The Guardian | Mark Tran
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, has called for “bold, concerted action” to deal with Europe’s most serious refugee crisis since the second world war.
In his first annual state of the union address before the European parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker urged member states to accept the commission’s plan to relocate 160,000 refugees fleeing war and terror.
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Juncker acknowledged that the numbers of people arriving in Europe was “frightening” for some, but declared: “Now is not the time for fright, this is time for bold, concerted action. It is a matter of humanity and dignity, for Europe it is a matter for historical fairness.”
Recalling past waves of migration, Juncker reminded his audience that Europe was the world’s wealthiest and most stable continent.
“We have the means to help those fleeing war and terror. There is certainly an unprecedented number of refugees, but it is just 0.11% of Europe’s population. Refugees represent 25% of Lebanon’s population,” said Juncker.
He urged EU member states to adopt the commission’s proposal to increase the relocation scheme from 40,000 to 160,000 migrants in Italy, Greece and Hungary at a summit of interior ministers later this month.
“We can build walls and fences,” said Juncker. “But imagine for a second if it were you, your children in your arms, the world you know torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay, no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not go to sea in, no border you would not cross.”
On commission plans to relocate 160,000, Juncker insisted that this be done on a compulsory basis.
“We call on members states to accept 160,000. That’s the number Europeans to have to take in their arms. I hope this time everybody will be on board. Action is needed this time,” he said.
Earlier, Juncker said the EU had to manage the refugee crisis because there was no alternative. “There has been too much finger pointing in past weeks, member states accusing each other of not doing enough, of doing the wrong thing and accusations that Brussels is not doing its job. We could all be angry in this blame game, but who would that serve,” he said.
Heckled at one point by British MEPs, Juncker broke off to address them directly. “You can interrupt me from time to time,” he said. “I will not at each time respond to what you are saying because what you are saying is worthless.”
It was thought his rebuke was aimed at Nigel Farage, but the Ukip leader claimed it was directed at David Coburn, the leader of Ukip Scotland.
Juncker, whose proposals face opposition from some governments, also pledged to improve the management of the bloc’s external frontiers, bolster its Frontex border agency and take steps toward the creation of European coastguard and border guard systems.
He proposed a “more effective approach to return”, addressing complaints that too many people not entitled to asylum enter the European Union illegally and remain there, often despite legal proceedings that conclude they should return home.
He called for efforts to strengthen the EU’s common asylum system and a scheduled review of the so-called Dublin system, among whose rules is that people must claim asylum in the state where they first enter the EU, which have strained resources in frontline countries, particularly Greece and Hungary.
In response to criticism from refugee and migration agencies, Juncker said the EU would “develop safe legal avenues for those in need of protection” – reducing the temptation to risk dangerous sea crossings and smuggling networks – as well as a permanent scheme to resettle refugees from other regions and better protection for refugees living in regions neighbouring Europe.
He also renewed a proposal to review the system by which workers can apply to migrate to the EU, addressing concerns on an ageing continent that it needs to attract new people.
The detailed proposals are likely to provoke renewed disagreement among EU states and between national leaders and the EU executive.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, whose government has taken in the largest number of asylum seekers, has called on poorer eastern neighbours who receive German-funded EU subsidies to show solidarity – and warned that the Schengen system of open borders from which they benefit is under threat from chaotic movements of migrants across the bloc.
On Tuesday, she said the 160,000 figure might not be enough, and warned that Europe may have to accept even bigger numbers.
While the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, remains opposed to relocation quotas, his country will benefit from the scheme, having already taken in tens of thousands. Under Juncker’s plan, EU sources say Poland would be asked to take in nearly 12,000, up from a current figure of 2,000.
Britain has been critical of the EU approach but is exempt from the bloc’s asylum policies and will not take part. David Cameron, the UK prime minister, has said the UK would accept up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. Spain, which had complained that its likely quota is too high, said on Tuesday it was ready to take what the EU allocated.
Source: The Guardian