,,One thing is clear: if we do not act the adverse effects on our societies, on refugees that under the UN Convention have a right to shelter and on our European project, will only increase,” said Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in an email interview. This interview was originally published in daily Pravda in Slovak.
Slovakia has filed a lawsuit against EU’s compulsory refugee relocation. If the European Court of Justice rules against Bratislava, do you expect strong pressure on Slovakia to fulfil its obligations or nothing much will change as basically the relocation scheme is dead anyway, as many people claim?
Let me stress that only common European solutions will give us the tools to deal with the migration crisis which Europe is currently facing. This is not the problem of a few Member States under pressure, but a challenge that has consequences for us all, and for the fundamental structures and values of our European cooperation. We therefore all need to take our responsibility and we expect all EU Member States to live up to their obligation of mutual solidarity. Unfortunately, up until now the relocation process has had a slow start. In part, this is due to the difficulties in organising adequate registration of migrants arriving in Greece and Italy through the so-called hot-spots but also because the process of relocation is relatively new and we are still exploring how the method we developed works in practice.
Do you think that Slovakia will face consequences by the EU sooner or later economically or politically for its positions regarding refugee quotas?
The migration crisis is a challenge for Europe and we are convinced that only joint European action can adequately solve the problems our societies are facing. These actions include improving reception capacities in the neighbouring countries of Syria, strengthening our external borders and setting up an effective return policy. All of these factors, together with the relocation of migrants in need of international protection from the hot spots in Italy and Greece, weigh heavily on our joint responsibility.
Dutch, Slovak and Maltese positions regarding refugee crisis are not all the time the same. Does it have any impact on the collaboration between the Presidency Trio?
We very much appreciate the excellent cooperation with our partners of the Presidency Trio. As Presidency our focus is very much on finding compromises and solutions that can find broad support among all member states. In the role of the Presidency, I assume that our partners will have the same focus.
After the Paris attack and Cologne events, the V4 countries are now claiming they were right when they raised security alarms regarding the migrant crisis. Do you agree? Is the refugee crisis becoming a real security problem, especially if we are talking about terrorism, but also about crime?
Respect for the rule of law and our fundamental rights are one of our strongest achievements and characteristics. This is what defines the EU and what we need to protect: to live in freedom, according to your own beliefs and views, with the opportunity to pursue your own goals. To protect these rights, we need security throughout our Union. I want to stress, however, that we must never punish a group because of the criminal behaviour of a few individuals. The people arriving on our borders are fleeing conflict and persecution, and face serious dangers for their own lives and those of their families.
The Netherlands is talking about the plan of relocation of up to 250 000 people from Turkey, but Turkey has to accept returnees in turn. This plan was criticized e.g. by Amnesty International. And it seems countries like Slovakia do not have any appetite to accept refugees. So do you think this plan can somehow work?
Europe is currently facing the largest migration crisis since a long time. Solutions are not easy, and all member states need to take responsibility. As I explained earlier, we need a number of measures to be taken in parallel.
We need to support Greece in managing its borders, and providing adequate reception capacities for migrants. Furthermore, we must make sure that readmission between Greece and Turkey works in practice, in order to prevent migrants becoming victims of criminal human smuggling networks. Europe must further support the capacity in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to give shelter to refugees, in combination with a form of humanitarian admission of refugees into Europe. In the end we want to achieve that migrants will no longer decide to make the dangerous journey to the EU.
One thing is clear: if we do not act the adverse effects on our societies, on refugees that under the UN Convention have a right to shelter and on our European project, will only increase. Not finding solutions is not an option. And yes, there will be criticism. But the essence of Europe is finding these solutions jointly.
With the refugee crisis there is constant talk about securing external borders. But what does it really mean from a Dutch point of view? I would say it means for different countries different things. Some states clearly see it as a path to closing the borders and not letting anybody (or just very few) in. Is this also the Dutch position or not, and why?
Europe is about opening borders, not closing them. Free movement of people is one of the main achievements of our European cooperation. It is in everyone’s interest – our citizens and businesses alike – to make sure that we maintain the integrity of the Schengen-zone. Unilateral measures to close borders should be avoided as much as possible. We must go from a situation of uncontrolled illegal migration to a situation of controlled legal migration by resettling refugees from Turkey. For that we need functioning external borders.Therefore, the Netherlands supports the European Commission’s proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard. The proposal will lead to more operational capacity and flexibility of a European Border and Coast Guard, which is necessary for effective border control.
Slovakia wants to speed up the process of creating EU border guards. Do you think it will happen, when we could expect concrete proposals?
Some serious legal aspects remain to be settled, but it is our aim that the EU works jointly, with speed and determination to do what is necessary. These steps will be discussed inter alia by the Heads of State and Government in Brussels later this week. The Dutch presidency is working hard to make sure that the European Council reaches agreement on these proposals before the end of our presidency.
EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said that 60 percent of arriving migrants are economic migrants. Is this the official position of the whole EU, the institutions? Should we return all economic migrants to countries of their origin as soon as possible?
I believe that the point that the First Vice-President was making is that Europe needs to do much more to ensure an effective return policy for people who have no right to stay in the EU, one of the building blocks of our comprehensive Migration Agenda. He repeated that citizens’ support for genuine asylum seekers will be weakened if those who don’t have a valid claim to international protection are allowed to stay in Europe. Migrants coming from safe countries should be returned to those countries. The EU is working on a list of safe countries of origin to increase the efficiency of the Member States’ asylum systems.
Should the EU set some clear limit to the number of refugees it can take, let’s say as an annual figure?
When you put a cap on the number of refugees, it means that you run the risk of having to reject people in clear need of international protection. If a young child arrives, fleeing from the scourge of war, do you not admit it, because you have reached the limit? In other words: if we fail to fulfil our international obligations, such as granting international protection to those who need it, we compromise on our fundamental values and principles. We cannot let that happen. At the same time, we cannot be blind and deaf to the concerns that live in our societies with regard to the sudden influx of large numbers of migrants. So we must work on further improving reception in the region where refugees come from, and break the criminal business models of the human smugglers. And we must be much more strict to those migrants that do not qualify for the status of refugees. They must return – or be returned.
The Netherlands has its own experiences with the integration of migrants. What are the the positive examples and what went wrong?
Integrating migrants into our societies is not an easy process. It demands actions from governments, the receiving society and the immigrants themselves. In the Netherlands we have seen successes: many migrants and their descendants have found their place in our society, they are Dutch citizens that feel at home and contribute to the society. At the same time, there is a group amongst them who have not yet been able or willing to make that step. I see it as our task to stimulate and assist this group. Therefore we must ensure that young people are educated well, have equal opportunities and are given the tools to be successful.
I believe, Europe is strong enough to be able to integrate the refugees and give them the chance to become fully contributing citizens.