Top EU migration official insists policy revision imperative

Top EU migration official insists policy revision imperative
By Adrian Lancashire
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With Europe facing a migration crisis, we talk to Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greece’s European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship


With Europe facing a migration crisis, we talk to Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greece’s European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. In Athens, he stresses that no country can hope to solve the problems on its own — it has to be done, as always, communally.

Efi Koutsokosta, euronews: “Greece has been sinking under a great weight of migrants and refugees this summer — in the centre of Athens and many islands — tragic images. Who is to blame? The overwhelmed Greek government? Where is the EU?”

Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greece’s EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship: “Nobody is to blame, we share joint responsibility. The fact that some member states don’t implement the common migration policy is one of the reasons we have witnessed this, not only in Greece but also in other parts of Europe. We are ready to give around 445 million euros to Greece if the country fulfils the conditions that we decided jointly, which means it has to form an action plan, set up a managing authority, so that, along with the United Nations which wants to help in a humanitarian capacity, we can harmonise our management of the flow of migration.”

euronews: “You have spoken at length about the common European migration policy, and yet many member states are taking an entirely opposite direction. Do you think this is happening for internal political reasons?”

Avramopoulos: “The European migration policy must not be affected by internal political developments. Populist and xenophobic movements have gathered force in many European countries, given the migration problem, interpreted by each in different ways. I see that many member states denounce others all too easily, making unjustified attacks. So, I want to make an appeal: first of all, I want this blame game to stop. We are in this effort all together, united in solidarity, and this is the way European policies must be, without exception. To follow a national way, a lone track, will not get anyone anywhere.”

euronews: “However, the point is what is Europe doing? Because we see many member states, such as France and Austria, which have reinforced their border controls, or even worse. Hungary has built a fence along its border with Serbia, and recently said that it might even deploy its army. What is the Commission saying about that?”

Avramopoulos: “Europe is against any exclusion policy. You’ll recall that even ten months ago I said that I am against a ‘fortress Europe’. On the other hand we must not forget that one of Europe’s greatest triumphs is the Schengen zone that lets every European citizen travel freely without a passport, just a valid ID like a driving permit. The free movement of people and goods must be safeguarded.”

euronews: “I will ask you directly: are you going to impose punitive sanctions on Hungary, for example, for its policy?”

Avramopoulos: “Any country which violates European law, and I am not referring specifically to Hungary but to any country… there will be consequences. And especially the countries which violate the conditions of the Schengen Treaty. But Hungary needs help. Hungary, Greece and Italy are the European countries which need European contributions the most. We have decided to install hotspots in Greece and Hungary. They already exist in Catania in Italy. These hotspots are service points where Europol, Frontex, Eurojust and EASO (the agency for implementation of the common asylum policy) along with officials from the member states, will receive and evaluate those trying to cross European borders. We will identify the refugees who have the right to international protection according to the UN Human Rights charter for irregular immigrants.”

euronews: “Another issue that Greece and Italy especially have brought to the forefront is the Dublin Treaty. Germany has decided to suspend the treaty for Syrian refugees. Is this the right time to discuss the issue broadly with the other member states?”

Avramopoulos: “Let’s look at what the treaty says. The Dublin Treaty says that the countries where immigrants enter Europe are in charge of identification, fingerprinting, registration and evaluation. This has already been cancelled in practice, it has been violated. Today, tens of thousands of political refugees are choosing to go to the countries of northern Europe. The Dublin Treaty, from the moment it was adopted, has been outstripped by developments. Since there are new conditions in place, we must revise the aspects of the treaty that no longer work. This is normal, we have to do it.”

euronews: “Commissioner, before we conclude, since we are in Greece and the political reality is intense since Greece is going to the polls again, I would like to ask you not as a Commissioner but as a Greek politician what you expect to happen this time, with Greece still going through such a crucial moment.”

Avramopoulos: “I would not like to comment on the internal political developments in Greece as my position doesn’t allow me to do so, but if you ask me as a Greek citizen, I would say what very few of us at the beginning, much more later, were saying publicly five, six years ago: we have to put our party flags aside. A government of national cooperation is needed even more today. It is the only way for Greece to move forward.”

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