Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Dear Minister Anže Logar,
Two weeks ago, investigative journalists from Lighthouse Reports published allegations of violent pushbacks at our EU borders.
You called for this debate in response to those reports. And I thank you for that.
This is not the first time we get such reports. The Commission has received numerous allegations of pushbacks. Including from the UNHCR.
Violence at our borders is never acceptable. Especially if it is structural and organised.
We must protect our EU external borders, while upholding fundamental rights. And it’s possible to do both.
The very next day after media published these reports, I raised them at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 7 October.
And I raised these reports in personal meetings with the Croatian minister of the Interior Davor Božinovic and the Greek minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi.
The Croatian minister announced an investigation.
Since then, Croatia’s national chief of police said that three policemen involved in violent pushbacks will face disciplinary proceedings. And I received assurances that any necessary follow-up action will be taken.
My services have been in touch with the Romanian authorities.
The Romanian Minister is taking these allegations very seriously and has ordered an investigation.
He is ready to take disciplinary measures or initiate criminal proceedings if the investigation concludes on wrongdoings.
I expect Greece now to also investigate these allegations swiftly and thoroughly.
It is the duty of national authorities to investigate allegations and follow-up any wrongdoing.
Lighthouse also published claims of abuse of EU funding.
I have asked national authorities in Croatia, Greece and Romania to investigate any confirmed reports of misuse of funds. And the Commission will not hesitate to ask its competent authority, OLAF, to conduct investigations.
The Commission will take action, if such allegations are confirmed and recover the funds unduly used. European taxpayers expect us to protect our borders – and to uphold our rules.
As a Union, we must move beyond investigations to effective border management that links border protection to protection of fundamental rights.
And in our New Pact on Migration and Asylum, we have this approach.
The Commission proposes to set up an independent monitoring mechanism at the border. As part of a new screening procedure.
“It’s high time to implement the pact. And especially the independent monitoring mechanism.”
These words were spoken last week by Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner of the UNHCR. At a conference in Malta.
I couldn’t agree more.
Independent observers can help to establish what is really going on. Bring transparency and trust.
Croatia has already set up a monitoring mechanism. It now needs to be fully implemented.
Greece also needs an independent monitoring mechanism. And should now turn bilateral assurances into action.
I encourage Greece to make progress. But this is not only about Croatia or Greece.
I call on all Member States not to wait for the Pact. And already now set up independent monitoring mechanisms under their respective national law provisions.
Pushbacks should never be normalised. Pushbacks should never be legalised.
At least seven people have died so far at our external borders with Belarus. These deaths are unacceptable.
The situation is unprecedented. On the other side of the border is a violent, aggressive, illegitimate regime. A desperate regime under sanctions by the European Union. Sending people to the border and into harms’ way.
The Belarusian regime doesn’t care about peoples’ lives. People pay a lot of money to state-owned companies to be brought to Minsk and then facilitated to the border with the EU.
Once there, the Belarusian border guards change their attitude. From helping migrants to reach the border to violently preventing them from going back.
Our priority is to save lives. And to save lives we must stop the regime. During the last Plenary session, I outlined our EU action against the regime in Belarus. It’s time to discuss further sanctions.
On our own side of the border, transparency is now paramount.
Full transparency to avoid rumours and unsubstantial reports, allows us to concentrate on supporting Poland and the people at risk.
We are not the Belarusian regime. We are the European Union. We hold ourselves to the rule of law.
As the President said here yesterday, the rule of law protects the values on which our Union is founded. Freedom, democracy, equality and respect for human rights.
As Commission we do not usually comment on draft laws.
But reports suggest that the proposal in the amended Polish Aliens law, to give border guards autonomy, to grant access to an asylum procedure or not, is already practice on the ground.
My services are in discussion with the Polish authorities on its compliance with the EU acquis.
The weather is getting worse. EU obligations must be applied immediately. To protect vulnerable people. Especially children.
We must protect people’s lives, their rights and their dignity.
As well as our borders.
Member States must conduct investigations to establish the facts and take action.
Set up independent monitoring systems. And ensure transparency.
And all of us must now work together to get an agreement on the Pact.