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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos on the migration package adopted by the College ahead of the March European Council

Brussels, 2 March 2017

Dear all,

Today's package shows how we continue to deliver on both the internal and external elements of our comprehensive migration policy. Everything is interlinked. Each element has to be taken forward for the success of our common migration policy.

What we present today is also our contribution to the discussions of the March European Council.

We have made a lot of progress in two years on many different aspects, but more efforts are needed to sustain and improve that progress.

Among all the immediate actions, relocation is our key solidarity measure. Right now around 13,500 have been relocated, but Italy and Greece remain under pressure. At the same time, all the groundwork has been done in Greece and Italy – by their authorities and by the EU agencies.

There are no more excuses for the Member States not to deliver.

It is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September – the moment when both emergency schemes are supposed to end. This means that it entirely depends on the political will and perseverance of Member States to make it happen. Yesterday, I sent a joint letter with the Maltese Minister of Interior to all European Ministers of Interior to ask them to deliver.

The relocation schemes end in September, but the responsibility of Member States to fulfil their obligations does not end there. It is as if you have an outstanding bill: you have to pay it.

In parallel, the EU-Turkey Statement continues to deliver results, and numbers of arrivals remains low. From an average of 1,700 migrants arriving in Greece a year ago, the average today stands at 47 per day.

However, both returns and relocations need to be accelerated in order to reduce the migratory pressure on the Aegean islands. For this, procedures must be speeded up and increased support by Member States and the EU Agencies will be key to achieving this objective.

The same also goes for the further operationalisation of the European Border and Coast Guard. It is a big success. At the same time we still have some gaps, both in terms of human resources and technical equipment – and in particular as regards the return pool and the equipment.

I am glad to confirm that Member States have made all the 1,500 experts needed for the Rapid Reaction Pool available.

Now moving to an important element of our package today: return, which is an integral part of our comprehensive migration policy. An effective return policy starts within the European Union.

Return rates have to be improved. For example, only 36% of return decisions were actually carried out in 2015. But we don't need new legislation or new rules. We need a better implementation of existing rules, in a coordinated way by all Member States.

This is the purpose of our renewed Action Plan and Recommendation today. I want to be very clear: everything we propose and recommend today is fully in line with EU legislation, the existing Return Directive and fundamental rights.

Our aim is to call on Member States to take coordinated actions to implement a fair but efficient return policy.

For example:

  • Member States should ensure that return decisions are quickly issued and enforced, and link the asylum and return decision making processes.
  • Member States should fight abuses of the asylum system, better connect all data systems, and better use the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
  • Member States should use the possibility to place migrants in detention, if there is a risk of absconding and for a sufficient period to be able to complete the return and readmission procedure.
  • Member States should align assisted voluntary return and reintegration packages so there is no "Assisted voluntary return shopping".

Ultimately our aim is to reduce the number of irregular arrivals by making it clear to those migrants who are not in need of protection and who do not have a right to stay in the EU that they should not undertake a perilous journey to arrive in Europe illegally.

The external and internal dimensions go hand in hand if we want to improve return. This is why we are continuing our efforts to engage with third countries on migration.

Under the Partnership Framework, tangible progress has been made with the five African priority countries: Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal.

In particular, we did more to address root causes of migration, assisting stranded migrants and refugees, and in fighting migrant smuggling. Efforts however need to be stepped up by the authorities of these countries, as well as by the EU, on return and readmission. 

In parallel, following up on the Malta Summit of 3 February, we have started engaging with Libya and the neighbouring countries in North Africa to stem the irregular flows in the Central Mediterranean. 

The EU will continue to use all available policies and tools at its disposal to better manage migration in all its aspects. 

Finally, on today's Security Union report: implementation here too is key. If we don't implement what we agree, we don't move forward. We need to urgently move forward in the negotiations and adopt our proposals on the Entry-Exit System and ETIAS, and implement fully the ones that are adopted, like PNR.

On both migration and security issues, we have made considerable progress as a Union. Now is the moment to shift gears and deliver on the outstanding elements.

Thank you.


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