Remarks by First Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Avramopoulos at the Readout of the College Meeting of 6 April 2016

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans:

We had many points on our agenda today.

I had the opportunity to debrief the College about my visit yesterday to Warsaw, where I met the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Deputy Prime Minister and the president of the Constitutional tribunal to discuss rule of law issues.

I was encouraged by those meetings. There is an attempt by all parties involved in Poland to start a dialogue to find a way out of this crisis. I do believe a solution is urgent and the starting point should be full respect for the constitutional framework, which in view of the Commission means publication and implementation of the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal.

The Commission will do whatever it can to help solve this, and I hope to go back to Warsaw very soon to continue our dialogue face to face with Polish authorities and other stakeholders - including civil society, academia etc.

I want to stress again the urgency of the matter. The last thing we need is to let this fester and to have in a Member State of the Union two parallel legal systems. That would not be to the advantage to Poland nor to the European Union. Legal uncertainty is something we cannot afford.

Let me now turn to future reform of the EU's policies on asylum and legal migration.

Of course, the refugee crisis is still with us and collectively we still have a lot of work to do.

It is vital that we rapidly stem disorderly and irregular flows of migrants, protect our external borders and safeguard the integrity of the Schengen area.

Equally we must ensure that those who need protection can actually receive it, without having to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers.

All of us - the Commission, Member States, EU agencies, other agencies - need to keep our resolve, implement the agreed strategy and make progress on all fronts.

For now, we have to apply the existing rules and use the tools available to stabilise the situation.

But I am also convinced that we shouldn't wait until this crisis is behind us before looking at the future direction of our Common European Asylum policy.

Let's be clear: migration will be one of the main challenges the European Union has to face together in the longer term. This issue is not going away.

Globalisation, economic trends, climate change, war and instability all mean that people will keep trying to come to Europe, in search of refuge, of a better life, or to join their families.

So Europe will need sustainable, future-proof migration policies that provide orderly and safe pathways to the EU for those who need protection and those who can contribute with their skills and talents to the EU's economic development.

Today we have put forward some options, launching the political discussion that Europe needs on how it wants to go forward.

First, we need to reform our Common European Asylum System. The current crisis has shown the present system is not working.

The problem we need to fix is that the system relies largely on where a person first arrived in the EU to decide which Member State should handle an asylum claim. This is neither fair nor sustainable given the reality of the volumes of people, which has put a huge burden on just a few Member States.

We can fix this either by adding a corrective fairness mechanism to Dublin - what I would call "Dublin plus". We would keep the current criteria and supplement them with adjustments through redistribution to other Member States in specific circumstances.

Or - this is the second line of thought that we are proposing to the other institutions - we could change the basic criteria to determine which Member State is responsible for an asylum claim.

In this scenario, responsibility would be decided from the very start and for every case on the basis of a distribution key.

We are putting forward these two options in an open way, to launch a debate. Both options would provide the much needed solidarity between Member States in managing our common responsibility to protect those in need.

In the longer term there are other options - a centralised European system with European decisions on individual asylum claims. But in political terms, it is not realistic to talk about this today, and we are not putting that forward as an option today.

Another clear weakness of the current system is that EU asylum rules have not been applied in the same way across Member States. National approaches vary enormously - whether we're talking about reception conditions for asylum seekers, the length of procedures, or the chance of being granted asylum.

This has encouraged asylum seekers to move within the EU towards a small number of Member States - "secondary movements" but you could also call them "asylum shopping". The lack of harmonisation leads to a race to the bottom and creates pull factors. Member states feel compelled to be ever more strict with those arriving. At the end of the day, the victims of this are the Member States themselves, but also people who have the right to international protection because they flee war and persecution.

The only way we can remedy this is by further harmonising the procedures, rights and reception conditions at EU level to ensure equal treatment. We need to create more fairness in the system, to be able to do what we need to do from a humanitarian and legal point of view. And that is to still provide shelter to those who flee war and persecution.

To support this reformed system, we would propose to reinforce the EU's asylum agency, EASO.

Beyond these improvements to our asylum system, we need to ensure that people who need or want to come to Europe have safe and legal pathways do to so.

Providing a safe haven to refugees is our responsibility - I cannot stress it enough - as Europeans; a responsibility we share with the international community. And if you look at some of the countries at the borders of Europe, in the Middle East, they share this responsibility in an incredible way, with up to one quarter of their populations sometimes being composed of refugees.

It is simply a matter of complying with our international obligations and of staying true to European values. It is non-negotiable.

But for those who need protection, the way to come to Europe is not by resorting to the smugglers, but through an organised and safe process, preserving human dignity, and not endangering human lives.

This is why we will put forward a horizontal mechanism for resettlement, building on initiatives we have already taken. This mechanism would be based on common EU rules on admission and distribution, on the status to be accorded to resettled persons and on financial support.

In the future we will also need migration to fill skills gaps and address the demographic challenge that all our nations in Europe face. This requires a proactive approach.

So in short we will evaluate our existing rules on legal migration to streamline and modernise them. We also propose a reform of the EU Blue Card scheme for highly-skilled migrants, as well as measures to attract and support innovative entrepreneurs.

Finally, if we want to effectively manage migration flows and turn migration into an orderly process based on legal pathways, we also need to urgently strengthen our cooperation with third countries.

Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos:

Dear all,

Almost a year ago when we presented the Agendas on Migration and Security, I underlined the need to reform Dublin, the importance to look into legal ways to come to Europe, but also the advantages of smart borders and better exchange of information through our systems.

As concerns dealing with the immediate crisis, I was in Ankara earlier this week as the EU-Turkey agreement was being put into ?practice.

I had very constructive meetings with President Erdogan and PM Davutoglu where we discussed the next steps in the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, including protection guarantees for both Syrian and non-Syrian asylum seekers, visa liberalisation benchmarks and our cooperation on security matters and the fight against terrorism more specifically.

I have said before that Turkey is a partner of the EU, and that the EU is a partner of Turkey.

The Turkish authorities know this, and their commitment and engagement to deliver on outstanding issues and to improve cooperation ?with us was clear.

What has happened on Monday is only the start. We have to continue in full respect of EU and international rules and respect of fundamental rights. We need to ensure all necessary procedures in case of asylum requests.

I am in touch with NATO to step up fight against smugglers. Deployments in Greece of officers from Frontex and EASO are taking place gradually, and we have seen large numbers being deployed on the ground over the weekend and during the week. Frontex now has a total of almost 1,000 officers deployed in Greece and EASO has a total of around 100 ?officers deployed in Greece.

?Now, turning to today. I am very satisfied by the forward looking ideas and measures that we are presenting to you today.

Today we open the discussion on how we want to improve and reform our asylum, migration and border system to be really future-proof.

With the reality that we will continue to face migratory pressures in the years to come, this is a discussion we need to have, and we need to have it now.

First, let me briefly complement what Frans said on asylum and legal avenues to the EU.

?For asylum, we essentially have 3 objectives because it is clear that the system as it stands today is not working.

We need to:

" share responsibility

" reduce asylum shopping

" prevent and sanction secondary movements.

On Dublin - we present 2 options for discussion, and in both cases asylum seekers will be automatically distributed across the Member States based on a distribution key - but each under different circumstances. Because the base line is that we need a fairer sharing of responsibility and more solidarity engrained in our system.

Let me be clear here however: we want an ambitious and substantial improvement of Dublin which leads to fairer outcomes for everyone. We will now open the discussion with Member States, the European Parliament and many different stakeholders before we present our concrete proposals.

But Dublin is only one part of the larger asylum puzzle, and that's why we will work towards further harmonisation of the Common European Asylum System - in order to address the other existing discrepancies, as Frans has mentioned.

That is why we will propose to turn the asylum procedures and qualifications directives into regulations to make them immediately applicable in national law, and why we will do a targeted revision of the reception conditions directive to ensure a more streamlined approach.

In addition, we will also expand the Eurodac Regulation to be able to check for all irregular entries at the external borders, not just in relation to asylum.

To complement all this, we will also reinforce the European Asylum Support Office in the same spirit as our plans to reform the Frontex agency, in the framework of the European border and Coast Guard.

Secondly, on legal avenues. As I have said before, if we want to close the backdoor to irregular migration, we have to open more windows for legal ways to Europe - both, for those who come to seek protection, and for those who come to contribute to our economy.

The European Parliament, NGOs, Media, have been talking a lot about the need of more legal channels - and this is exactly what we want to do.

Building on the existing resettlement scheme that we have, we want to go one step further and create a streamlined and structural EU system for resettlement, so all Member States can use the same mechanism.

On legal migration: reforming the Blue Card has been a priority for President Juncker from the beginning, and this is our delivery to that commitment.

Not only is the current system not flexible and attractive enough, but we simply also want to attract more highly skilled migrants because we will need them in the future. Even while we continue to invest in our existing workforce, the demographic decline will force us to seek talent from abroad.

Of course, it's not just about the Blue Card. We already have a whole range of legal migration instruments which facilitate entry for students and researchers, for seasonal workers, for family migrants, etc.

And we want to take a better look at what works well, and how we can better align these instruments for the future. At the same time, we need to design, together with Member States, legal migration packages for and with our partner countries, to ensure a balanced framework of cooperation on migration and mobility.

?Finally, it's not just about coming to Europe - but also what happens afterwards.

And that is why I also want to emphasise that we are working on an Action Plan on Integration, for all third country nationals, but also focusing on refugees.

On borders: Today we propose to make our borders smarter and stronger, creating an EU entry-exit system to improve our external borders management, by better monitoring over-stayers.

Crossing an EU border will never be the same again. It will be automated, and done mostly through self-service kiosks and electronic gates.

At the same time, the administrative tasks of border guards will be reduced dramatically, allowing them to focus on where they add most value through their experience, professionalism and judgement.

Guards will stop stamping passports because they will be replaced by smart and quick electronic processes.

Queues for people from non-EU countries will be smaller, and travellers will have clear information on how long they can stay in the EU.

Authorities, on the other hand, will have critical, top quality information on all third-country nationals crossing the borders - regardless of whether they need visas or not.

Under strict conditions, we will give this information to law enforcement, giving them an additional tool to fight threats to our internal security.

To complement all this, today we also present our ideas on how to ensure stronger and smarter information systems on borders and security more generally. Our plan is to do away with all information silos, which is the reality in today's landscape.

Borders, law enforcement, customs, judicial authorities - at the moment, they all keep their data in boxes. Our data is not managed functionally or pragmatically. It is complex, fragmented and under-used. ?Often it is kept several times in several different places.

We have a labyrinth to manage our information systems. Key agents in border and security management cannot quickly access the information they need to do their job, for the strict purposes their job requires.

We want to break these silos.

In this framework, we present our vision for a future where, in full respect of fundamental rights and in particular data protection:

" Authorities can search across systems through one click

" Systems are interconnected and can talk to each other

" All biometric data, like fingerprints, is kept in one place.

" And where we have a common box of basic data for all information systems.

?And all this in full respect of fundamental rights.

The discussion and process that we launch today shows how determined the Commission is to improve and strengthen our system to respond to the real needs of a new reality - whether that is asylum, migration border systems, or security.

We want to make our policies fit for purpose in the context of the challenges of the 21st century.

This means building on what we have achieved so far, but also being bold and honest to radically improve where needed.

And we are eager to take up the discussion now with the European Parliament and Council, to make all these ideas concrete.

Source: European Commission