General Market

Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos following the Justice and Home Affairs Council

Dear all,

I would like to thank the Dutch Presidency and Klaas Dijkhoff for today’s constructive discussions. 

Let me first emphasise once again that the successful implementation of the EU –Turkey statement is an absolute priority. 

The results of this are clear as the number of arrivals to the Greek islands continues to decrease. In addition, returns to Turkey have also increased.

In parallel, the number of resettlements from Turkey continues to increase as Member States finalise their assessments of applications referred to them by Turkey, via the UNHCR.

So far no return of rejected asylum seekers on the basis that Turkey is a safe third country has happened. However, we have received assurances from Turkey about the protection of both Syrians and non-Syrians in Turkey.

The Commission has conveyed its positive assessment to the Greek authorities. I welcome that on this basis, Member States support Greece in considering Turkey as safe for returning migrants so that Greece provides further legal guidance to the asylum service and EASO to facilitate the effective implementation of the EU-TK statement.

I reassured everyone that we remain alert and are monitoring closely to ensure that all elements of the process are being implemented according to EU and international law. 

In particular, our attention goes out to addressing the humanitarian situation on the ground in Greece and in particular the needs of the most vulnerable, including minors. 

This is precisely why we cannot forget about relocation – and I did not hide my disappointment with Ministers today. 

So far, only 1,581 persons in need of international protection have been relocated from Greece and Italy. Tens of thousands of people continue to remain stranded in Greece and the situation on the ground will not improve in the coming months, unless we relocate those who are entitled to relocation, which are the majority.

To those who think there is some alternative or plan B – there is not! Relocation from Greece needs to happen – and urgently.

That is also why we continue to support Greece in all its endeavours.

In fact today, the European Commission has awarded €56 million in emergency funding for Greece to improve conditions of migrants in Greece and to increase the capacities of the Greek authorities to register newly arriving migrants and to process their asylum claims.

Today’s award makes Greece the biggest beneficiary of home affairs funds.

But we also cannot forget about Italy where we have seen a recent rise in migratory flows. Here too, relocation is essential, as well as increasing reception capacities and increasing returns or those who have no right to stay.

I have urged Ministers today to deliver on this fully, swiftly and collectively. But, I have also underlined to the Ministers that it is essential to step up efforts and resettle Syrian refugees under the 1-to-1 scheme with Turkey. The irregular migratory corridors can only end if people are offered a genuine and legal alternative. 

In the meantime, discussions on the European Border and Coast Guard in the European Parliament are well under way. I hope that the co-legislators will find a timely agreement on this crucial file.

We also discussed on different aspects of our common Visa Policy, including our Visa Code, the Commission’s proposals for visa liberalization for the people of Turkey, Kosovo, Georgia and Ukraine, as well as our proposal to strengthen the visa liberalisation suspension mechanism. 

On this last issue, I am pleased that today, Member States have already reached so swiftly an agreement on our proposal to revise the existing suspension mechanism for third-country visa-free travel.  

Now it is up to the European Parliament to take the next step, and we will use the upcoming period to clarify some outstanding concerns.  

Our proposal is about making the suspension mechanism more flexible, but in a proportionate way.

I hope we will be able to reach an agreement soon that serves that purpose ultimately.

 On visa liberalisation, the Commission has been very clear in all its proposals and on the pathways for each of those 4 countries, which are our key partners. 

Finally, let me just say one word on Turkey, because I know that there are many questions on this. As in all visa liberalisation cases, Turkey must fulfil all the conditions that have been set.  

Yesterday Turkey approved a law to anticipate the entry into force of the third country national clause of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, which is a benchmark in the visa liberalisation process. I very much welcome this.

This clearly shows that Turkey – like the EU – is sticking to its commitments under the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March. 

Turkey is our key partner, and our collaboration is beneficial to both Turkey and the EU. We continue to work together in that strong spirit of commitment and political will.

Thank you.