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“The lesson (we have learned) is clear: we must act together”, emphasized the vice-president of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, in his introductory speech during the 2nd European Conference on Border Management, which is being held today and tomorrow in Athens, with the participation of representatives of the governments of EU member states, the European Economic Area (EEA) and European Organizations (Frontex, Europol, EUAA, etc.)

The Conference “comes at a very timely moment after the leaders’ debate on migration in February (at the European Council),” he said, recalling that the 27 leaders in the European Council “clearly recognized migration as a European challenge, which requires a European response ».

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“This is the correct and unique approach”, he underlined, adding that “only a European response made it possible to defeat the hybrid attacks against the EU in the last three years, on the Greek-Turkish border in Evros, in Belarus and other areas. And, as he said, today, we are together and we can act as Europeans, we managed to manage these unpleasant situations. “Now we are prepared, now we know, and now we are ready to deal with any similar situation that arises in the future,” he added.

“And only a European response will allow us to properly manage migration,” he said.

Specifically, Mr. Schinas, responsible vice-president for the Promotion of the European Way of Life, referred in detail to the two main axes, on the basis of which the EU must act and which the 27 leaders agreed upon, following the proposal of the European Commission: namely that it must be moved at both legislative and operational levels.

On the “legislative path”, he stressed that only a comprehensive renewal of the legal framework can provide a strong and sustainable basis for EU action and that “a Pact on Migration remains our number one priority”, he said and underlined that ” we must all remain fully committed to completing the negotiations before the end of this term – by February 2024.” In fact, as he said, “we are not far from the agreement” and “if we continue with the same momentum we have had so far we can do it.”

“Now is the time to refine some of the new ideas that have emerged in recent weeks, looking at how we can ensure things like the border process has enough flexibility built in (ie from its organisation) so that frontline Member States to be asked to do only what their abilities allow,” he said, adding that, for him, it was clear that, whatever was decided, “the same balanced approach described for the solidarity mechanism and for liability and the border procedure”.

“And we rely on all of you to rise to the challenge,” he stressed, addressing the government representatives attending the working dinner of the 2nd Conference on European Border Management, as well as the current Swedish Presidency of the EU, but the upcoming from 1 June 2023 Spanish Presidency 2023), as he said.

Regarding the operational axis on which the European migration policy should move and to address the challenges facing the EU today, he said that the European Commission is now working to ensure the continuity of the guidelines given by the 27 leaders, as at the recent European Council (in February) they had “an open and honest discussion about the challenges and the measures to be prioritized in the short term”, after the relevant letter sent to them by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen . And, as he said, the European Commission will come back with its proposals in March.

Referring specifically to the “operational axis”, he spoke of “strengthening external borders”, “ensuring solidarity”, “accelerating border and return procedures” and “strengthening cooperation with countries of origin and transit”.

“Let me be absolutely clear on the issue of borders,” he said. There is no European Migration and Asylum Policy without strong and effective management of the totals.

The external borders are not national, but truly European, he said, and stressed that “we must strengthen them and prevent irregular migration” and that “we are ready to increase the presence of Frontex”, for example, also in the countries of the Western Balkans through agreements.

He spoke of working with stakeholders “to develop pilot programs that showcase good practice on border procedures, acting as a precursor to the New Deal”, which is “an opportunity for us to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t in reality”.

He defended, moreover, the support of the member states for “taking quick decisions, so that the persons who need protection are quickly recognized their status, while those who do not need protection are returned”.

Any method of border management must be part of an integrated approach to border management – ​​a single element alone does not solve the problem – there must be a whole system and that this also includes increased support from Frontex.

Pending a permanent mechanism through the Pact, we must also continue to step up the implementation of the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism, he said elsewhere in his speech, warning that “we must be prepared for the summer period and ensure that there are sufficient commitments and that these are carried out in practice”. And he immediately added: “Frontline Member States need assurance that the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism will deliver in both relocation commitments and financial contributions, building towards the new, permanent system under the Pact.”

Acceleration of border and return procedures

“It’s clear to everyone that we have to do better on returns. We need a common European approach for faster and decent returns”, he stressed, as it is not normal that the return rate averages only 20% across the EU or that only 16% of return decisions are even followed up with a readmission request” .

He underlined that the tools already in place, such as Frontex for example, must be used, that there must be a culture change in the way returns are carried out, “where EU efforts and national efforts complement and support each other”.

He also recalled that the European Council called on the Member States “to implement the mutual recognition of return decisions”, stressing that “the return decision taken by a Member State must be valid in all Member States” and that “from next month the Schengen Information System is put into operation and will be a key tool for this purpose”.

In addition, he informed the government representatives that the European Commission, before the next European Council (in March), will adopt a new recommendation so that Member States can make use of these new possibilities”, and it will also concern the universal (comprehensive, across all states) use of the “safe country” concept.

Finally, and concluding his opening remarks, Mr. Schinas said that migration cannot be properly managed without “increased cooperation with the countries of origin and transit” and that “we need a win-win cooperation” with them. Cooperation that will concern from the fight against smuggling, the strengthening of the returns and readmission of irregular immigrants, up to the cooperation for “ambitious legal routes” and the “Talent Partnerships”, thus strengthening “international mobility and the development of skills with mutually beneficial way”.

Mr. Schinas also said that, in the Central Mediterranean, there is readiness (on the part of the EU) to strengthen borders and search and rescue capabilities in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, in close cooperation with the High Commission of the UN for Refugees and the IOM, and announced that he – and his fellow commissioners – would visit in the coming weeks “a number of priority countries of origin and transit to further strengthen our commitment”, as he said, clarifying, however, that “for such a multidimensional phenomenon” we need a comprehensive (inter)governmental approach and a single voice that will speak for the EU”.

“We know we’re talking about third countries, there are competing priorities, but every policy decision we make must also be systematically scrutinized against our migration management goals,” he said, inviting government representatives to accompany him or his fellow commissioners on those trips. , but also convey to their governments when discussing agreements with third countries to take immigration into account.