authorities, without prejudging any possible next steps.
This aims at preventing any situation where the rule of law might be called into question. What we want to do is to make sure that the rule of law is preserved and help find solutions if necessary.
I am also conscious of the recent reform to the media law, which raises issues relating to freedom and pluralism of the media. I would like to recall that the rule of law, as defined in the Rule of Law Framework, requires the respect for democracy and for fundamental rights and that there can be no democracy and respect for fundamental rights without respect for the rule of law and vice versa.
Fundamental rights are effective only if they are justiciable – when they can be enforced in courts. Democracy is protected if the fundamental role of the judiciary, including constitutional courts, can ensure freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and respect of the rules governing the political and electoral processes.
I have just signed a letter to Polish authorities inviting them to start a dialogue on all these questions. I am also ready to go to Warsaw to discuss this with the Polish government.
Let me stress very clearly: this is a cooperative approach by the European Commission. This is how we see our role as guardians of the Treaty – to have a dialogue with the Member State if there is something that needs to be discussed. Our aim is to solve these issues; our aim is not to accuse, to go into a polemic. Our aim is to solve the issues in a rational way based on our legal obligations.
The refugee crisis remains a daunting challenge for Europe. This is another subject we discussed this morning, and it garners much of our attention. We can only solve it together. Let's be very honest – 2016, starting with the next weeks and months, must be dedicated to delivering clear results in terms of regaining control of flows and of our borders – that means adoption of proposals and implementation of agreed approaches. Everything that the Council has decided should also now be applied in Member States and by Member States.
More efforts are needed by all of us. Externally, the EU should focus on the cooperation with priority regions and third countries on tackling root causes, stemming irregular flows to Europe and on returning those who have no right to international protection.
We need to make sure that hotspots are fully operational and that people who arrive are registered and fingerprinted. By the way, we have just notified Greece of our decision to award €1.36m in emergency funding to pay for 90 new fingerprinting machines which should be used to register migrants.
We also need to tackle secondary movements and get the relocation scheme properly off the ground. Less than 300 is not enough, to use the understatement of the year.
It will also be essential that discussions by co-legislators on the European Border and Coast Guard are concluded swiftly.
In 2016 we should return Schengen to its normal functioning by ensuring that Member States do not feel the need to introduce or prolong internal border controls.
I also briefed the college today on my trip to Turkey on Monday. Our partners in the Turkish government agreed with me on the importance of jointly making progress to stem irregular flows to Europe before the next European Council in February.
They also informed me about the measures taken recently to address the 'push' factors which motivate people to leave Turkey and come to Europe. They are introducing in particular work permits to allow Syrian refugees to work, and I also encouraged them to propose projects quickly to support education and healthcare for Syrians in Turkey.
As I have said before, we cannot be satisfied if between 2,000 and 3,000 people arrive each day in Europe. But I was truly encouraged by the proactive and positive attitude of my Turkish counterparts. We will work together to bring the numbers of arrivals down.
We have seen yesterday to what extent Turkey also shares our destiny in terms of being challenged by terrorists; in terms of being challenged by violence that affects innocent people, after the horrible attack in Istanbul yesterday. I want to extend my commiseration to the friends and relatives of those who were killed, and my solidarity and support to the Turkish authorities who have to face these issues.
The college also discussed the initiatives we will take in the year to come. As previously announced, we are reflecting on how to revise the Dublin system; we will put forward a more structured framework for resettlement from third countries, to hit the business model of the people smugglers and to reduce the human misery of irregular migration; without forgetting the legal migration package. And by the end of 2016 the Commission will also present a comprehensive package on migrant smuggling. European solutions are truly the only answers in this crisis.
These new initiatives will help future-proof our migration and asylum system.
But the most important thing now is immediate action. We need to see change now, in the coming weeks and months, starting with fully functioning hotspots, relocations, returns and better protected external borders.