You are rapporteur for two separate opinions on a whole host of proposals published by the European Commission in May and June this year to reform the EU asylum system – are these proposals the right tools for solving the serious migration crisis facing the EU?
What we are witnessing is a structural crisis which has been a very long time in the making, and the European Commission cannot solve these problems by itself overnight. It is the task of all Member States to assume responsibility jointly for addressing the migration issue. For years and years, the Member States on the external borders of the EU, and in particular those regions and cities where the migrants first arrive, have been asking for a genuine EU migration and asylum policy. This means common European rules and appropriate EU resources, both financial and human, based on solidarity, to ensure a humane reception and treatment of asylum requests.
Unfortunately, a majority of Member States insist on the principle of the "country of first entry" being solely responsible for the asylum procedure – but as we have seen in the current crisis, this principle if taken in absolute terms, is unworkable. The fact that the Commission maintains this principle in its new proposals is therefore a missed opportunity, even though some of the changes suggested are definitely positive. But we also have to be realistic – we see that more far-reaching changes are politically impossible at the moment, with some Member States rejecting cooperation and solidarity outright. That is why I have decided to work with the Commission proposals and try to improve them as much as possible.
So what are the main positive elements of this reform package?
We welcome the fact that the Commission is proposing to make EU rules more binding and more consistent (by changing key elements from directives to regulations, for instance) and suggests for the first time a 'corrective mechanism' to help those countries which are disproportionally affected by migratory pressure due to their geographic situation. We also think that the proposals have great potential to help speed up asylum procedures and EU assistance could be given to Member States to ensure the necessary administrative capacity, without jeopardising the quality and legality of the individual procedures. But it is important to also take into account migrants' own preferences, as well as their experience and professional background, in order to facilitate subsequent integration. And we believe that the protection of unaccompanied minors, who represent a growing share of the migrants arriving in the EU, needs to be further strengthened.
As mayor of a major Mediterranean port city, where migrants arrive on a daily basis, what do you expect from your fellow CoR members on this sensitive subject?
My city has been receiving migrants in growing numbers over the last few years and their situation is critical in most cases. Sadly, all too often we also receive the corpses of those who die in their desperate attempts to reach our shores. As mayor, I have had to deprive my own citizens of sports halls and other public facilities in order to give a minimum of shelter and to welcome these people. We do need European solutions for this problem, and I expect CoR members to reach beyond political and national differences and live up to our common humanitarian values, looking constructively at the Commission proposals in order to find the best possible solutions to a complex issue, for which unfortunately there are no easy answers.