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Strasbourg, 15 January 2019

Opening remarks
Video: https://youtu.be/6KWNJZeDRXg

Honourable Members,

I feel like we have been here before  - discussing this same issue in similar circumstances.

However,  while the context has changed and irregular migrant arrivals have drastically dropped, certain political attitudes have unfortunately not changed. And so we find ourselves here again.

First of all, let me state that I am relieved that a solution has been found that allowed all migrants on board of the two NGO vessels to disembark in Malta.

But let’s also not fool ourselves: having 49 people – 49! – on boats at sea, for almost 3 weeks- is not what the European Union stands for.

And it is even more shameful to think that this happened during the Christmas period.  The European Union is about human values and solidarity. We are all determined to uphold these values. But if human values and solidarity are not upheld, it is not Europe.

At the Commission, we spared no efforts to call for and coordinate relocation pledges among Member States and make the disembarkation possible. I was myself in direct contact with a number of Ministers.

I have also called publicly on all Member States to show more solidarity. This is a message I will keep repeating. Because we cannot continue to negotiate with human lives at sea.

First, I wish to commend Malta, as one of our smallest Member States, for demonstrating such solidarity.  I plan to visit Malta very soon.

I would also like thank all the Member States that  agreed to receive the migrants disembarked in Malta:  Germany, France, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Ireland and Italy. All these countries have shown European solidarity in the most concrete way possible.

But the European Union simply cannot continue to rely on unorganised, ad-hoc solutions when it comes to disembarkation.

I was in Italy yesterday where I had constructive discussions with Prime Minister Conte and Interior Minister Salvini.  We are all committed to establishing a truly European solidarity mechanism.

Because it is only through a European approach that we can really manage this challenge. The situation today is already proof of that.

The number of irregular arrivals today are nowhere near to those three years ago, and they are 80% less than last year. And yet the political resistance today almost seems bigger.

I ask everyone to open their eyes: We are not in a migration or refugee crisis anymore. Although, some try to present as such. And while we are determined to continue reducing irregular migratory flows towards Europe, we also have to acknowledge that some migrants and refugees will continue to come, even if those numbers are much smaller today.

This is not something that we cannot handle. But it does become unmanageable if countries have to act  alone. It is for exactly this reason that we need predictable and sustainable mechanisms in place.

It is indeed critical for Europe to uphold its moral and human duty, while at the same time to have in place a solid, sustainable, future-proof and fair Asylum system. This is the essence of our common European asylum reform.

Until we get there, the Commission is ready to work with Member States to set up temporary arrangements.

They will allow us to ensure solidarity with the most exposed EU countries while avoiding creating a pull factor. They will serve as a bridge until the new Dublin Regulation becomes applicable.

I have said this in December and I will not stop making this point until we succeed: Now is the time to finalise the reform of the EU's asylum rules.

Now is the time for the governments to take up  their responsibilities in the Council and stop blaming the European Commission.  I count, on this House's continuous support.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Parliament for its support during all these four years.

Thanks to your support and your commitment we are in a position to say that we delivered, but we can do more in the future. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. We are running out of time and we have only three months ahead. Let’s do our duty, let’s do our job. 

Thank you.

Closing remarks
Video: https://youtu.be/kzAO0DCeC9A

Thank you for this very timely debate.

I wish we didn’t need it but unfortunately, we do.

As I said, and as many of you underlined, during this debate this is Europe’s last chance.

We shall not spare any efforts.

The Commission and me personally remain fully committed to continue working with you and the Council to achieve this important goal: the reform of the European Asylum System.

And I would like to thank you for this clear and loud support.

We will continue to work together, intensively, to achieve the completion of our comprehensive work.

And to respond to Ms Intveld, all our proposals are indispensable pieces of a comprehensive policy.

One should never forget that, in the area of migration, all our actions are interconnected and that all the pieces have to fit together.

Completing the EU asylum reform is indispensable to curb irregular migration, to prevent secondary movements, to reduce abuse and to ensure that asylum applications are processed quickly and fairly across Europe.

We all agree that cooperation with third countries is key to preventing not only irregular departures to Europe and to eliminate once and for all the cruel businesses run by traffickers and smugglers.

Partnership and enhanced cooperation with African partner countries is at the heart of our work. The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has contributed to deliver concrete results.

It is also essential to ensure that all costal states in the Mediterranean are able and ready to comply with their obligations under international law regarding Search and Rescue.

A crucial element is also our work on return, both with countries of origin and within the EU.

Last but not least, we need to continue our actions to strengthen and better manage our common external borders. Our proposal for a standing corps of 10,000 European border guards is on the table. This is what our Member States have asked for, and we have delivered. 

That is why, we also need to advance those proposals on which we are ready or almost ready.

We have to be ready for the future. An unpredictable future. This is in everyone’s interest. We simply can no longer afford this type of unorganised, ad-hoc solutions. Now it the time to put words into action.

In this electoral New Year, I want to reiterate the message that Europe will be judged on what it delivers for our citizens.  As also Cecilia said.

Our citizens expect a lot from us and they are count on us.

I hope we will have a different debate soon concluding key legislative files. So, let’s move ahead and leave – this should be our goal- a strong legacy for Europe’s  future.

Thank you.